Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

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.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

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).



Amber Wagner as Ariadne and Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus
23 Jan 2012

A Noteworthy Ariadne auf Naxos, Chicago

Richard Strauss’s opera Ariadne auf Naxos presents challenges in casting not only because of the vocal line and identity associated with individual characters but also because of its nature as a self-comment on the musical stage and the requisite dramatic skills thus needed.

Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Amber Wagner as Ariadne and Brandon Jovanovich as Bacchus

Photos by Dan Rest courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago


Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds in meeting these challenges on both accounts in its recent revival. The title role was sung by Amber Wagner, the Composer in the Prologue by Alice Coote, Zerbinetta by Anna Christy, and the god Bacchus by Brandon Jovanovich. Other roles showing strong performances include Eike Wilm Schulte as the Music Master, Matthew Worth (debut) as Harlekin, and Nili Riemer (debut), Jamie Barton, and Kiri Deonarine (debut) singing the three nymphs Naiad, Dryad, and Echo respectively. Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a fluid and moving performance of Strauss’s score.

Ariadne_Chicago_2.gifAlice Coote as the Composer

During the instrumental prelude to the first part the audience is presented with preparations for a seventeenth-century production. Scaffolds, doorways to dressing rooms, props and primitive dramatic machinery clutter the stage in this self-reflective Prologue to the varieties of entertainment scheduled to follow. The performers of the evening run about their tasks until the first exchange of dialogue between the Music Master and the Major Domo of the palace. Eike Wilm Schulte’s fluency and projection of both spoken and sung German are exemplary as needed to steer a course of diplomacy between the Major Domo’s demands and the sensitivity of his pupil, the Composer. Schulte’s legato and attention to pitch in distended notes enhanced his desperation in trying to fulfill multiple roles. In the speaking role of the Major Domo David Holloway cut an appropriately pompous figure while relaying his maser’s whims in a bureaucratic monotone. When the Composer, visible in diligence at his desk from earlier in the Prologue, begins to react to news from the Music Master, Alice Coote’s voice blooms with passion and devotion to the musical art. Her wide range with a fluid transition from low to secure top notes was used skillfully to convey the Composer’s consternation and disbelief that his serious opera “Ariadne” was to be mixed with low comedy.

Ariadne_Chicago_11.pngAnna Christy as Zerbinetta with commedia dell’arte troupe

Phrases such as “Allmächtiger Gott” and “Nach meiner Oper ein lustiges Nachspiel!” [“Almighty God” “A humorous interlude after my opera!”] showed effective use of Coote’s dramatic sense of vocal transition. As the Prima Donna and Tenor for the opera plead the importance of their own roles, the Composer swirls in further controversy. Only after he learns that his opera must be performed simultaneously with the commedia, Zerbinetta and Her Four Lovers, does attention focus primarily on the personalities of the Composer and Zerbinetta. Ms. Christy had portrayed a sprightly, playful figure until this point. Her own transformation into a counterpoint for the Composer is not only convincing dramatically, but it is also demonstrative of a vocally altered character. The Composer, in turn, declares that he would prefer to toss his precious score into the fire, detailed excitingly by Coote with ascending pitches on “Lieber ins Feuer.” During the ensuing duet both characters seem to lose their animosity, with the Composer’s interest clearly in acceleration. Although he continues to take himself seriously, Zerbinetta makes him see everything, as Coote declares urgently, “mit anderen Augen” [“with different eyes”]. During their interchange Davis provided excellent orchestral support with the woodwinds standing out especially in expressive lines parallel to those for the voice. Coote’s final aria, “Musik ist eine heilige Kunst,” [“music is a holy art”] was delivered as a heartfelt soliloquy with effectively held notes emphasizing the Composer’s sincere dedication to his art. When pulled out of this self-absorption by Zerbinetta’s whistle and calls to prepare her troupe, Coote ended the prologue with dramatic expressiveness on “frieren, verhungern, sterben” [“to freeze, to starve, to die”] as reactions to this unexpected forthcoming medley.

In the prelude to the opera proper Davis’s conducting brought out the rich, orchestral colors with horns balancing off the nicely integrated string playing. The three nymphs, who introduced the act with questions and repartee on Ariadne’s emotional and physical state, sang distinctly as a trio with vocal decorations blending fittingly. Ms. Wagner’s entrance began with solidly produced low notes followed by equally impressive and emotionally charged high pitches on “Mein Kopf ist leer” [“My mind is empty”]. Wagner’s dramatic approach to “Dies muß ich finden” [“I must find this”] prepared Ariadne’s personality for the aria “Es gibt ein Reich” [“There exists a kingdom”]. In this performance Ms. Wagner drew on her preceding vocal characterization and added moments such as a deep emphasis on “Totenreich” [“realm of death”] contrasting with an impressive high pitch on “Hermes, stiller Gott.” When she described being alone, “ganz allein,” with a touching piano, it further emphasized her brittle emotional state, since this followed on her dramatic rubato at “von meiner Höhle” [“from my cave”]. Her conclusion to the aria left an impression of her character’s yearning and incompleteness. Immediately after this piece Zerbinetta and her troupe dominate the stage but their attention is now focused on sympathy with Ariadne’s plight. Matthew Worth displayed an appropriate physicality as Harlekin while he sang an exquisite lyrical appeal to the inattentive Ariadne.

Ariadne_Chicago_9.pngScene from Ariadne auf Naxos

Of course one of the highlights of the operatic segment of Ariadne auf Naxos is Zerbinetta’s aria “Großmächtige Prinzessin,” in which the innermost feelings of the commedia performer answer the question, “Are we not both women?” Ms. Christy sang the challenging role with alternating glee and wistfulness: her voice is a comfortable fit for the many roulades and interpolated decorations. The effect taken on “treulos” [“faithless”] and trills executed just before “Als ein Gott kam jeder gegangen” [“Every man approached me like a god”] were a tasteful and knowing cap on this splendid performance of the aria.

Once the nymphs announce the arrival of Bacchus [“Ein schönes Wunder (“A beautiful miracle”)], his cries of “Circe” from the distance match their excitement. From the start of his role Mr. Jovanovich was always on pitch with notes produced forte when dramatically needed and piano when expressing his appeals to Ariadne. His cries of “Circe” intensified without a hint of strain just as he sang diminuendo on “Zauberin” [“magical being”] when voicing his attraction. The final extended duet celebrating the love between Ariadne and Bacchus as performed by Wagner and Jovanovich was sufficiently moving to count as the “schönes Wunder” that the nymphs had anticipated.

Salvatore Calomino

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):