09 Nov 2011
Roméo et Juliette, LA
Love and gloom at the Los Angeles Opera.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
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.