Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
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.
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.
05 Nov 2011
La sonnambula, Royal Opera
Bellini’s La sonnambula does not have the most gripping or
convincing of opera plots: a young girl sleepwalks into a stranger’s room, where she is discovered by her fiancé; disbelieving her pleas of innocence, he jilts her and plans to wed another; but, she is vindicated when she is spied on a nocturnal wander, and the lovers are reconciled.
wafer-thin text is more than compensated for by the composer’s ravishing
score and reams of gorgeous melody.
Jihoon Kim as Alessio
It’s a simple tale and needs a light touch. Sadly, in this revival of
Marco Arturo Marelli’s 2002 production, both the presumptuous direction
and Daniel Oren’s sluggish tempi weigh down the proceedings, and the
result is narcotic.
Not trusting the music itself to provide depth and insight, Marelli has
given the opera a ‘psychological makeover’. Thus, the Swiss village
setting is replaced by an Alpine sanatorium (intended, we are told, to suggest
the world of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain) where Elvino
– no longer a local landlord but a composer – has been undergoing
treatment since the traumatic death of his mother. Bellini’s orphaned
maid, Amina, to whom Elvino is betrothed, is now a waitress at the sanatorium.
So, we have no gentle pastoral woods and byways, rather a sublime
mountain-scape panorama, visible through vast atrium windows; sublime, that is,
until an avalanche crashes through the windows and ruins the grand piano! And
the site of the opera’s only really dramatic event – the narrow
bridge over the rushing mill stream upon which the villager’s witness the
precarious exploits of the sleepwalking, thereby proving her innocence –
is also dispensed with. Instead, Anima has to navigate her way across the
wreckage of the piano. Nineteenth-century village yokels are replaced with
bustling nurses in crisp uniforms and wheelchair-bound patients sporting modern
evening dress. It’s enough to send us all to the asylum.
Michele Pertusi as Count Rodolfo and Eglise Gutierrez as Amina
But, bel canto is all about the singing, so perhaps some high-class
performances could rescue this production from insanity and inanity? Sadly, our
Elvino, Spanish tenor Celso Albelo, could not provide the stature and presence
required. While his diction was good and his tone sweet and pure, some
incredible high notes and considerable vocal agility could not compensate for a
total lack of charm. Albelo’s acting was leaden, and he needs to use his
face more expressively to ensure a fully convincing sense of style.
As Amina, Eglise Gutiérrez demonstrated a beautifully tender
pianissimo, floating, delicate upper notes, and an expressive vibrato.
Crucially, however, her Italian is very poor, and occluded diction destroyed
the inherent line of the melodies whose elegance is so intimately rooted in the
language. Gutiérrez also adopted an overly fussy approach to the demanding
coloratura. The florid passages stretched her technique to its limits, and she
simply didn’t have the notes, especially in the final aria, in which she
celebrates her lover’s return. Gutiérrez wasn’t helped by
Marelli’s decision to bring the curtain down at the very moment she
wakes, swap her demure, white nightgown for a plunging, scarlet velvet gown,
and force her to stand on a table to deliver this fiendish number. With soloist
and conductor wildly adrift, it made for an anticlimactic ending.
The rest of the cast were solid. Elena Xanthoudakis did a good job of
conveying Lisa’s bitter jealousy, and mastered the stratospheric
pyrotechnics (though why is she costumed as a lusty barmaid?); and as Count
Rodolfo, Italian bass-baritone Michele Pertusi was appropriately authoritative
and resonant. Elizabeth Sikora sang the role of Teresa, Amina’s foster
mother, most impressively, making much of her powerful interjections. Jihoon
Kim (Alessio), a Jette Parker Young Artist, and Elliot Goldie (Notary), a
member of the ROH chorus, were reliable in their minor roles.
Celso Albelo as Elvino and Elena Xanthoudakis as Lisa
Bellini composed the opera after a holiday in Como, where he admired the
landscape and simple pastoral lifestyles of the inhabitants; the folk music he
heard inspired him to create the beautiful, quite substantial, choruses which
abound in the score. The Royal Opera chorus were a bit ragged, but they did
have to endure Marelli’s silly stage antics; the instrumentalists of the
ROH orchestra fared better, despite Oren’s uninspiring, tentative
But, although Marelli’s sweeping scenic designs are pleasing to look
at, the production’s psychobabble is pretty unpalatable.