Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
23 Dec 2011
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera House
Perhaps it’s no accident that Graham Vick’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg returns to the Royal Opera House for the Christmas season. Red, green, gold, sumptuous colours that warm a long, grey evening.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a comedy and here’s it’s
presented as the ultimate up market Xmas show. It’s extremely enjoyable, and
an ideal introduction to the opera experience. Richard Wagner, though, gets
Sir John Tomlinson is a definite reason for catching this revival. The days
when he could sing Hans Sachs are past, but he creates an unusually vivid Veit
Pogner. Tomlinson plays Pogner powerfully, as if he was a former Sachs, whose
reasons for committing his daughter to this bizarre marriage make sense. He’s
dedicating his daughter to art, not too shabby politics. Luckily for him, and
for Eva, Walter von Stolzing arrives in the nick of time. Indeed, Beckmesser
very nearly persuades the Meistersingers to drive Walter out of town. Things
could so easily have turned out quite differently. Die Meistersinger von
Nürnberg may be comic, but it evolves against a background of tension. At
any moment anarchy could breakout. Unless the Meistersingers adapt, they might
Wagner builds tension into the music. The Meistersingers sing at cross
purposes, and in the riot scene, the turbulence of the chorus evokes the
violence which comes with all revolution. That’s why the Night Watchman sings
“bewahrt euch vor Gespenstern und Spuk, dass kein böser Geist eu’r Seel’
beruck’!” The music for the apprentice boys is energetic, a warning for
those who remember Wagner’s protosocialism. This time, however, no dangerous
ideas. We’re treated to a good natured Meistersinger, where the
apprentices dance with little vigour, and the blows Sachs throws at David have
no menace. Antonio Pappano received the longest applause of all on the first
night,. Most audiences can relate better to joyful Romaticism in music better
than to Wagner-on-edge, so it’s understandable. He clearly enjoys the
life-affirming elements in this opera, which come over well. Christmas is not
the right time for radical ideas, and this is not a production that would
Graham Vicks’s riot scene is classic because it’s so well imagined. The
townsfolk pop out of windows and hang precariously upside down over the stage.
One man looks like he’s about to lose his footing (this happened in earlier
productions, so it was planned) In their nightshirts the townsfolk look like
escapees from an asylum, a good idea but not developed. The Festweise
scene is masterfully blocked, so each guild is clearly defined. I liked
the acrobats in the background, too. But these scenes aren’t for
entertainment but emphasize the traumas in Nürnberg’s past.
Because John Tomlinson so dominates the first Act, Wolfgang Koch’s Hans
Sach might be overlooked, but Koch understands the role. Sachs is an observer,
who stands apart from the crowd, and who thinks before he acts. Koch’s Sachs
is sung with sensitivity, and would be very effective in a more perceptive
production which focuses on Sachs and not the scenery. Koch looks and sounds
younger than the other Meistersingers and is rather more lyrical than Simon
O’Neill’s Walther von Stolzing who is more hoch dramatisch than
true Heldentenor. This was the best performance I’ve ever heard from
O’Neill, and he was good, but it’s a part better suited to a more luminous
timbre. O’Neill was, however, a good match for Emma Bell’s Eva, joyfully
created though perhaps more Italianate than Wagnerian. In a cheerful,
non-idiomatic production like this, it didn’t matter, and they conveyed the
story. Popular favourite, Toby Spence, sang a very good David, but he’s more
upper class than roustabout.
(L-R) Peter Coleman-Wright as Beckmesser, Wolfgang Koch as Hans Sachs, Heather Shipp as Magdalene, Simon O’Neill as Walther and Emma Bell as Eva
It was good to see many teenagers in the audience, another good reason for
having a show like this in holiday time. Last week, David Chandler took his
daughter to Kurt Weill’s Magical Night at the Linbury, (reviewed
here) and she was ecstatic. We can give kids toys anytime, but the gift of
a magical experience is beyond compare. And the same goes for adults, new to
opera. This Meistersinger may not tell us much about the opera or
about Wagner, but it’s an excellent night out.