Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
19 Apr 2012
Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz by ENO
When the ENO does really innovative work, it does so with style. Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz may have taken 34 years to reach London fully staged, but this ENO production made such a strong impression that it might be years before it will be forgotten.
Wolfgang Rihm is one of the most important German composers of our time, and hugely influential. His orchestral and chamber music are well known in Britain, but less so his many operas. Jakob Lenz dates from 1978, when Rihm was only 24, but it’s an established part of the repertoire in Europe.
The Hampstead Theatre is a more claustrophobic performance space than the Young Vic or the Coliseum, which suits this opera well. Jakob Lenz was the Romantic poet who became insane. The stage is shrouded, as if in a mist, surrounded by realistic looking reeds. A reference to Wozzeck working in the reed beds, hallucinating mushrooms. The play on which Rihm’s Jakob Lenz is based was written by Georg Büchner who wrote Woyzeck, the source of Alban Berg’s opera.
Crazy, tangled images of reeds and water permeate this production Jakob Lenz is trapped in his madness: most of the action takes place on a narrow island on a stage within the stage. Lenz (Andrew Shore) keeps falling off the edge into real water, sometimes completely submerged. Pastor Johan Oberlin (Jonathan Best) doesn’t seem to notice, but Lenz’s friend Christoph Kaufmann (Richard Roberts) glances warily round the edges, careful not to lose his footing. It feels dangerous.
Andrew Shore as Jakob Lenz, Lillie Forrester as one of the children, Suzy Cooper as Friederike Brion
Lenz’s psychosis connects to these waters. He drags a young girl into the pond and drowns her. Or so he thinks. Reason blurs into unreality, just as land blurs into water in these reed beds. Lenz thinks the girl, whatever she may be, is raised from the dead because he prays. “Lenz”, incidentally, means “spring” which would not have been lost on poet, playwright or composer. The girl (Lillie Forrester) isn’t a real girl, but may be Lenz’s idealized projection of himself. “Logical, Logical!” he repeats later, as if mantras will restore order. In that sense, he’s not really so different to the pastor and to the church around which this village clings. An outline of the church looms over the proceedings, and its mirror image forms the platform on which Lenz moves.
Hyper-realistic staging for an opera where reality is so distorted that the narrative disintegrates. Lenz is obssessed by Friederike Brion (Suzy Cooper) who was interested in Goethe, not in Lenz, though in Lenz’s mind she is a kind of muse. She’s seen in powdered wig and face, like a ghostly wraith. An apparition as much as a character, and not a woman, as such. This very busy setting was wise, for Wolfgang Rihm’s music is too intense to be easy listening. British audiences aren’t used to Rihm yet and need picture postcard images from Caspar David Friedrich to distance themselves from the extreme emotion in this music.
Andrew Shore as Jakob Lenz and Richard Roberts as Christoph Kaufmann
But what music it is! Intensely atmospheric, almost pictorial. Oboes, bass clarinets, bassoon and cellos, moaning ominously like wind in the reeds, echoing the otherworldy choruses. A harpsichord screams in shrill desperation. Hollow wooden tapping, muted percussion like frantic heartbeats. Sudden cries from small trumpet. Strings plucked and beaten, sounds half heard from beyond the auditorium. Hearing Rihm’s Jakob Lenz audio only can drive you crazy, but that’s the point. Lenz is an artist. Oberlin isn’t, though he’s nice. Must artists be driven like Lenz is? Imagination is powerful because it hints at more than it tells.
Performance of a lifetime from Andrew Shore as Jakob Lenz, with strong support from Jonathan Best, Richard Roberts and Suzy Cooper, plus good chorus and actors. This isn’t an opera or a production for those who think Rusalka should be a pretty fairy tale, but it’s like a fairy tale in that it deals with subjects that can’t be easily explained. Georg Büchner’s original play (1836) treated psychosis in a modern, non-judgemental way. Generations before, Jakob Lenz might have been burned as a male witch. Büchner tries instead to understand, and Rihm gets us inside Jakob Lenz’s head, so we might feel as he does. It’s not comfortable, but most definitely important. Sam Brown is the director, Annemarie Woods the designer. For bringing Rihm’s Jakob Lenz to London, the ENO deserves every accolade.