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 Performances

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

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.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

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!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

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 Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

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.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

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.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

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.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

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.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

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 less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

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.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

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.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Renata Pokupić [Photo by Chris Gloag courtesy of Intermusica]
23 Oct 2011

Renata Pokupić, Wigmore Hall

In this appealing lunchtime recital programme, Croatian soprano Renata Pokupić demonstrated a rich, varied tonal palette and strong communicative skills as she spanned one hundred years of European song.

Renata Pokupić, Wigmore Hall

Mezzo-soprano: Renata Pokupić; Piano: Roger Vignoles. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 17th October 2011.

Above: Renata Pokupić [Photo by Chris Gloag courtesy of Intermusica]

 

Ranging far from the coloratura repertoire with which she has primarily made her name in the opera house, Pokupić was perhaps more comfortable with the impassioned folk sentiments of Dvořák’s Cigánské melodie (Gypsy Songs) and the flamboyance of Weill’s songs from Marie Galante than with the poised control of Schubert’s late lieder or the expressive nuances of Enescu’s settings of Clément Marot; but, supported by the typically accomplished accompaniments of Roger Vignoles, she presented an engaging sequence of song to a receptive audience.

The opening four Schubert songs, all composed during the last two or three years of the composer’s death in 1828, reveal the extraordinary diversity that Schubert achieved within the small form. Drawn and translated by Edward von Bauemfeld from Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona, ‘An Silvia’ is a sweet serenade to the eponymous protagonist. Adopting a tender, reflective tone Popukić revealed flashes of glimmering brightness, as the narrator remarked nature’s adoration of Silvia’s powers – “the wide fields praise her” and “Her gentle child-like charm refreshes”. Unfortunately, ‘Im Abendrot’ (‘Sunset glow’) and ‘Die Junge Nonne’ (‘The young nun’) were marred by some insecure intonation and melodic uncertainty; Popukić particularly struggled to control sustained pitches and confined melodic contours. Moreover, though the larger dramatic canvas of the final song suited the mezzo soprano’s temperament, a fittingly vigorous outburst as the nun rejoices in her transfiguring love for her God – “The loving bride awaits the bridegroom,/purified by testing fire -/ wedded to eternal love” – revealed plenty of power and fire, but also some unpleasant pushing of the voice at the expressive climax.

Roger Vignoles is a master of the judicious accompaniment, creating consistent, understated textures from which significant bass figures, telling melodic motifs and pointed expressive gestures sleekly arise to effortlessly assert themselves and then surreptitiously fade, always in expressive service of the text or diplomatically responding to the singer’s needs. This was most powerfully evident in the Schubert songs. Thus, the gentle ‘strumming’ of ‘An Silvia’ was momentarily enlivened by melodic echoes of, and dialogue with, the voice, all the while underpinned by the springing dotted rhythms of the leaping bass. And, appreciative of the way these ‘miniature’ forms can contain significant emotional depths and range, and alert to the overall structure and drama, he expertly controlled the rubato and brief but affective alternation of major and minor tonalities in the penultimate stanza of ‘Im Frühling’, restoring the settled ambience at the close. Sweeping, arpeggiated chords radiated the warm, golden gleam of the glowing sun in ‘Im Abendrot’, then gave way to the ‘raging storm’ – conveyed by an energised, oscillating bass, trembling beneath clanging treble cloister bells – in ‘Die junge Nonne’.

A more centred vocal line, amid adventurous harmonic progressions, was achieved in the ardent ‘Estrene à Anne’ (‘A gift for Anne’), which began the sequence of five songs from the Romanian George Enescu’s Sept Chanson de Clément Marot. Popukić effectively negotiated the rather archaic French texts and demonstrated much feeling for textual meaning and nuance, particularly in ‘Languir me fais’ (‘You make me pine’), where Vignoles’ elegant piano introduction adeptly established the reflective mood. She enjoyed the wit of ‘Aux damoyselles paresseuses d’escrit à leurs amys’ (‘To young ladies too lazy to write to their friends’), pianist and singer crafting an adroitly calculated, insouciant reading. Popukić’s delightfully rich lower register was much in evidence in ‘Changeons propos, c’est trop chanté d’amours’ (‘Let’s change the subject, enough of lauding love’), an unsentimental drinking song which galloped and then collapsed in a inebriated conclusion in praise of liquor and its celebrants, Bacchus and Silenus, who: “drank standing bolt upright;/ then he would dance,/ and bruise himself/ his nose was as red as a cherry;/ Many are those descended from his race.”

The second half of the recital found Popukić in her more natural element, whether embodying the bohemian personae of Dvořák’s folk songs, which tell of the joys and hardships of gypsy life, or enjoying the cabaret lilt of Weill’s songs for Jacques Déval’s play, Marie Galante. Popukić proved herself capable of shaping and controlling wide-ranging melodic arcs and leaping between registers, and of communicating extremes and contrasts of emotion, in the Cigánské melodie. An intense gravity characterised ‘My song resounds with love to me again’, as the narrator experiences both joy and loss, “when I am glad that, freed from misery/ my brother dies”; and deep melancholy underpinned ‘And the wood’s silent all around’, despite the warm major harmonies. Similarly, the arching melodic phrases of ‘Songs my mother taught me’, beautifully fashioned by Popukić with lustrous tone and enriched by the piano’s decorative ornamental motifs and propelling syncopations, presented a poignant blend of contradictory sentiments. A wilder more festive mood was created in the following two dances, ‘The strings are tuned, my lad’, and ‘Wide sleeves and loose trousers’, as Popukić at last fully relaxed, relishing the nonchalant fluctuations of pace and the unrestrained celebrations of freedom and music.

In Weill’s tango-inspired ‘Youkali’, Popukić unleashed a sultry low register and suave lyricism, saving a dulcet floating colour for the closing phrase as the narrator reflects that, whatever tedium we must endure in life, the human soul seeks escape, “oblivion everywhere”: “to find the mystery,/ where our dreams are buried/ in some Youkali.” The melodramatic grotesquery of ‘Le grand Lustucru’ (‘The Great Bogeyman’) and the extravagant dramatic sentiments of ‘J’attends un navire’ (‘I wait for a ship’) allowed Popukić to indulge her theatrical instincts, bringing the recital to an energetic and highly entertaining conclusion.

Claire Seymour

Programme:

Franz Schubert: ‘An Silvia’ D891; ‘Im Frühling’ D882; ‘Im Abendrot’ D799; ‘Die junge Nonne’ D828.

George Enescu: Songs from Sept chanson de Clément Marot Op.15

Antonín Dvořák: Cigánské melodie (Gypsy Songs) Op.55

Kurt Weill: Songs from Marie Galante

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):