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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
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.