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

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Thiago Arancam as Don Jose and Sara Gartland as Micaela
14 Nov 2011

Carmen in San Francisco

Déja vu. Well, sort of. Last time around (2006) there was a Carmen and then another who canceled leaving San Francisco Opera in the lurch.

Georges Bizet: Carmen

Carmen: Anita Rachvelishvili; Don José: Thiago Arancam; Micaëla: Sara Gartland; Escamillo: Paulo Szot; Frasquita: Susannah Biller; Mercédès: Cybele Gouverneur; Le Dancaïre: Timothy Mix; Le Remendado: Daniel Montenegro; Moralès: Trevor Scheunemann; Zuniga: Wayne Tigges; Lillas Pastia: Yusef Lambert. War Memorial Opera House. San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Stage Director: Jose Maria Condemi; Set Designer: Jean Pierre Ponnelle; Costume Designer: Werner Juerke; Lighting Designer: Christopher Maravich. Performance of 12 November 2011.

Above: Thiago Arancam as Don Jose and Sara Gartland as Micaela

All production photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

Of the several step-ins one seemed the most unlikely. But American lyric mezzo Kate Aldrich surprised everyone with a Carmen that was splendidly charismatic. Five years later la Aldrich, now a Rossini diva as well, was to be the centerpiece for eleven performances of this get-em-in-the-opera-house war horse. Guess what!

ZA--Anita-R.pngAnita Rachvelishvili [Photo courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

But this time, so far, the replacements have been very likely Carmens. American mezzo and recent Adler Fellow Kendall Gladden took the first two performances. This fine young artist has already distinguished herself as a viable Carmen on several of the world’s major stages. Georgian diva Anita Rachvelishvili, a veteran of the role at La Scala, the Met, Munich, etc., has now made her local debut and takes the next four performances as well. San Francisco Opera still hopes Mme. Aldrich may arrive for the final four performances, but stay tuned.

The problem is that Kate Aldrich is a very specific artist. She has a tonality that incorporates her quite lyric voice with a bright, American presence. It would seem that San Francisco Opera built its cast around this formidable persona and that meant lighter voices and lighter weight personalities. And since Carmen is a dialogue and numbers opera anyway the artistic concept seems to have been to make it a true operetta-like musical.

A light-weight cast was the result. Young Brazilian tenor Thiago Arancam was an adolescent looking and sounding Jose whose singing gave great pleasure but who lacked the power to make Jose’s frustration and rage seem more than a temper tantrum. Current Adler Fellow Sara Gartland possesses a small, quite lovely voice with an engaging flutter. She was a Micaela blown about the stage by the whims of a few soldiers and smugglers rather than the stolid emotional force of Jose’s ties to his mother.

M--Act-II.pngPaulo Szot as Escamillo

Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot was the Escamillo. His claim to fame is the role of Emile De Becque in a Broadway revival of South Pacific and as the caricatural Shostakovich Nose at the Met. Mr. Szot simply lacks the operatic coglioni to fight bulls and seduce Carmen, but he did make a more or less pretty figure on the stage.

All this light artillary confronted a Carmen of maximum operatic magnitude, Anita Rachvelishvili. Mlle. Rachvelishvili has a big, big voice that she manages with grace and subtlety, and she does project a forceful personality if not a particularly sexual one. She apparently arrived in enough time to get her mind around the production’s dialogues but hardly in time to be integrated into its staging, if there ever was any. As it was she made generic Carmen moves from time to time.

This 1981 Jean Pierre Ponnelle production once had an edge. It was in fact the first time Bizet’s spoken dialogues were incorporated at the War Memorial and among the first times on any major stage in the world. To effect such daring Ponnelle obviously needed to downsize the public’s idea of Carmen from grand opera to a music hall ambiance.

This need accounts for the small false proscenium embedded in a massive, full stage stone wall. The little proscenium opens and closes upon some historical scenic ideas (as well as a few more sophisticated techniques) that Ponnelle uses to substitute for the grand opera ideas of locale and ambiance.

P--Act-III.png Q--Act-III.pngSusannah Biller as Frasquita (above) and Cybele Gouverneur as Mercedes (below)

But more than anything else the stone wall foreshortened stage depth determining that the staging be presentational, like music theater once was (and maybe still is). Can this explain why Jose seemed to be singing the "Flower Song" to the audience? And why Jose and Escamillo confronted one another without confronting one another (they seemed to be confronting the conductor). While the program does credit a fight choreographer these several crucial events that we look forward to in Carmen were inordinately weak.

Meanwhile, o Dio, we had Nicola Luisotti in the pit, a more formidable opera conductor cannot be imagined. Once again blatant staging concessions were obviously made to this tyrannical maestro so that all his musical points could be maximally vivid. And vivid Bizet’s music was. Maybe it was the point and flash of the music that made the stage seem so painfully pallid and therefore undermined our enjoyment of the performance.

Of the comprimarios the Dancairo of Timothy Mix had real flash, and the Moralès of Trevor Scheunemann well filled the stage. Adler Fellow Susannah Biller as Frasquita lacked the brilliance and volume of the high notes needed to vocally anchor the big ensembles. Wayne Tigges as Zuniga failed to find the fascistic stance that the Ponnelle production introduced to establish a political tyranny equal to the emotional tyranny imposed by Jose's mother.

The fashion to use the very compromised (i.e. hugely shortened) opéra comique dialogues in big opera houses has long since disappeared, and it is time to retire the Ponnelle production rather than destroy its integrity by producing it in unfavorable circumstances. The French dialogues just now were a pleasure however, easily understandable to anyone with high school French. Cleverly one Frenchman was introduced into the cast, Micaela’s mountain guide boy, so that we could hear what real French sounds like.

Michael Milenski

Click here for additional information regarding this production.

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):