13 Nov 2011
Adriana Lecouvreur, Carnegie Hall
What could be more appropriate for the Samhain season than a return from near-death?
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
What could be more appropriate for the Samhain season than a return from near-death?
The Opera Orchestra of New York seemed to edge the shadows quite lately, but its return to Carnegie Hall with Cilèa’s fragrant Adriana Lecouvreur was ardently welcomed by something like a sell-out crowd—and why not? The cast, headed by Angela Gheorghiu and Jonas Kaufmann, could hardly have been more up-to-the-moment starry. Adriana is not the obscure sort of fare for which New York’s opera lovers have long treasured the company, being an occasional visitor to the Met as well as to OONY in recent seasons, but no one seemed to mind that. Even better news was the remodeled and repeopled orchestra itself under its handsome new conductor, Alberto Veronesi, producing Cilèa’s masterful and dreamy effects all night up to the ethereal harps that accompany the expiring Adriana to the throne of Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy, on Mount Parnassus. They made one almost eager to hear OONY’s next offering, Wagner’s Rienzi, on January 29th. A maestro of Veronesi’s ability might find elegances in that bombastic work that have previously escaped our attention.
Adriana has its bombastic moments too, but it largely sticks to formal “Verist” manners: continuous song inspired by dialogue and personality; the opera lacks even the audience sop of an act finale of singers in full concerted blast. Adriana is based—it is the last successful opera based—on a script by the indefatigable (but, by 1902, long dead) Eugène Scribe, and like all Scribe historical farragoes, “illustrates” historical problems by placing the feelings of characters, real or fictitious, in the foreground with a claque of intricate skullduggery to surround it and elicit our thrills and chills of sympathy—the technique of “historicality” bequeathed by Scribe to Hollywood. In Adriana, the great actress, in love with a mere officer, learns that he is actually Maurice de Saxe, son of the king of Poland, eventually a marshal of France, and aspirant to the throne of Courland. (Where? Latvia. Same as Latvia. Roughly. But don’t worry; the whole show takes place in Paris.) Maurizio (as he is here) has concealed his identity because, for political reasons (Courland again), he has been courting the passionate wife of the mighty Prince de Bouillon. The Prince never suspects Maurizio is his wife’s lover, but he does suspect the gallant officer of seducing his mistress. That would call for a duel. Add a lot of complications in a darkened room by two desperate women who must not see each other’s faces, and a nastily-wielded speech from Racine, and a bunch of poisoned violets. In life, Maurice and Adrienne had a child, whose great-granddaughter was George Sand, a pal of Scribe’s. And Maurice never did get Courland. Never mind.
Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu [Photo by Stephanie Berger courtesy of Opera Orchestra of New York]
Angela Gheorghiu has a lovely voice but her choice of repertory and the way she uses the instrument have seldom delighted me. On this occasion, while her diva mannerisms no doubt recalled the old days to those who missed them (in either sense), she was for me the least satisfying singer. This may be a case of being too busy studying the notes to bother with the story. Adrienne Lecouvreur was the queen of the Comédie Française because she brought naturalism, or what passed for naturalism in 1730, to a stage frozen in the affectations of “high art.” This is the message of Adriana’s entrance aria, “Io son l’umile ancella,” when, in response to her colleagues’ applause, she assures them she merely inhabits the text as it has been written. Obviously, a great actress does much more than that and a great singer should present the aria as naturalism on her own particular terms—but it must be natural on some terms. Gheorghiu can be many things on stage—pathetic, passionate, sexy, tragic, outraged, outrageous—but she is never natural. That’s all right as long as you sing “Io son l’umile ancella” in a natural fashion, its strophes considered, its raptures and confidences part of a whole (the way Mirella Freni sang it—got that?), but Gheorghiu isolated the phrases into separate Post-It notes on her performing style, never joining them into a whole and demolishing Cilèa’s loveliest melody. Maestro Veronesi followed her devotedly: A star is a star. A friend suggested that he wasn’t conducting the orchestra at all—Gheorghiu was doing it herself with all those tossings and flutterings of her elegant gown.
After a costume change in the interval—divas rule!—Gheorghiu seemed more prepared to sink into the score (which she recently performed in a full staging at Covent Garden). The spoken tirade from Racine’s Phaedra in Act III was, to these ears, her finest vocal moment although one might cavil that it isn’t exactly sung. Her “Poveri fiori,” if once again wayward in tempo, took us closer to the character than anything else all night.
Jonas Kaufmann is not the ideal Latin tenor lover (one reason his Alfredo at the Met was predictably disappointing), but he has such advantages, such a robust, attractive baritonal color to his voice with a seemingly effortless reach to the top, such musicality, such charisma, such devotion to creating his part (which meant here that he had to convince two jealous women of his unflawed fidelity—no trouble for Kaufmann—we all wanted to believe he was in love with us, and it’s easy to believe what you want to believe when it’s sung like that), that I was as starry-eyed as the rest of the house. When I say he lacks “Latinity,” I mean that when he does go for emotional high points, declaring his love or recounting a bold military exploit, though the phrases ring, he does not sound ready to die to take that redoubt, I mean high note. That is the effect of the ideal Verismo tenor. Kaufmann is German: brainless testosterone is just an act for him.
Full cast [Photo by Stephanie Berger courtesy of Opera Orchestra New York]
Anita Rachvelishvili has been singing Carmen to acclaim all over the world, and she did not seem to have renounced the street Gypsy when singing the jealous Principessa here. She seems a very young singer, but the Principessa (unlike so many of her interpreters) is not old; she is a disappointed young woman trapped in a marriage to a noble roué; Maurizio has waked a smoldering volcano. Rachvelishvili has a deep, smoky sound with a vibrato that can be thrillingly suggestive or vaguely spooky and wide of pitch. Her Principessa was full of sass. I wonder what her Dalila might be like?
Ambrogio Maestri, resembling a thick-lipped, sentimental concierge in a romantic farce, brought a far more impressive sound to Michonnet, Adriana’s hopeful manager, than the lovesick fellow usually gets. The smaller roles were cast appealingly, especially Nicola Pamio’s mincing abbé and the four twirling actors who cheer Adriana on her birthday. The orchestra sounded reborn, revivified, ready for anything. I hope that means they will take on many scores they have not played for us before—there’s a lot of terrific bel canto that’s just coming to light. Or if they stick to encoring previous O.O.N.Y. successes, may one suggest Robert le Diable? Nerone? Poliuto? Beatrice di Tenda? I missed them last time through, and they’re certainly worth more than one glance. Or Bizet’s Ivan IV. Or Mercadante’s Virginia. Or Gomes’ Maria Tudor or Il Guarany. Or .