12 Aug 2011
Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila in Antwerp
Bonus features on opera DVDs usually get generic names, such as “Interview” or “Backstage with ”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Bonus features on opera DVDs usually get generic names, such as “Interview” or “Backstage with ”
This 2009 staging of Saint-Saens’s reliably goofy Biblical tunefest Samson et Dalila takes the prize for the most apt and amusing title for a bonus feature about the directors (yes, two in this case) of a “Regie” staging: “Amir Zuabi and Omri Nitzan explain the production and staging.” In the more obscure and complex Regie productions, such a bonus feature would probably pay big dividends. In the case of Zuabi and Nitzan’s take on Samson et Dalila, an explanation proves superfluous. One can admire the fact that one director is Israeli (Nitzan) and the other Palestinian (Zuabi), and that they have worked together to update the Biblical setting of the opera to the contemporary Middle East. Nevertheless, what is actually onstage (and before the cameras) is no more challenging to the average intellect than a traditional staging of this deliciously silly but potent opera.
Act one still betrays its origin as an oratorio, with the chorus standing mid-stage, with very little movement. The dress is modern, with khaki battle jackets and long neck scarves serving to suggest a Mideast setting. Sets are minimal. Act two still focuses mainly on Dalila’s bed, albeit with the huge leaves of some desert flower around it (which oddly close on the prostrate Samson at act’s end). Act three is no temple but some sort of bizarre fashion-cum-armory show, with young beauties of both sexes in black underwear, carting bazookas and grenade launchers. Undoubtedly the directors expected to shock with the revised climax, which has Samson in a suicide bomber’s explosive jacket, ready to push the button to bring down the temple when a blackout ends the show. The shock is in how little effect is actually produced, since everything leading to that point has been so innocuous. One can only admire the optimism of the EU Commissioner “for External Relations” who composed a note reprinted in the booklet, claiming that this production will “spearhead a successful and respectful inter-cultural dialogue.” Their Euros at work!
Given all that, any opera performance comes down to musical quality to prove its worth, and this performance actually has a fair amount going for it. After a few unsteady moments at the beginning, conductor Tomáš Netopil gets a rich, precise performance from the Vlaamse musicians. Don’t be surprised to hear some arpeggio sections that suggest Saint-Saens as a precursor to late 20th century Minimalist composers. As Samson, tenor Torsten Kerl is in fine voice, easily reaching up to the higher sections, and with a commanding strength throughout his range. Marianna Tarasova’s Dalila has a bit too much of that hooty quality not unknown in this part, but she is comfortable in the role. In the only other part with a real opportunity to make an impression, Nikola Mijalovič as the High Priest puts out a handsome flow of sound, even while, apparently, sodomizing Dalila. Don’t ask.
Strict traditionalist may get their feathers in a bunch over this production, but really the directors flatter themselves about their political risk-taking. In the end, it’s still Samson at Dalila — for good and bad. Catch this for some decent singing and a tasty performance of the score by the orchestra.