Recently in Reviews
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.
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
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.
Alan 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.
WNO 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.