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Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.



Arnold Rawls as Radames [Photo by Tim Fuller / Arizona Opera]
19 Mar 2012

Aida in Arizona

Two live camels with trainers in Egyptian garb were stationed in front of Phoenix’s Symphony Hall to publicize the opening of Arizona Opera’s new production of Aida.

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida

Click here for cast and production information.

Above: Arnold Rawls as Radames

Photos by Tim Fuller / Arizona Opera


They symbolize the buoyant optimism that surrounds this rising company after several years under General Director Scott Altman. Budgets are in the black and artistic quality is rising. Aida is an ambitious work for any company, and Arizona Opera delivered a strong performance on the first of five sold-out nights in Phoenix and Tucson.

OptIMG_9417.gifDaveda Karanas as Amneris

In an era where opera companies must watch the bottom line, conveying the grandeur of this spectacular work poses a unique challenge. Arizona borrowed a set from New Orleans Opera by Canadian designer Philip Silver, which provided two-dimensional, minimalist faux-massive painted drops, accessorized with exotic statues. The latter were sometimes in Egyptian style, with impressive results in the Nile scene, and sometimes just generically ancient. Nashville Opera Director John Hoomes directed in a traditional but effective manner. The Triumphal Scene parade inevitably seemed a bit thin, but the audience was distracted by live animals—two dogs and the return of one of the camels. To its credit, the set design pushed the action to the front of the stage, boosting the vocal acoustics in Phoenix’s large multi-purpose hall.

OptIMG_9479.gifKevin Short as Amonasro and Lisa Daltirus as Aida

Aida was cast with a strong and well-matched set of regional-level American singers. To the title role soprano Lisa Daltirus brings a silvery tone, gossamer high notes, and intelligent phrasing. She used these qualities to make a memorable success of moments many sopranos fear, such as the infamous dolce high C in “O patria mia.” Yet the role of Aida demands not only this, but powerful low notes and passionate utterances that cut through heavy orchestration, which Datirus rarely delivers. While her characterization had integrity and pathos, at times she seemed to be tip-toeing through it.

Chicago-based Tenor Arnold Rawls is similarly more comfortable at the top than the bottom of the range required for Radamès. His lack of a fine-spun piano and unvarying color undermined quietly transcendent moments, as in most of the final scene; but elsewhere Rawls made satisfying use of vocal warmth, stentorian high notes, and fine phrasing. “Celeste Aida,” for example, was phrased impressively on one breath into the second verse, and—after some savvy preparation—ended on an impressively long and ringing b-flat.

OptGF3X9370.gifRebecca Sjowall as High Priestess, Arnold Rawls as Radames, Daveda Karanas as Amneris and Peter Volpe as Ramphis

As Amneris, Greek-American mezzo Daveda Karanas, a graduate of cross-town Arizona State University, possesses a tightly focused, slightly steely voice that easily penetrated the orchestra—rather in the mold of Fiorenza Cossotto. Her interpretation is that of a mature artist, and she is a compelling actress. The voice lacks—perhaps as of yet—quite all the warmth, color and amplitude that the greatest exponents of this role possess, but her traversal of this role in a smaller theater—she is slated to sing the role at Glimmerglass Opera this summer—would be worth traveling to hear.

Altman favors even casts with strong voices in smaller roles, particularly lower male parts. Amonasro does not require great subtlety, and Kevin Short, an American baritone based in Europe, did not provide it—but he was commanding when it mattered. The veteran Ramfis, Peter Volpe, displayed a voice of impressive weight and color. In an era of soggy Verdi conducting, Steven White proved refreshingly willing to push the tempo along, achieved some lovely transitions and orchestral balances, and kept the forces together in the face of a few opening night mishaps.

Andrew Moravcsik

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