Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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