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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Marie McDunnough and Jack Rennie, Artists of Atelier Ballet [Photo by Bruce Zinger courtesy of Opera Atelier]
19 Apr 2012

Armide, Opera Atelier

I have to rethink my week, because somehow I have to get to see Opera Atelier’s production of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide again.

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Armide

Click here for cast and production information.

Above: Marie McDunnough and Jack Rennie, Artists of Atelier Ballet

Photos by Bruce Zinger courtesy of Opera Atelier

 

Possibly the finest opera of the 17th Century, and certainly one of the greatest operas ever written, it’s almost completely unknown to most people.

Why see it again, and why should you see it?

Forget what you think baroque opera is supposed to do. Instead of the alternation between recitatives and arias, singers showing off their skills with elaborate coloratura and high notes that stop the story in its tracks, Lully’s arioso writing keeps moving, often punctuated by dance, and avoiding the stasis one finds in an Italian baroque aria.

120412_17954.pngPeggy Kriha Dye as Armide

Armide is a story of love and duty. Set in the Crusades, Armide is an Islamic Princess, while Renaud, her chief antagonist — and eventually her lover — is a Christian Knight. The story elicits so many odd moments of personal conflict and ambivalence that when Jean-Luc Godard set passages from the opera in the film Aria, they illustrate a kind of misogynistic torment of women that seems to lead to madness. I don’t encourage you to see Godard’s film, at least until you’ve encountered the work as written.

Watching the opera tonight I thought of a film with a similar offbeat mythology, namely Mr & Mrs Smith, a story about a husband and wife who are hired killers. For awhile in the film they try to kill each other, not so very different from the antagonism one sometimes experiences in marriage, but taken to a comical extreme.

Or as Pat Benatar tried to tell us, “love is a battlefield”.

That metaphorical understanding of the opera’s epic battles — in other words, that Armide is less a matter of crusading and more a matter of loving — is the key to the new production. In OA’s previous take on Lully’s opera, at least in what Director Marshall Pynkoski spoke of in his notes– they seemed to focus mostly on the politics, so that it ended on an anti-climax, as Armide was abandoned by her lover Renaud.

120412_16528.pngPeggy Kriha Dye as Armide and Colin Ainsworth as Renaud

This time Pynkoski paid less attention to matters of state and instead concentrated on matters of the heart. In Lully’s style of opera, dance is integral to the action, and so it’s no wonder that choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg was involved more in Armide than perhaps any previous opera from OA.

Dancer Jack Rennie is the most memorable personage in the work (even without singing), playing the figure of Love. For awhile Armide seeks to escape from love, and enlists the aid of Hate, a demonic figure from Hell, to exorcise Love from inside her. The small part of Hate was memorably sung by Curtis Sullivan. Hate brings demons to torture Love, but in the end Armide chooses Love and rejects Hate (which makes him even angrier).

Both leads were outstanding. Colin Ainsworth as Renaud reprised the role he sang in the previous production, every note exactly on pitch. The voice is as gentle and sweet sounding as ever, but seems to have grown bigger. Peggy Kriha Dye as Armide has a far more difficult part to play. Where Renaud has to mostly look heroic and then fall in love, Armide is a far more ambivalent character of contradictory passions. The dramatic highlight of the evening was Dye’s scene when she comes upon the sleeping Renaud, intending to kill him.

This sequence — complete with daggers — might be why Jean-Luc Godard decided to show Armide as a window on the oppression of women, with his chief insight being that love makes women crazy. We saw Dye’s portrayal change from the confident attacker, seduced by Ainsworth’s vulnerable form, and tormented by indecision, finally incapable of striking.

120412_17213.pngOlivier LaQuerre as Chevalier Ubalde and Artists of Atelier Ballet

The throbbing heart of the production is Tafelmusik Orchestra led by David Fallis. Singers were never covered, but always supported sensitively, even though the score is full of drumming and strong rhythms reminiscent of military music. The other highlight came unexpectedly from Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, in a sequence where we are being told about the delusory nature of reality. The music is a delightfully sensual lure, even as the text tells us otherwise.

Designer Gerard Gauci’s lovely sets are more elaborate than before, in anticipation of being toured first to Versailles Theatre, and then Glimmerglass for the summer.

But first they’ll finish out the week at the Elgin Theatre until Saturday April 21st.

Leslie Barcza

This review is reprinted from Barcza Blog with permission of the author.

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):