Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
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.