Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

David Daniels as Arsamenes and Susan Graham as Xerxes [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
25 Nov 2011

Xerxes in San Francisco

No cuts, not a single one, nearly four hours of non-stop arias, and its only hit tune happens within the first five minutes.

G. F. Handel: Xerxes

Xerxes: Susan Graham; Romilda: Lisette Oropesa; Arsamenes: David Daniels; Atalanta: Heidi Stober; Amastris: Sonia Prina; Ariodates: Wayne Tigges; Elviro: Michael Sumuel. San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Conductor: Patrick Summers; Production: Nicholas Hytner; Revival Director: Michael Walling; Production Designer: David Fielding; Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant. (11/16/2011)

Above: David Daniels as Arsamenes and Susan Graham as Xerxes

Photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

It was a fine evening in the War Memorial Opera House, a rare visit by one of opera’s greatest dramatists, G.F. Handel now 326 years-old. San Francisco Opera welcomed his 273 years-old Xerxes with a production that is 26 years-old.

Prina_Xerxes.gifSonia Prina as Amastris

While the mushy acoustic of San Francisco’s venerable opera house is not kind to the linear detail and sculptural shapes of Baroque opera an exemplary cast overcame this handicap with the help of the English National Opera production directed by Nicholas Hytner and designed by David Fielding — purely and simply a classic.

The Handel revival has been going on quite a while now, in fact nearly one hundred years though not so many of his operas find their way onto the big stages to play for broader audiences. That may be the reason that when the populist and always lively ENO took on Xerxes for the Handel 1985 anniversary it choose to play up the comic elements of this opera seria, in fact to make it an outright comedy, trappings it wears quite naturally.

Impeccable comic timing and deadpan humor rarely describe performances by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (whose roles at SFO include Iphigénie, Ariodante and Sister Helen [Dead Man Walking]). As the Persian king Serse (Xerxes) these attributes are as appropriate as the more usual phrases like impeccable musicianship and superb delivery. Her trouser acting technique does not attempt masculinity leaving us gratefully unconfused in the usual gender confusion.

Tigges_Xerxes.gifWayne Tigges as Ariodates

Almost the same things can be said about countertenor David Daniels who was her/his (Serse’s) rival in love, though in the case of Mr. Daniels the gender confusion became a part of the comedy with his maleness exaggerated by the addition of a beard — all the while singing in a male voice in a female register. Mr. Daniels has a quite beautiful falsetto that is evenly colored throughout his range, and exposes his mastery of Baroque style with every note.

To a man all the other pro- and antagonists were scene stealers. Heidi Stober and Lisette Oropesa were the sisters, Atalanta and Romilda, very lyric singers and beguiling actresses, complemented by the delightfully outraged Sonia Prina as Serse’s forgotten fiance Amastris, now disguised as a soldier. She earned a huge ovation for her dynamite, end of first act explosion “Saprà delle mie offese, ben vendicarsi il cor.”

Well, to a man it was hopeless, tormented love finally resolved by the dumb coyness of lovesick Serse aided by the very real charm of the servant Elviro sung by baritone Michael Samuel and by the pomposity of the general Ariodates adroitly served up by bass Wayne Tigges.

The greatest pleasure of the evening was however the finished staging accomplished by stage director Michael Walling. Its imposed precise movements were confidently executed by the cast. This finish alone allowed the comedy to shine as well as to expose gracefully the considerable personal charms of the seven principals. Not to mention the huge presence of 24 choristers (but only two brief choruses) and 17 tireless supernumeraries as the very slightly defined Persian society (disguised in period European dress) — totally gray, shadowy, barely visible gentle commentators on the shenanigans of Handel’s brightly dressed lovers — that added very welcome action and context to the countless arias.

David Fielding’s set on which Serse and Ariodates plot their invasion of Europe was a Baroque room with a garden superimposed (recognizing that Xerxes is really a pastorale) with a back wall that flew out to reveal some witty Middle Eastern vistas and side panels that opened to admit some monumental Persian sculpture in museum cases. Together with the cheap lawn chairs and newspapers there was plenty of nifty confusion of time and place to complement the amusing gender confusions mixed up in the silly romantic convolutions.

Trio_Xerxes.gifLisette Oropesa as Romilda, Michael Sumuel as Elviro and David Daniels as Arsamenes

Conductor Patrick Summers allowed all this to happen without imposing musical extravagances, choosing instead to indulge in his sympathy for the needs of his singers. There was no real attempt or for that matter possibility or even need to create a Baroque sound in the vast expanse of the War memorial.

This production from twenty-six years ago reflects the tastes and challenges of that time, a particularly innovative period at the ENO. A new production now of this problematic opera might attempt to underscore the depth of emotion in its exposition of these tragic (genuinely unhappy) stories. The feelings are musically quite real. The heady humor of the Hytner production kept us outside and above the much of the potential musical depth and maybe some of the pleasures of this Handel score.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):