Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

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.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

Kiss Me, Kate: Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome

In 1964, 400 years after the birth of the Bard, the writer Anthony Burgess saw Cole Porter’s musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, a romping variation on The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s comedy, Burgess said, had a ‘good playhouse reek about it’, adding ‘the Bard might be regarded as closer to Cole Porter and Broadway razzmatazz’ than to the scholars who were ‘picking him raw’.

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):