09 Nov 2011
Roméo et Juliette, LA
Love and gloom at the Los Angeles Opera.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
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.