Recently in Performances
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
02 Feb 2012
Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s recent revival of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte offered a production with vocal pairs carefully matched and dramatic representation expressing the varying shades of Mozart’s score.
Tamino and Pamina, the pair who must undergo separately tests of purification,
were sung by Charles Castronovo (debut) and Nicole Cabell. The Queen of the
Night, mother of Pamina, featured Audrey Luna (debut) and Evan Boyer assumed
the role of Sarastro, since Günter Groissböck was announced as indisposed for
the performance reviewed. Stéphane Degout (debut) and Jennifer Jakob were a
musical and dramatic delight as Papageno and Papagena. Sir Andrew Davis
conducted with attention to nuance while maintaining always a sense of the
whole. During the overture Davis encouraged a terse interplay among the strings
with a measured drive forward. Pauses were effective at transitional moments
just as shifting tempos were integrated to give significant shaping to the
The three ladies of the Queen of the Night acted and sang as a splendid
trio. Once Tamino’s calls for help prompt their arrival and slaughter of the
serpent pursuing him, the ladies moved in unison yet each doted individually
over the unconscious hero. Elisabeth Meister as the First Lady led the ensemble
with her focused soprano binding the vocal line as she encouraged a report to
the Queen of the Night. Cecelia Hall and Katherine Lerner were equally
entertaining in their attempts to remain vocally and physically in the presence
of Tamino. When the latter awakens, he is met of course by Papageno who accepts
credit for having delivered the hero from danger. In his introductory aria,
“Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” [“I am indeed the birdcatcher”], and
ensuing dialogue Stéphane Degout combined a lyrical confidence with delightful
swagger in acknowledging the unfounded recognition. As his discussion with
Tamino is interrupted and punished, when the three ladies returned, Degout’s
Papageno displayed his protests with convincing pantomime. In control of the
stage once again, the three ladies present Tamino with a portrait of Pamina. In
reacting to the portrait Castronovo’s performance of “Dies Bildnis ist
bezaubernd schön” [“This portrait is magically beautiful”] displays
lyrical heft and beauty of tone while some of the louder pitches could be
rounded or softened to express the magical attraction. The entrance of the
Queen of the Night and her first bravura aria provided Ms. Luna with
opportunities to show her vocal facility [“O zittre nicht, mein lieber
Sohn” (“O do not tremble, my dear son!”)]. Luna’s dramatic high notes
on “Ach helft!” [“Oh help!”] were especially effective, these being
followed by practiced runs in the famous coloratura passages. After
Tamino and Papageno receive their magical instruments, flute and glockenspiel,
from the ladies, they are instructed to follow the lead of the three
Knaben [“youths”] to find the path to Pamina and rescue her from
the palace of Sarastro.
Nicole Cabell as Pamina
At the first appearance of Pamina under the guard of Monostratos, Nicole
Cabell projected a noble demeanor on lines such as “Der Tod macht mich nicht
beben” [“Death does not make me quake”]. In the ensuing duet with
Papageno, “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen” [“For men who truly sense
love”], Ms. Cabell sang expressive, arching lines while Degout truly came
into his own with a superbly resonant tone and appropriate legato. In
the following scene Tamino searches for the entrance to Sarastro’s palace, in
order to confront the alleged captor, just as Papageno leads Pamina in search
of the flute’s response. Ms. Cabell’s encouragement to speak only the truth
(“die Wahrheit”) rang out in pure high tones in preparation for the
entrance of Sarastro. Mr. Boyer’s assumption of this role communicates the
requisite weight of authority, and his distinctive and well developed low
register contributes to a seamless vocal technique. His dramatic approach might
be enhanced at this point in the action in order to signal the gravity of the
Preparatory ceremony and eighteenth-century dress are emphasized in this
production at the start of Act Two as both Pamina and Tamino are given
instruction toward their trials of purification. Mr. Boyer’s Sarastro and the
chorus assumed here solemn tones in keeping with the following ritual scenes.
The interplay of power between the Queen and Sarastro focuses now on Pamina.
Ms. Luna projected accelerating coloratura intensity in her aria
“Der Hölle Rache” [“The wrath of Hell”] as she encouraged her daughter
to kill Sarastro. Mr. Boyer’s subsequent rendition of “In diesen heil’gen
Hallen” [“In these hallowed halls”] displayed excellent breath control
with rounded bass emphasis fully audible. The final two highlights of this act
belonged indeed to Ms. Cabell and Mr. Degout. Pamina’s “Ach, ich
fühl’s” [“O, I feel it”] in response to Tamino’s enforced silence
was performed with emotional commitment, skillful diminuendo, and further vocal
decorations emphasizing the heroine’s plight. In Papageno’s “Ein Mädchen
oder Weibchen” [“A maiden or a wife”] Degout acted and sang with genuine
ardor, while he climbed onto the stage following his search through the aisles
of the audience. In this scene Degout captured the essence of both the
character and the music as he embellished his yearning lines with tasteful
appoggiatura. In keeping with this performance Papagena was a fitting
Scene from The Magic Flute