Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera]
29 Feb 2012

Simon Boccanegra, LA

Sometime everything seems to go right. Just as the Los Angeles Opera Company did last fall, it opened its spring season with a baritonal eponymous opera; this time, Giuseppe Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra: Plácido Domingo; Amelia: Ana María Martínez; Jacopo Fiesco: Vitalij Kowaljow; Gabriele Adorno: Stefano Secco; Paolo Albiani: Paolo Gavanelli; Pietro: Roberto Pomakov. Conductor: James Conlon. Director: Elijah Moshinsky. Set Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer: Peter J. Hall. Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler.

Above: Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra

Photos by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera

 

The production, like the fall’s Eugene Onegin, was not only a first for the company, but happily, starring the company’s director, Plácido Domingo, an even greater artistic success; proving that baritones can be thrilling too.

sbc4185.gifVitalij Kowaljow as Fiesco

Verdi wrote Simon Boccanegra in 1857. Its libretto is based on a play by Antonio Garcia Guttiérrez, which in turn was based on the life of the Genoese plebeian, who was elected first Doge of Genoa in 1339. Verdi’s opera was not well received. However, nearly twenty-five years later the composer revised its music and used a new libretto created by Arrigo Boito. Boito, a writer and genius of another cut, had already composed Mefistofeles, his only opera. Subsequently he wrote the librettos for Verdi’s last and greatest works, Otello and Falstaff.

Simon Boccanegra’s story involves complicated personal and political intrigues. Like Verdi’s other political operas, Macbeth, for example, it is a dark work whose plot is not driven by romantic love. Five of its six major roles are for male voices. Two duets between bass and baritone are extraordinarily powerful. Like Macbeth, even the revised Simon Boccanegra has never achieved the popularity of other Verdi operas. However, it’s a favorite of mine. Its darkness comes not merely from the essentially male cast, its nasty intrigues, or its minimal romance. Musical darkness pervades the entire work from its key signatures, to its melodic lines, to its orchestration. Heartbreak and sorrow permeate the soul of Simon Boccanegra. And Verdi knew that soul intimately. Like Boccanegra, Verdi had lost a wife and daughters almost on the eve of his ascent to power and fame.

Simon Boccanegra begins with a prologue in which the major characters are introduced. Boccanegra is a young corsair, who is inveigled to accept the newly created post of Doge of Genoa by his manipulative power hungry friend, Paolo. We meet Fiesco, the father of Maria, the young woman Boccanegra loves, who has borne his daughter out of wedlock. Fiesco will forgive Boccanegra for this sin, if the corsair can produce that child. But he cannot. He tells Fiesco that little girl has disappeared. Moments later (and we are still in the prologue) just as Boccanegra discovers that Maria is dead, a joyous crowd arrives to declare him the newly elected Doge.

sbc4180.gifAna María Martínez as Amelia

The first act begins 25 years later. Now Boccanegra and his daughter, Amelia discover each other. Unhappily, Amelia is in love with a tenor named Adorno. who along with Fiesco and Paolo, each for his own reasons, have united as sworn enemies of Boccanegra. The dramatic highlight of Simon Boccanegra is the magnificent Council Chamber scene with its thundering confrontation between Boccanegra and Paolo. Later, Paolo poisons the Doge. Nevertheless, the opera concludes with just punishment and reconciliation. Paolo is executed. Boccanegra tells Fiesco that Amelia is his granddaughter, and in an extraordinarily moving duet, the two old men, Boccanegra and Fiesco are reconciled. Amelia and Adorno marry. Adorno becomes the new Doge of Genoa. And the dying Boccanegra will find his Maria in heaven. If you can get to the pre-opera talk, Maestro Conlon does a marvelous job of unraveling this sleeve of tsouris, and with music, no less!

The darkness of its preceding scenes make our introduction to Amelia, with its brief moment of joy and high notes the only truly bright moment of the work. Interestingly in Amelia’s first aria of love and longing,”Come in quest’ora bruna” sung as she awaits Adorno, Verdi harks back to the rolling oom pah pah bass of his earlier operas. James Conlon warned his audience that they would cry at the recognition scene and sure enough, I did. But I don’t at every performance of this opera. As I said, sometimes everything seems to go right. And this scene certainly did that Sunday afternoon.

The very strong cast of male singers led by Domingo made this possible. The knock on the state of 71-year old singer’s Boccanegra: that his voice is not deep enough for the role, and raspy besides, may be true, but for the performance I saw, all that was irrelevant. With a dark wig and slimming costume, he strode and sang vigorously as the young Boccanegra. As the gray haired Doge, he was a commanding presence. Domingo has always been an excellent actor, and is unsurpassed in the subtleties his voice whether as tenor or baritone, can express in dramatic roles. The Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow, who sang Fiesco was a joy to hear if like me you thrill to clear, legato bass singing and long held last low notes. Baritone Paolo Gavanelli and bass Robert Pomakov were equally compelling. Stefano Secco, making his LA debut as Adorno, has a bright tenor voice and happily, his Italian could be understood. Anne María Martínez, a Grammy winner for an album she recorded with Domingo, has a rich lyric voice and produced a genuine trill. Kudos for the chorus, which has a large role in the opera. Maestro James Conlon, who confessed a particular affection for this opera, kept a limpid performance rolling at a brisk tempo.

sbc6167.gifPlácido Domingo (right) as Simon Boccanegra, with Stefano Secco (left) as Gabriele Adorno

Well, maybe there were two things that weren’t so right: the lighting and the sets created originally by lighting designer Duane Schuler and Michael Yeargan, respectively, for Covent Garden. They seem to have taken the “darkness” of the opera too literally. Both the prologue and final scene were entirely too dim and shadowed. During the prologue it was sometimes difficult to know who was singing. And I found the depth of the sets troubling. Both the prologue, which takes place in a public square and the Council chamber scene, which employ large choruses, were set on comparatively shallow sets, whereas the intimate scenes: the love scene, the recognition scene and Boccanegra’s death were performed with open depths behind them.

But these are quibbles. A great opera, whether joyous or sorrowful, is foremost about music that enters one’s heart and moves it. And Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra does just that.

Estelle Gilson

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):