Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

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.



Renée Fleming as Lucrezia Borgia [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
28 Sep 2011

Lucrezia Borgia in San Francisco

Bad news travels fast. Though you are about to read another version of how American diva Renée Fleming failed to bring Lucrezia Borgia alive, let us begin by discussing a few other things you already know.

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia

Lucrezia Borgia: Renée Fleming; Maffio Orsini: Elizabeth DeShong; Gennaro: Michael Fabiano; Alfonso d’Este: Vitalij Kowaljow; Rustighello: Daniel Montenegro; Jeppo iverotto: Christopher Jackson; Oloferno Vitellozzo: Brian Jagde; Apostolo Gazello: Austin Kness; Astolfo: Ryan Kuster; Ascanio Petrucci: Ao Li; Gubetta: Igor Vieira. San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Conductor: Riccardo Frizza. Production and stage direction: John Pascoe. War Memorial Opera House, 26 September 2011.

Above: Renée Fleming as Lucrezia Borgia

All photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera


Venetian facades are marble, not brick, thus it takes more than blue light rippling on red brick walls to evoke Venice. Lucrezia’s new home Ferrara was not towering walls of Styrofoam bricks painted red, plus it is obvious that all of Lucrezia’s evil machinations did not occur in a strong, golden sunset sidelight.

Rolex is not spelled Borgia, even though the golden insignia that hung over the stage seemed to advertise luxury watches, and the B wrenched from the Borgia name (that somehow found itself inscribed on a tomb in Ferrara) was a dead ringer for the serifed first letter of Bulgari.

Amazingly Mme. Fleming’s second act, stupendously rich gown upstaged both red Styrofoam and gold gel (the transparent film that colors stage lights), and the ridiculousness of her third act soldier disguise (revealing ample décolletage under a bouffant wig) upstaged her maternal anguish (she had had to poison her son).

LB_SFO3.gifMichael Fabiano as Gennaro and Elizabeth DeShong as Maffio Orsini

Mme. Fleming has carefully nurtured the image of American artistic luxury. Her porcelain persona was everywhere evident on the War Memorial stage. Mme. Fleming is at the same time a very intelligent artist who possesses a unique talent and a beautiful voice. Perhaps if this production had presented her as a real person we might have perceived a full, beautifully voiced character of brutal mind and twisted integrity.

Donizetti and his librettist’s idea of Lucrezia Borgia is as a bel canto heroine — no matter how horrible a person she may be, and how terrible her circumstances become, the music must always be beautiful, her voice soaring gloriously. Bel canto titillates its acolytes (willing audiences) with this contradiction. In the artificial atmospheres of this production that set out solely to beautify Mme. Fleming she read as dramatically and vocally insipid. And, well, the opera is all about her.

Lucrezia Borgia boasts sensational subject matter beyond infanticide. Her son Gennaro has sworn eternal love to his friend Maffio Orsini, who is actually a girl because it is a pants role. So a guy loves a guy who is actually a girl. Unfortunately this production precluded any resulting sexual titillation by casting diminutive mezzo Elizabeth DeShong as Orsini who read as Gennaro’s belligerent baby sister.

Even so the B in bel canto did succeed somewhat in forcing its way into the theater. Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza provided a solidly idiomatic if uninspired reading of Donizetti’s score, perhaps in reaction to the production. American tenor Michael Fabiano gave great pleasure, as a singer he is stylish and correct as evidenced in his splendid “Di pescator ignobile," and he glowed as an accomplished actor in scenes with his no affect mother. Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow made a big impression as Lucrezia’s third husband, Alfonso d’Este, tearing up the stage with his showpiece "Vieni, la mia vendetta!"

LB_SFO2.gifVitalij Kowaljow as Duke Alfonso and Daniel Montenegro as Rustighello

While Mlle. DeShong did not physically measure up to Orsini she proved herself to be a strong singer. Among the smaller roles the Rustighello of Adler Fellow Daniel Montenegro was effectively drawn.

The libretto by Felice Romano is undeserving of ridicule. It accomplishes what a bel canto libretto sets out to do — create situations that can only be resolved by beautiful singing. But Lucrezia Borgia is like a carefully constructed short story where there is not one word too many, and in fact Donizetti revised the opera several times so maybe there is not one note too many either. It is this stark minimalism that shunts this blunt opera from masterpiece status.

Stage direction, sets and costumes are all by English producer John Pascoe, a production he created for Mme. Fleming at the Washington Opera in 2008.

Michael Milenski

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):