Recently in Performances
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.
18 Nov 2011
Lucia di Lammermoor, Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di
Lammermoor as its second production of the current season with Susanna
Phillips taking on the role of the heroine torn between romantic love and familial pressures.
In the performance seen René Barbera replaced the
indisposed tenor Giuseppe Filianoti in the lead role of Lucia’s lover
Edgardo. Baritone Quinn Kelsey sang the role of Lucia’s brother Lord
Enrico Ashton and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn the role of Raimondo. By
coincidence in this performance all four lead roles were assumed by past or
current members of the Ryan Opera Center. The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus
were conducted by Massimo Zanetti in his debut season.
During the overture soft light shone through a blue scrim which returned and
was varied at select points during the subsequent scenes. The woodwinds
contributed notably to a generally well led performance of the overture,
although the percussion was at times overly loud and pauses could be better
seamed together. The male voices in the initial scene created a strong
impression, one which remained consistent throughout the performance. As
Normanno sung with urgent appeal by baritone Paul Scholten leads a search party
to find Edgardo of Ravenswood, the male chorus members and Enrico join the
group. In his aria and cabaletta Quinn Kelsey gave a nuanced and authoritative
performance, clearly defining the venal character of Lucia’s brother.
“Cruda, funesta smania” was sung with a true sense of line and
color to emphasize words such as “horribile.” The
cabaletta “La pietade in suo favore” proceeded naturally
with well chosen vocal decoration, pitches sung flat to give additional
emphasis, and effective top notes. The voice of Mr. Van Horn, so vital later in
these performances, added here to the ensemble with chorus where his impressive
range gave memorable support to the effect of the group.
In the second scene of Act One Lucia and Edgardo make their initial
impressions, the heroine appearing before being joined by her outlawed suitor.
As she relates to her confidante Alisa the tale of violence between lovers in
an earlier generation of the Ravenswood clan, Lucia sings “Regnava nel
silenzio” and claims to have seen the spirit of the dead girl at the
fountain. As the narrative unfolds Ms. Phillips characterizes Lucia’s
emotions by modulating her voice between full and hushed. In the second half of
the scene showcasing the cabaletta “Quando rapito in estasi”
Phillips drew on especially secure vocal decoration, as she negotiated the aria
with all the repeats taken. Barbera’s Edgardo blended well with Phillips
in their subsequent duet, his voice taking on a more declamatory tone when he
sang solo lines. The exchange of rings and promise of future letters was sworn
by both singers with lyrically believable tenderness.
The second act of this production was performed after the first without
pause. Although the scene now changes to the interior of Enrico’s study,
a stylized tree from the previous act staged outdoors can now be seen as
through a window. The emotions attendant on that earlier scene drift into a
conflict accelerating between Lucia and her brother: he insists in the
confrontation here depicted that she marry Arturo Bucklaw in order to save the
Ashton family. Both singers showed a skilled application of bel canto
technique in their interaction, just as their dramatic outbursts were vocally
in character. Once Enrico leaves her alone, Lucia is comforted and advised by
Raimondo. Surely a highlight of this production was Mr. Van Horn’s
performance of the aria “Ah, cedi, cedi,” a piece which has so
often been cut from stagings of Lucia. Here Raimondo relies on humane
persuasion and a tone of religious authority to convince Lucia that she should
follow Enrico’s suggestion. Van Horn’s sonorous line and excellent
low notes were matched in his cabaletta by a lightness and rhythmic sensitivity
where noticeable articulation led to an impressively dramatic close. In the
final scene of Act Two with all the principals on the stage the bridal couple
is prepared for the wedding ceremony in festive attire. In assuming the role of
Arturo Bucklaw Bernard Holcomb brought a good sense of diction and legato
phrasing to his lines. Once the true beloved Edgardo reappeared, the sextet was
performed with uniform commitment and individual voices soaring at appropriate
moments. As Edgardo cursed Lucia’s perfidy the act concluded in a well
staged ensemble. Van Horn’s thrilling calls of “Pace” sounded
ever more futile as the enmity between Enrico and Edgardo predominated to the
Lyric Opera’s production of Lucia includes the scene outside the tower
of Wolf’s Crag and hence divides Act Three into a trio of significant
parts. In the first of these identified traditionally with the location Edgardo
and Enrico confront each other on the grounds of the Ravenswood family estate.
As they sang the duet (“Qui del padre ancora respira”) both Kelsey
and Barbera chose decoration judiciously and allowed their characters to be
defined by dramatic technique and a firm sense of legato. The growing
rage between the two men and their assignation for a duel in the final scene
helped clarify the plot and presents strong arguments for including the scene
regularly in stagings of the opera. In the second scene the two major arias
were sung with a memorable sense of integration into the dramatic flow. During
the wedding festivities Raimondo bursts in to announce that Lucia has murdered
her husband Arturo (“Dalle stanze ove Lucia”). Van Horn’s
intonation in the aria expressed his horror at the discovery, just as his
delivery of “infelice” followed by splendid top notes communicated
Lucia’s state of madness to the revelers. When the heroine appears at the
top of a precipitous staircase to sing the mad scene (“Il dolce
suono”) Ms. Phillips acted and sang as one possessed. The effect of her
fluid, secure delivery of the runs, trills, and roulades in this vocal
challenge gave her Lucia the freedom to express visions and emotions in
movement as well. Her ghostly singing of high notes pianissimo, punctuated with
pitches delivered and held flat to enhance the sense of instability, added to
this interpretation of a complex mental state. In the final scene of the opera
Edgardo awaits Lucia’s brother in order to fight the duel that was agreed
upon in the first part of this act. Mr. Barbera’s stylish delivery of the
famous tenor aria (“Fra poco a me ricovero”) showed a supple
approach with a welcome ring to high notes, as he ended the piece by taking the
opportunity for introspective singing piano. When he realizes that Lucia has
died and witnesses her funeral procession, Barbera inflected his cabaletta with
wrenching emotion before stabbing himself to join his beloved in death.
Click here for a photo gallery and other information regarding this production.