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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



Two New Comic Operas [Bridge 9299A/B]
27 Aug 2011

Two one-act comic operas from New York Festival of Song

The New York Festival of Song, created and run by Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, dedicates itself to what one might call “American lieder” — art songs by top American composers, classic Broadway, and operatic numbers.

John Musto: Bastianello & William Bolcom: Lucrezia

Lisa Vroman, soprano; Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano; Paul Appleby, tenor; Patrick Mason, baritone; Matthew Boehler, bass; Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, piano. New York Festival of Song.

Bridge 9299A/B [2CDs]

$39.99  Click to buy

In 2008 the festival branched out to present two one-act comic operas. The two librettos by Mark Campbell center on domestic love. In Bastianello, a new groom leaves his wedding after his wife displeases him, and through a series of encounters with other couples, learns that in a marriage, one must learn to forgive others’ faults. Lucrezia finds the title character married to an older man, and seduced by one Lorenzo, but it is Lorenzo who finds at the end that it is he himself who has been seduced.

Campbell writes some exceedingly clever lines, which sometimes zing and sometimes — don’t zing. The actual plot shenanigans tend to be rather cumbersome, so Campbell relies often on the unexpected rhyme to prompt a giggle —

“In my heart these feelings aren’t foreign.
To end this fight/We’ll do what’s right
And flip a florin.”

That “florin” gives a taste of the rather dated genre here — if the copyright for these libretti were 1908 instead of 2008, only the occasional anachronism would be alarming. But Campbell does have some lines less musty and more funny:

“Is the sex cold? Is it distant? That’s a laugh. Try ‘non-existent.’”

All the funny lines imaginable, however, wouldn’t deepen the characterization or supply the missing narrative interest. “Clever” can only go so far in maintaining interest in a story and characters, even in one act operas. The composers had their work cut out for them. William Bolcom’s music for Lucrezia fares best, possibly because the libretto he scored is less segregated into scenes. Bolcom is able to keep up a constant flow of fairly attractive musical invention, shifting subtly from one mood to another. His familiar mélange of ragtime, tango and faux-Gershwin works well for the story. Blier and Barrett at the pianos certainly play with rhythmic flair.

John Musto’s idiom for Bastianello is not radically different from Bolcom’s, but drier melodies and less variety of tempo makes this shorter opera feel as long as Lucrezia. The five singers seem to be enjoying themselves greatly, at any rate, and seen live they surely made a fine impression. Paul Appleby has a supple tenor voice, perfect for “male ingénue” parts. Matt Boehler and Patrick Mason take on the male “character voice” parts and mug in ways appropriate to the settings. Sasha Cooke captures the sly scheming of Lucrezia very well, and she and Lisa Vroman skillfully take on multiple roles in Bastianello.

Sondheim-aficionados and fans of the type of well-trained vocalism on exhibit here will find this Bridge recording enjoyable enough. It may not represent the ideal calling-card for the New York Festival of Song, however. Fortunately, that institution seems to be enough of an established success that a calling card — as antiquated a concept as much of the libretti’s dramaturgy — should prove superfluous.

Chris Mullins

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