Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
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.