Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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.