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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.
12 Apr 2012
International HD Broadcast of Rigoletto by Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House started doing opera and ballet broadcasts before many other houses, and is now expanding its schedule. On April 17th, Verdi’s Rigoletto is being streamed live in over 600 cinemas in 21 countries.
This Rigoletto is the well-known David McVicar production from 2001, but this time the conductor is John Eliot Gardiner. He’s one of the great specialists in baroque and early music. This was not his first Verdi opera, but his first Rigoletto, so he was an inspired choice as conductor. Yet those who know period instrument practice know how rambunctious it can be. Gardiner’s Rigoletto is vigorous, capturing the turbulence of the Renaissance.
Be shocked by the licentiousness you see in the First Act. But McVicar’s not out to titillate, but to make us feel revulsion. For the Duke of Mantua, sex is a weapon, like any other abuse of power. We’re not supposed to approve. Listen to how Gardiner’s tight, disciplined approach challenges the depravity of this Court. At the first performance in this run (review here), Gardiner showed how Verdi builds moral purpose into the orchestra. Gardiner’s strong sense of structure, which undercuts any attempt at sentimentality. Listen out for small details, such as when flutes cut through the broad swath of strings. Small, individual voices that stand up to the mass. Gilda is powerless, but proves to be the most heroic person of all. Verdi tells us this even before she makes her sacrifice. Gardiner’s period background also shows in the way horns, trombones and cimbasso can be used to create 16th century colour even if the instruments are modern. This is a Rigoletto to listen to, as pure music.
Vittorio Grigolo sings the Duke of Mantua. He, too, is a good reason for catching this broadcast, as the emphasis on the Duke, rather than on Rigoletto brings out deeper perspectives on the role and on the opera. Grigolo and Gardiner contrast extremely well, one taunting the other, as should be, in this highly principled interpretation.
Grigolo makes an impact the moment he enters. “Questa o quella” is thrown like a gauntlet. Grigolo has the showmanship to create the Duke, strutting with arrogant machismo. The Duke luxuriates in his flashy image, and Grigolo glories in the flamboyance of his singing. This is no defect, but an accurate reading of the role. Grigolo’s Duke swaggers, for it’s his way of keeping control, of the courtiers and perhaps, of himself. There’s no room for subtlety. Thus, when the Duke falls for Gilda, it’s even more poignant when he almost reveals his inner fragility.
It’s then when Grigolo shows the depth of his characterization. With Gilda, he can play the man he might have been had he not been born to a crown. The duet with Gilda is genuinely tender. In “Ella mi fu rapita”, Grigolo lets the Duke’s mask drop for a moment, singing with genuine tenderness. In many ways this is the heart of the opera for it touches on the Duke’s inner psyche. Yet it’s not something the Duke can be comfortable with. Significantly, Verdi keeps cutting “La donna è mobile” so the sections don’t connect. Gardiner emphasizes the disjoint, for by this stage, the Duke is back to his old tricks, morally disintegrating once more. Grigolo’s voice gradually fades, for now the Duke is running away, blaming everyone but himself. Grigolo is a consummate actor and creates the part better than he’ll get credit for. The problem is that the Duke himself isn’t sympathetic and is a difficult character to portray.
Ekaterina Siurina sings Gilda with great personality, and Dimirtri Platanias sings Rigoletto. American audiences may recognize Matthew Rose, who sings Sparafucile, and ihas appeared at the Met, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Houston and at the Mostly Mozart series in New York. He’s very unusual in that he’s a British singer whose career took off in the United States. This gives him a unique perspective.
Discovered by the British baritone Benjamin Luxon, Rose won a place at the Curtis Istitute and received his early training in Philadelphia. Because the opera faculty at Curtis is compact, unlike London, a singer gets more intensive experience at a fairly early stage. “It was wonderful”, says Rose, because he was able to sing good roles with well established singers. “It was like being on a top football team. When you’re working with stars, it raises your own game”.
Rose speaks of Curtis fondly, but decided to return to Britain where he started again as a Young Artist at the Royal Opera House. Moving back to Europe expanded his repertoire. He made his Royal Opera House debut in 2003 and is also a regular at Glyndebourne. He’s enterprising, too, and runs a music festival in Sussex and plans a Britten series in Berlin next year. He’s worked with the Britten-Pears Foundation. He’s also very experienced in oratorio, and has worked with John Eliot Gardiner many times.
Watch how Rose sings Sparafucile. He’s imposing. While the Duke of Mantua is immoral, Sparafucile is amoral. Rose doesn’t need to invest the part with histrionics. To Sparafucile, murder is a business transaction without emotional meaning. Rose’s detachment is chilling in itself. In his exchanges with Christine Rice’s Maddalena, Rose’s sibilants cut with suppressed sexual violence. They’re not “brother and sister” in the modern sense of the term, but pimp and whore. Rose makes you wonder how Sparafucile came to be who he is. He’s brutal, but is it personality or circumstance?
More people will experience opera on film than will ever attend live performances, so film is an essential part of the business. Filming opera is an art in itself. Whoever directs a film of an opera needs to understand the opera, and also how the cast, production and music express its meaning. Film is the next frontier. Kaspar Holten, the new Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, is a movie buff as well as an opera professional, and directed his Juan (see the review in Opera Today here). But that was a film for it’s own sake, not a film of the opera as such. By far the majority of filmed operas will be attempts to capture live performance as it happens in the theatre. Good opera filming is a skill that requires musical knowledge as well as film technique, and above all, sensitive response to relevant detail. Fortunately, the Royal Opera House has the resources and commitment to do it well. For more information, please see this link to the Royal Opera House cinema page.