08 Feb 2012
Der Rosenkavalier, ENO
English National Opera’s revival of Richard Strauss’s fin de siècle Figaro is a heart-warming treat for a cold winter’s night.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
English National Opera’s revival of Richard Strauss’s fin de siècle Figaro is a heart-warming treat for a cold winter’s night.
Director David McVicar’s self-designed staging perfectly balances detail and spaciousness — an accomplished feat and a productive one; although the score is complex and infinitely nuanced, McVicar has been able to identify which details to foreground visually and which to allow to reside in the musical foundations. So, there is finely judged attention to detail but the resulting drama is not fussy or cluttered.
Amanda Roocroft as The Feldmarschallin
A single backdrop suffices: a curving Regency interior, slightly past its prime but still offering elegant evidence of the stylish sophistications of yesteryear — much like the Marschallin herself. Gilt and bronze drapes, curling creepers and cobwebbed chandeliers create a fairy-tale otherworldliness, and this is enhanced by Paule Constable’s clever lighting which, evoking subdued candlelight — the front of stage decked with row of crumbling candles (which Valzacchi snappily switches on at the start of the Mariendal scene) — establishes an ethereal distance. And, in the fading light of Act 1, a deepening, looming shadow of the Marschallin provides a visual echo of the ‘former’ self whose passing she laments.
McVicar’s direction judiciously mixes dense and intricate movements — as during the spooking of Ochs in the inn scene, when tumblers and goblins cavort and cartwheel wildly across the stage — with gentler gestures which flow as organically as Strauss’s score, particularly in the closing moments. The extremes of the wide stage are deployed to depict the emotional distance between characters; and at the close to emphasise the Marschallin’s isolation from the young lovers.
Sophie Bevan as Sophie
John Tomlinson’s Baron Ochs of Lerchenau is a Falstaffian scally-wag, with all the bluff, swagger and ultimately forgivable self-interest of his Shakespearean predecessor. We may cringe at his hapless fumbling after any helpless female within arm’s reach; find his empty boasts and groundless vanity infuriating and his class-obsessed condescension distasteful. But, his candid self-knowledge and readiness to greet defeat with big-hearted generosity win our tolerance, tenderness and even, in the end, our pity. This is a comic turn par excellence, one which fortunately does not lapse into caricature; and, the humour is never achieved at the expense of musical control or accuracy. A master of crisp diction, Tomlinson’s every syllable is crystal clear. Weighty but flexible, his bright, gleaming tone is a joy, and it loses none of its gloss as he descends to the depths of his register. It may be a little over-strained at the top, but who cares? This Ochs relishes the amorous games even if they end in a rout; and Tomlinson’s complete delight in the theatrical and musical world which encompasses him is equally apparent.
As the elegant Marschallin, Amanda Roocroft is regal of bearing and radiant of voice; if she doesn’t quite have the velvety roundness of the ideal Straussian heroine, she uses light and shade to movingly reveal the Marschallin’s insecurities, the piano reflections of her Act 1 monologue wistfully conveying muted resignation.
The lustrous spin of Sophie Bevan’s response to the bestowal of the silver rose would melt the shining breastplate of even the most cold-blooded Rosenkavalier. Bevan captures both the tempestuousness of the feisty adolescent and the nascent serenity of the mature woman within. This Sophie is no slight soubrette; and in the Act 3 trio the Marschallin clearly recognises her rival’s powerful charm and determined will.
Sarah Connolly inhabits the eponymous envoy’s breeches with total authority, utterly convincing as the excitable young romancer who learns that the path of true love never quite runs smooth. By turns ebullient and grave, bullish and wistful, Connolly has unostentatiously mastered every nuance of character, even adopting a convincing rural brogue for the Act 3 deception of Ochs. Particularly resounding in her upper register, Connolly’s doubtful hesitation when forced to choose between past and future loves is painfully touching.
Adrian Thompson as Valzacchi, Sir John Tomlinson as Baron Ochs and Madeleine Shaw as Annina
A master of comic timing, Andrew Shore is typically impressive as the exasperated Herr von Faninal; Shore alone matched Tomlinson in his use of the text, though as his partner-in crime, Annina, Madeleine Shaw is confident and vocally arresting. And, there are many fine performances from those taking the smaller character roles, including Jennifer Rhys-Davis as Sophie’s chaperone — her urgent proddings with her fan keep her young charge firmly in line during her conversation with the rose bearer — and Gwyn Hughes Jones who produces a stunning Italianate glean as he entertains the Marschallin in Act 1 (and whose petulant flounce and pout indicates his irritation when his star turn is prematurely halted!). Ericson Mitchell is rather older than the prepubescent boys who are usually cast to play Mohammed, the Marschallin’s page, and I’m not sure his crafty retrieval of Sophie’s handkerchief and bold final bow to the audience really captures the cheeky breeziness of the closing bars of the score; but his presence does add an edgy touch of adolescent knowingness to the goings-on in the Marschallin’s boudoir.
Edward Gardner's reading of Strauss’s wonderfully evocative score is expansive and luscious. He creates an opulent but airy bed of sound through which a multitude of minutiae effortlessly reveal themselves: sinuous, seductive clarinet coils; impassioned horn commentaries; rising celli climaxes. Tempi are at times quite idiosyncratic — the final trio is slow, and Och’s waltzes wistfully elongated — but this complements, rather than negates, the dramatic flow. This is superb orchestral playing with scarcely a note out-of-place or ill-judged; the precision of chamber music within a vast orchestral canvas.