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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.



Ailyn Pérez as Violetta [Photo © ROH 2011 / Catherine Ashmore]
02 Dec 2011

Perceptive La Traviata, Royal Opera House

Richard Eyre’s 1994 staging of Verdi’s La Traviata may have been revived many times, but this production reveals striking new depths of interpretation.

Giuseppe Verdi : La Traviata

Violetta: Ailyn Pérez; Flora: Hanna Hipp; D'Obigny: Daniel Grice; Douphol: Eddie Wade; Dr Grenvil: Christophoros Stamboglis; Gastone: Ji Hyun Kim; Alfredo: Piotr Beczala; Annina: Gaynor Keeble; Giuseppe: Neil Gillespie; Germont: Simon Keenlyside; Messenger: John Bernays; Servant: Jonathan Coad. Conductor: Patrick Lange. Director: Richard Eyre. Revival Director: Rodula Gaitanou. Designs: Bob Crowley. Lighting: Jean Kalman. Movement: Jane Gibson. Royal Opera House, London, 28th November 2011.

Above: Ailyn Pérez as Violetta

Photos © ROH 2011 / Catherine Ashmore


Verdi writes gloriously for Violetta, so it’s a star vehicle for any soprano. But Violetta doesn’t exist in isolation. Although the many great singers who have created the part ensure that Violetta is central to the opera, she doesn’t exist in isolation. The drama revolves around the changing relationships between Violetta, Alfredo and Germont. This current production is important because Piotr Beczala’s Alfredo, brings out the complexity in Alfredo’s personality.This superb performance proves how important highly experienced, high quality casting can be. Beczala is passionate about historic tenor traditions, and this enthusiasm infuses his performance. Please read an interview with him here), La Traviata can be as much about Germont family values as it is about Violetta.

LA TRAVIATA - 2511ashm_182.pngAilyn Pérez as Violetta and Piotr Beczala as Alfredo

We can perhaps understand why Violetta is in her profession, but Alfredo poses more difficult questions. What kind of man gives up family and status for a demi-mondaine? It’s much more than youthful lust. Even Violetta doesn’t believe him at first, but she’s persuaded by his intensity. Verdi pointedly raises the emotional stakes with the rousing “Libiam ne’lieti calici”. It’s more than a drinking song, it’s a hymn to life.

Because Beczala takes his cue from the music, his Alfredo is infinitely more than a lightweight charmer. The energy in his singing suggests that Alfredo represents an affirmative life-force, in contrast to the shallowness of life on the party circuit. Verdi is making a strong moral statement. Beczala’s Alfredo expresses the strength in the character — firm phrasing, vibrant colour and absolute technical control. Beczala sings the high “Lavero!” at the end of the cabaletta so rings out with a confident flourish. Beczala’s lucid elegance shows that Alfredo’s emotional depth springs from strength of character.

LA TRAVIATA 2511ashm_423.pngSimon Keenlyside as Giorgio Germont and Piotr Beczala as Alfredo

Beczala’s Alfredo also emphasizes the relation between father and son, a connection sometimes underestimated. Simon Keenlyside sings Giorgio Germont with gravitas. There’s real chemistry between Keenlyside and Beczala. Their dialogues bristle with the bitter energy of shifting father/son power struggle, but the richness of the singing suggests fundamental warmth. One senses that after Violetta is is gone, Alfredo and his father will have an ever stronger connection. Lovely “pura siccome un angelo”, so this family will thrive. Keenlyside’s acting was stiffer than his singing.. He used his stick, not with a swagger, but more as a crutch, as if he had a real life injury. Keenlyside is an athlete and has mishaps. Usually, he’s much more animated.

Expectations were high for Ailyn Peréz after the publicity generated during the Royal Opera House’s Japan tour last year, where she stood in after both Angela Gheorghiu and Ermolena Jaho had to cancel at the last moment. Heroic circumstances. Last month, at the Placido Domingo Celebration, she sang a pleasant if unremarkable Gilda. Her Violetta was attractive enough allowing for uneven intonation and odd phrasing, which she might overcome with experience. One day perhaps she’ll be able to act with her voice, so her gestures come from within. The scene where Violetta squirms in horror as Alfredo enters the casino was unconvincing, though Peréz warmed up, ironically, in the final act. Although Violetta’s music is so well written it cannot help but impress, the role is complex and by no means “pretty”. She’s much more than a projection of male fantasy. Violetta fascinates Alfredo because he can sense in her something others can’t, so whoever sings the part needs to suggest what that special quality might be.

LA TRAVIATA - 2511ashm_023.pngAilyn Pérez as Violetta and Ji Hyun Kim as Gastone

Rodula Gaitanou was until only last year a Jette Parker Young Artist. Her Haydn L’isola disabitata at the Linbury was very mature for someone so young (read about it here) so it’s good that she’s directing a high profile production like this. In a revival, the moves may be the same, but the way they’re done makes all the difference between dull repeat and fresh enthusiasm. Gaitanou’s clarity illuminates another sub-theme of this opera that’s often overlooked. The gambling table is a metaphor for fate. It’s mechanical, and in Eyre’s original concept, dominates the stage like a juggernaut. The gypsies dance in strict formation, though they sing of freedom. There’s something quite sinister about the bacchanale. So the crowd scenes are tightly executed to express this tension, while subsidiary roles like Flora (Hanna Hipp), Gastone (Jin Hyun Kim), D’Obigny (Daniel Grice), Douphol (Eddie Wade), Dr Grenvil (Christophoros Stamboglis) and Annina (Gaynor Keeble) stand out as individuals, doing justice to excellent singing. It’s a pity that the conducting (Patrick Lange) was erratic, especially since he comes with good credentials (Chief Conductor at the Komische Oper, Berlin).

There’s no such thing as a staging that lets a story tell itself. In a good production, clues are always present if you’re alert to them. Bob Crowley’s set may look “traditional” but it comments powerfully on the drama. In Act One, the diagonals in the set seem to be caving in on the stage, warning that something’s awry. At the centre of the famous country house scene is a doorway which opens onto a trompe-l’œil suggesting many distant doorways beyond. Everything is illusion, even the “books” on the shelves are painted, not real, Grand paintings are haphazardly strewn across the floor. In the final act, behind Violetta’s deathbed looms a giant picture frame covered in black, as portraits used to be covered when a person died. For a brief moment, Alfredo’s image is projected onto the cloth, but fades. Mirrors, dressmaking dummies, huge, overpowering shutters, all of which add to meaning. This is a beautiful production but it’s also intelligent. With casts like this, revivals are fully justified.

Anne Ozorio

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