Recently in Reviews
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature is an international database for
musicological and ethnomusicological research, providing abstracts and indexing
for users all over the world. As such, RILM’s style guide (How to Write
About Music: The RILM Manual of Style) differs fairly significantly from
those of more generalized style guides such as MLA or APA.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Carolyn Sampson has long avoided the harsh glare of stardom but become a favourite singer for “those in the know” — and if you are not one of those it is about time you were.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
02 Oct 2011
Eugene Onegin, Los Angeles
Kudos to the Los Angeles Opera Company for expanding its heretofore limited
Russian repertoire and opening its 26th season with Tchaikovsky’s
Eugene Onegin. The romantic work based on the novel in verse of the
same name by Alexander Pushkin, is likely everyone’s favorite
Kudos too, for having presenting the work in a production created by the
late Stephen Pimlott for the Royal Opera House and the and the Finnish National
Opera (more about this later) which, though it sparked discontent at its 2006
London premiere, introduces a new view of the tale.
Whereas Pushkin narrated his lengthy lyrical poem filled with wit, cynicism,
and psychological insights, Tchaikovsky and his librettist Konstantin
Shilovsky reduced the work to intimate scenes focused directly on their
principal characters. In both versions, however, the story is set at a time
when rank and status mattered, when women were essentially powerless. Eugene
Onegin, the eponymous protagonist (one can’t call him a hero) of the
work, is the wealthy neighbor of the widow Larina and her young daughters, Olga
and Tatiana. Onegin, who has wandered the world, lives the dissolute life of a
Byronic Don Juan, and carries himself with the aristocratic mien of Jane
Austen’s Mr. D’Arcy, is introduced to the Larin household by the
poet Lensky, in love with Olga. The three woman, attended by a nanny, live as
did Elizabeth Bennett, a modest country life. But in this story, it takes only
a glance for young Tatiana to fall in love with the elegant Onegin. The same
night, unable to sleep, overflowing with passion and impetuosity, she writes a
letter to Onegin offering him her heart.
When the two meet the next morning Onegin honorably, but coldly returns the
humiliated girl’s letter and rejects her love. Later, bored at a local
ball, he flirts with Olga and incenses Lensky to the point where the poet
challenges him to a duel Lensky is killed and Onegin returns to his aimless
wandering life. When, in Act 3 Onegin and Tatiana meet again, she is the wife
of a prince. Now it is Onegin who will write a letter and plead for love.
Tatiana first upbraids him for his past cruelty, then confesses that she still
loves him. But refusing to renounce her vows, she leaves him alone to his
despair. Is this a story of payback, as one reviewer described it? Is it about
class and caste? Is it about a country girl’s solid values, set against
the nihilism of a sybaritic life? Or does it reflect as many Pushkin scholars
believe, the battles raging within Pushkin himself? It should not be surprising
to find new interpretations of the work.
Though not a cast well-known to American opera goers, Los Angeles assembled
four stellar principals with knowledge of the language and familiarity with
their roles, which always brings a a sense of ease to a production. Baritone
Dalibor Jenis was a full voiced, if somewhat stiffly mannered Onegin, until the
last scene when rejected by Tatiana, jacketless and unkempt, he seemed to me a
maddened Don Jose. Oksana Dyka’s role as Tatiana took her in an opposite
emotional direction. In voice and manner she made the transition from love
starved teen ager to mature woman convincingly. I loved tenor Vsevolod
Grivnov’s ringing top voice as Lensky’s but sometimes I think I
love every tenor as Lensky. Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk sang Olga, and
Margaret Thompson, her mother, Larina with assurance and ease. There were three
young American artists in the cast. Ronnita Nicole Miller as Filipievna, the
nanny, has a rich voice wonderfully under control. James Cresswell sang Prince
Gremin’s aria with magnificent sonority and hit the low notes, but still
lacks that “innerness” that brings subtlety and shading. Keith
Jameson was a silky voiced Trinquet.
Dalibor Jenis as Onegin and Oksana Dyka as Tatiana
In the emotion-filled dramatic scenes that Tchaikovsky set, not only the
characters, but his music speak directly to our hearts. Conductor James Conlon
led the orchestra in a pulsing, radiant performance.
Pimlott’s intelligent production deserves a review of its own despite
some incomprehensible stagings: why Tatiana writes a letter bursting with
passion while bent over on the floor, I’ll never know. And why the
glittering third act “polonaise” is performed before a scrim
depicting death, remains a mystery to me. Suffice it now to say that with this
production Pimlott introduces us to Pushkin’s narrative viewpoint. Aided
by Antony McDonald’s sometimes outlandish costumes and Peter
Mumford’s always dramatic lighting, he gives us something of
Pushkin’s distant view of his characters by staging the action as though
painterly images set within a frame.
One last word about Tchaikovsky’s music. Tatiana, Lensky, Gremin and
Onegin have the four great arias of this opera. Leaving the theater, I could
recall snatches of the first three, all of which declare love, but not of
Onegin’s. His is the one about rejection.
And one other last word to thank Placido Domingo and the Opera Company for
including a touching tribute to Salvatore Licitra in its program.