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.
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.