Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

Bampton Classical Opera 2017

In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.

The nature of narropera?

How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Frank Porretta as Cavaradossi and Patricia Racette as Tosca [Photo by Scott Suchman courtesy of Washington National Opera]
21 Sep 2011

La tragedia di Tosca at the Washington National Opera

Whether or not one agrees with Joseph Kerman’s immortal definition of Tosca as a “shabby little shocker,” Puccini’s melodramma, the inaugural production of the Washington National Opera’s 2011-12 season, is intense, “blood-and-guts” kind of entertainment.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Click here for cast and production information.

Above: Frank Porretta as Cavaradossi and Patricia Racette as Tosca

All photos by Scott Suchman courtesy of Washington National Opera

 

Like Victorien Sardou’s original play written as a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt, Puccini’s setting has enough sex, violence, and adult themes to induce responsible parents to keep their children at home. Not that it stopped the black-tie crowd of the opening-night gala from proudly parading their adorable five-year-olds in heavily ruched floor-length gowns along the hallways of the Kennedy Center. The latter, incidentally, has now officially swallowed up the WNO after fifty-five years of that company’s independence. Still, in these dire times of budgetary horrors and declining donations such an alliance might prove a transcendent romance rather than an apocalyptic tragedy; only time will tell.

The plot of Tosca is well known, and were it not so melodramatic, I suppose it could be eligible for the prestigious label of “tragic”: after all, not a single leading character is left alive at the end of Act 3! Thankfully, this original production, courtesy of Giulio Chazalettes and director David Kneuss, for the most part does not qualify as a tragedy. Soprano Patricia Racette (Tosca) is a known quantity in DC, and has a reputation among the local connoisseurs as a superior singing actress. Throughout the evening, the singer had plenty of opportunities to prove just how well deserved her reputation was, and she missed none of them. Unlike in last season’s unfortunate Iphigénie, Racette was not constrained here either by a director’s choreographic posturing or by the need to climb precarious metal scaffolding at high pitch. Instead, her acting was realistic, and her period clothes comfortably familiar. The steps of the Castel Sant’Angelo were wide and easily mountable, lending her final leap off the battlements its startling immediacy and dramatic flair that brought out audible gasps from the audience, instead of the audible chuckles that so often result. The leap was also, of course, entirely over-the-top, but then so is the entire part: Puccini followed Sardou in making his Tosca a real diva, and Racette had almost too much fun playing a “tragic heroine playing herself.” This was particularly apparent in the opening scene with Cavaradossi, where “playing” is really all Tosca does; her jealous rage more the stuff of romantic comedy than high drama. The drama comes in Act 2, undoubtedly Racette’s best. Her performance was electric, driven by raw emotion and almost visibly crackling nervous energy, resulting occasionally in a somewhat faster tempos than are usual for the part. “Vissi d’arte” in particular was fast — or was attempting to be: the conductor simply refused to let Racette run with it. Clearly, after singing a few hundred Toscas in his career, Placido Domingo has very definite ideas of how one should and should not sound — candles or no candles (for those passionately interested in this most vital aspect of every Tosca production, by the way, this one has no candles). However, such a minor interpretational disagreement between the two stars was no tragedy. Nobody was paying much attention to it, anyway — we were all too busy watching Alan Held’s scene-stealing Scarpia.

144_Racette and Held_WNOTOSCA2011_cr. Scott Suchman.pngAlan Held as Baron Scarpia and Patricia Racette as Floria Tosca

The tall baritone presented an imposing figure on stage — not remotely Italian, he looked rather like a Nordic god of thunder. Donner is, indeed, one of Held’s signature parts; fortunately, his performance as Scarpia possessed not only the necessary hammer strokes, but also a more Wotan-esque complexity, occasionally bordering on hypnotic. Alternatively suave and terrifying, Held offered both excellent singing and stellar acting from the first to the last note. Only the opening “Credo” of Act 2 proved somewhat unconvincing in his interpretation — exactly because the rest of the role was so believable. Subtle, nuanced, sinuously seductive Scarpia created by Held would not be caught dead saying such horrible things about himself — even to himself. Much better was his feverish monolog in the Act 1 finale, the famous “Te Deum” scene.

Indeed, the “Te Deum” finale proved one of the best moments in the production, thanks to Held, a solid performance from the WNO chorus (including children’s choir), and particularly to its effective visual design (sets and costumes by Ulisse Santicchi, lighting by Jeff Bruckerhoff). In an inspired move, the gigantic crucifixion triptych that served as the backdrop through the entire act suddenly becomes transparent, revealing the interior of the cathedral, complete with the altar, priest, and parishioners, who seamlessly merge with the chorus already on stage into a single, impressive tableau vivant. Overall, the décor for the production looked good: both tastefully appropriate and appropriately expensive. The neo-classical interiors in Acts 1 and 2 were both lovely. And although the gloom of the Castel Sant’Angelo’s stone banisters was somewhat undercut by the addition of pink marble columns on each side of the stage — the leftovers from the cathedral interior of the opening act — that was also no tragedy.

073_WNO Chorus in Te Deum_WNOTOSCA2011_cr. Scott Suchman.pngWNO Chorus and Children’s Chorus sing a Te Deum (Act I)

The real tragedies — at least on the opening night — belonged, in the pit, to the orchestra that seemed yet again simply incapable of playing in tune, and on stage, to the tenore di forza. Frank Porretta’s voice has both the steely intensity of timbre and powerful projection we expect of a Cavaradossi, and he came out swinging since the opening scene, earning some well-deserved applause. However, his somewhat forced sound production was worrisome: every note felt like it was being pushed out just a little too hard. Whether or not the singer was affected by the fact that he was performing a classic heroic tenor role in front of Placido Domingo (which, granted, might unnerve even a seasoned performer), I wondered if he would have trouble sustaining his efforts through the entire evening. Predictably, Porretta’s voice broke halfway through the climax of “E lucevan le stelle,” sliding from a fortissimo high pitch into an embarrassing croak. The audience was extremely kind, but this did not help: much as he tried, the singer was not able to bring his sound back again. The remainder of Act 3 was performed in a harsh semi-whisper, which in Cavaradossi’s final duet with Tosca is simply an impossible sell. Only occasionally did we hear an echo of the metallic flamboyancy of the opening scenes; the rest was so painful to endure that one was tempted to applaud the rifle volley from the castle guard that finally put the unfortunate tenor out of his misery. Hopefully, in the subsequent performances Porretta’s pacing would improved. If so, the tragedia of this overall high-quality, solidly traditional production will have relocated to where it belongs — Sardou’s bloody melodrama and Puccini’s “shocking” score.

Olga Haldey

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):