Recently in Performances
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.
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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.
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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.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
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.
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.
Alice 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.
Anna 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
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.
Scene 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.