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

O/MODƏRNT: Monteverdi in Historical Counterpoint

O/MODƏRNT is Swedish for ‘un/modern’. It is also the name of the festival — curated by artistic director Hugo Ticciati and held annually since 2011 at the Ulriksdal’s Palace Theatre, Confidencen — which aims to look back and celebrate the past ‘by exploring the relationships between the work of old composers and the artistic and intellectual creations of modern culture’.

Late Schumann in context - Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

La Forza del Destino (Opéra national de Paris)
13 Dec 2011

Drapes ‘n’ Drops in Paris Forza

Paris Opera has lavished quite a monumental staging on Verdi’s musically rich (and Piave’s dramatically vapid) La Forza del Destino.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino

Il Marchese di Calatrava: Mario Luperi; Leonora: Violeta Urmana; Don Carlo: Vladimir Stoyanov; Don Alvaro: Marcelo Alvarez; Preziosilla: Nadia Krasteva; Padre Guardiano: Kwangchul Youn; Fra Melitone: Nicola Alaimo; Curra: Nona Javakhidze; Mastro Trabuco: Rodolphe Briand; Conductor: Philippe Jordan; Director: Jean-Claude Auvray; Set Design: Alain Chambon; Costume Design: Maria-Chiara Donato; Lighting Design: Laurent Castaingt; Choreography: Terry John Bates; Chorus Master: Patrick Marie Aubert.

 

Forza is performed seldom enough that my one and only other encounter with it was Houston's 1973 production. I figure that once about every forty years, I can sit through the illogicalities of — why not say it — a patently stupid story with plot holes big enough to drive a Lamborghini through, in order to savor some of Verdi's auspicious writing. Oddly enough, there were two surprising similarities between the two versions I encountered. Both were played on a raked rectangular platform unit set that twisted up to form a back wall to the playing space, and both opted to begin the piece with Scene One and interpolate the overture after it.

Set designer Alain Chambon has skillfully managed to create an epic sense of stagecraft with economy of means, and has drawn on a color palette and textures that evoke the Golden Age of Spanish painting (Murillo, Velasquez, Zurbaran). This was largely achieved with beautifully painted drops and artfully draped heavy curtains. A singularly haunting Corpus Christi hovered over one scene above center stage (with its back to us) only to later have the same over-sized plaster image discarded absently on the mountainside as Leonora huddles under a huge fabric (her "cave") on the opposite site. Gorgeous imagery. The opening scene was not in the heroine's bedroom, but rather played out at the conclusion of a stiff, tense family formal dinner. The stunningly painted drop backing the impossibly long dining table seemed to announce that we would be seeing a traditional theatrical presentation. However, when the Marchese returned to discover the lovers, he angrily ripped the whole thing down off its pipe, and visually the piece was jump started into a splendidly suggestive approximation of subsequent locales.

Laurent Castaingt designed elegantly atmospheric soft-edged lighting, which contributed mightily to the chiaroscuro effect. Maria-Chiara Donato devised uncommonly flattering costumes for her principals, notably for Violeta Urmana's Leonora whom was first treated to a sumptuous, figure flattering dark federal blue gown, with a draped shawl conveying social status and femininity. Her male disguise was similarly well-tailored, aptly representing the effect without being slavishly "masculine." I have never seen the soprano costumed to better effect. While the Dons and the Calatrava household were all muted, jewel-toned elegance and the clerics all earth-toned, sober penitence, Ms. Donato unleashed a welcome extravagant riot of colors for the crowd scenes including a vividly clad, uninhibited Preziosilla.

For his part, director Jean-Claude Auvray told the implausible story as though he was totally convinced by it. In service to the characters, Mr. Auvray mined whatever drama was in the given situation and presented it clearly and with focus. He managed the traffic in the crowd scenes with considerable skill, and for once, we always knew where we should be looking. If characterizations were a little generic, well, the creators made them so. And if Jean-Claude slipped into a cliché or two or operatic groupings, well, they became clichés because they worked! The only truly ineffective moment of the night came with the ineffectual sword fight between the tenor and baritone which was little more than a half-hearted, clinking purse fight. (Actually, that is to insult purse fights, so lame the effort was.) The staging was all that was needed, then, and the technical elements were more surpassingly beautiful than expected, but where the company scored biggest was where it really counted. Prima la musica!

Conductor Philippe Jordan just goes from strength to strength. His passionately felt, resplendent reading urged all concerned to summon up one of the most musically exciting nights I have spent in the Bastille. The thrice-familiar overture crackled, popped, churned and soared with a burning intensity, and it elicited such a sustained roar of approval that it threatened to keep us from ever hearing the rest of the score! And so it went all evening long, Maestro Jordan giving the impression that the piece might have been written to the strengths of his responsive orchestra and his first rate soloists.

Marcelo Alvarez was indeed a forza to be reckoned with as Don Alvaro. His meaty tone soared above the staff with full, gleaming Verdian presence. He also commands a rich middle voice that was put to excellent use in this tricky role. Everything about his technique seemed hooked up and well founded, and he brought a seamless beauty to the numerous phrases that arc through the passaggio to above the staff. I don't know who the leading Verdi tenor might be these days, but Marcelo deserves serious consideration. Violeta Urmana may have staked her Fach transition from mezzo to soprano on the gamble that we needed more accomplished divas who could sing these spinto parts. She was right. And Leonora fits her like a glove. Having admired her in Vienna's Chenier I was less happy with last year's Paris Macbeth. But no equivocation here, Ms. Urmana has all the ripe low notes in place, her middle is vibrant, and her forays in higher territory encompass every demand from floating, pure pianos, to the hurled curse at the end of Pace, mio Dio. What a shame the composer gave the lovers so little to sing together, since Violeta and Marcello were exceptionally well-paired.

As Don Carlo, Vladimir Stoyanov showed off a forward-placed, imposing baritone that excelled in all but the highest notes. Here, he used a ‘poosh-em-uppa-Tony’ sort of approach that was more about reliable volume than complete control. A little rounding of the tone might stand him in better stead, but Mr. Stoyanov was nevertheless a solid Carlo. Kwangchul Youn brought his warm, mellifluous bass to Padre Guardiano, and his accomplished vocalism helped make the final trio one of the show's high points. The animated Nicola Alaimo wrung every bit of buffo humor out of Fra Melitone as he dominated his every scene. His solid, brassy bass was a nice contrast to Mr. Youn. Nadia Krasteva's ripe, sultry mezzo was a perfect fit for Preziosilla and she knew every inch of the role, giving it her all in an assured portrayal. However, I always feel that the poor mezzo sings her lungs out, prances and pouts, ‘rat-a-plans’ herself into a stupor and in the end, nothing adds up to anything substantial. Mario Luperi's authoritative, secure bass sounded appropriately paternal as the Marchese. Rodolphe Briand contributed a memorable turn as Trabuco.

No one will ever make La Forza del Destino work completely. But thanks to Paris Opera's exciting design concepts, no-nonsense direction, and abundant musical wealth, this is surely as good as it gets.

James Sohre

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):