09 Nov 2011
Roméo et Juliette, LA
Love and gloom at the Los Angeles Opera.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
Love and gloom at the Los Angeles Opera.
Though love and gloom permeate Gounod’s Roméo and Juliette — the opera opens with a melancholy choral prologue and ends with a tear provoking death duet — it was love that won the day when the curtain came down at the opera’s November 6th opening performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. But this was not the love of the young protagonists for each other, rather it was that of the audience for the opera, its principle performers, and its conductor Placido Domingo. The moment the curtain fell, applause overwhelmed the last orchestral sounds. And the instant it rose again to reveal the singers and set, bodies shot forth from their seats as one.
The current production is a revival of the 2005 presentation of the work directed by Ian Judge. As it did six years ago, Roméo and Juliette brought together two young singers at the thresholds of their operatic careers, Georgian soprano, Nino Machaidze, and Italian tenor, Vittorio Grigolo. More about them in a moment.
Shakespeare’s play, shaped for Gounod by librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré into five acts that focus exclusively on the lovers, gave the composer abundant opportunity write music filled with love and with dread. When it was produced in Paris in 1867, the work immediately won the hearts of French audiences. Its first Metropolitan Opera performances in 1884 were sung in Italian. Its reappearance in the Met repertory at an 1891 performance in Chicago marked the first time the company sang a French opera in French. It was as quickly a success here as well, and why not? Those early performances featured the De Reszke brothers and Emma Eames.
Who knows what the De Reszkes and Mme. Eames, swathed in their their multilayered costumes would have made of this slick production delivered in two acts, featuring slim young lovers romping in bed half nude, and set nowhere in particular? The essentially unit set with movable sections, is a skeletal iron structure which recalls old Parisian arcades, or the base of Eiffel Tower. However, the set changes were fairly rapid and effective. Costumes were dark and restrained. The beautifully constructed gowns for the First Act ball never lit the scene, perhaps to help us keep us in mind of impending doom. My major grievance relates to the direction after Mercutio’s death. Ian Judge has our hero fighting dirty. After hand to hand pushing and shoving and a brief duel with knives, Romeo suddenly has a gun in his hand and unhesitatingly shoots Tybalt point blank. If you heard someone exclaim. “that’s that not fair,” you were sitting near me.
Alexey Sayapin as Tybalt and Museop Kim as Mercutio
Neither Machaidze or Grigolo, who was making his LA debut, is new to French opera. The soprano was Juliet in Salzburg in 2008 and in Verona this past July. She and Grigolo performed their roles together in June at La Scala. Grigolo has also sung Hoffmann and scored an enormous success as Des Grieux in his Covent Garden debut.
Machaidze was a charming Juliet, though her voice, noticeably edgier than in her Salzburg Juliet, was occasionally shrill at the top. Grigolo, known in his youth in Italy as il Pavarottini, has a dark robust almost baritonal voice with a gravelly buzz in mid range that opens to a clarion clarity at the top. Slim and handsome, he is also remarkably agile and scaled the gates and ladders keeping him from his beloved with the litheness of a cat burglar.
Vladimir Chernov as Capulet and Nino Machaidze as Juliette, with Ronnita Nicole Miller (in black) as Juliette's Nurse, and Daniel Armstrong (at right, in rear) as Count Paris
Museup Kim as Mercutio and Renée Rapier, making an unexpected LA opera debut as Stephano, were outstanding in this large cast. Vitalij Kowaljow was a sonorous Friar Laurence. Alexey Sayapin debuted as Tybalt. Baritone Vladimir Chernov sang the thankless role of Count Capulet, and Ronnita Nicole Miller had little to sing about as Juliette’s nurse.
Maestro Domingo’s conducting, while responsive to Gounod’s long melodic lines, whether instrumental or vocal, lacked the rhythmic thrust that keeps a repeated waltz beat buoyant. Perhaps his rehearsal time was limited. But no one cared. With the production staff, performers, conductor and chorus on stage, and the energetic Grigolo pulling them forward for yet another bow, all was love Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles opera.