Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
19 Apr 2012
Il Sogno di Scipione
It’s unclear whether Mozart composed this highly undramatic “dramatic action” when he was fifteen, for his kindly master Prince-Archbishop von Schrettenbach of Salzburg, or the following year for the newly-elected successor, Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, who, soon afterwards, had the young man literally kicked out of his service.
It is also unclear how much of
Sogno was ever performed in Mozart’s lifetime—very little,
apparently. The piece’s modern revival, possibly world premiere, took place
in 1979 with a cast (recorded) whose luxe is hardly imaginable for such a
project today: Popp, Gruberova, Mathis, Schreier, et al.
Michele Angelini as Scipione
The text is a moralizing serenata by the indefatigable imperial court poet
Metastasio (only his death, after half a century on the job, left the Viennese
post to Lorenzo da Ponte). He drew it from Cicero’s moralizing fable of the
younger Scipio Africanus choosing (in a dream) virtue over pleasure in the fine
old Roman republican manner, thus putting to shame the decadent Romans of
Cicero’s later era when the republic was dying. Metastasio made the choice
between Good Luck (Fortuna) and Self-Discipline (Constanza), and of course
Scipio chooses the latter, though not without Fortuna getting to make her case
pretty well. Sententious sentiment made the libretto ideal for formal
occasions, such as the investment of a new archbishop, but rather a stretch in
the theater. I saw it at the Residenz-Theater in Munich in 1991 (on a
double-bill with Mozart’s Apollo und Hyakinthos); the exquisite
jewel-box theater considerably outshone the music. Neal Goren, of Gotham
Chamber Opera, claims that when he started his company ten years ago, he slyly
told Christopher Alden that there was a Mozart opera that had never been staged
in this country (true) and that it was regarded as unstageable. Alden,
naturally, took this as a challenge. To celebrate ten felicitous years, Gotham
has revived his brilliant opening, which I missed at the time.
Cast of Il Sogno di Scipione
The production’s Regie-theater clichés must, in 2001, have been as
startling to a New York audience as Goren hoped they’d be. They still make
the audience laugh—and remain attentive. The curtain rises in heaven, a bare
bedroom, and Scipio wakes scratchily from a doze to find himself literally
between the sheets between two goddesses, from whom he must choose one. (At
last Friday’s performance, Fortuna has gone to bed with filthy feet. I have
no idea whether this was part of the director’s vision.) Fortuna presents
herself as fickle but fun by doing a reverse striptease, pulling assorted
outfits from a closet and trying them on for us. (Shoes! Tops! Wigs!) Constanza
never sheds her nightdress but she invokes the Music of the Spheres,
impersonated by globular hanging lamps. A chorus of dead heroes appears at the
window in assorted deadbeat garb, echoes from a zombie movie. (Scipio,
terrified, climbs on the wardrobe to escape them.) Scipio’s father (Publio,
an amputee in this version) and grandfather (Emilio, wheelchair-bound and
blind) show up to remind the lad of the glories of public service, in arias
that Mozart cannot have intended to possess the ironic air Alden’s staging
gives them. At last, though spooked, Scipio chooses Constanza (the path of
duty), Fortuna is frustrated, and an Epilogue (Licenza) appears to warble the
best tune of the night, congratulating the audience (in Mozart’s day, the
Archibishop; nowadays, us) for having the taste to admire this sublime
entertainment. Alden’s Licenza demonstrates her enthusiasm by tossing disco
moves into her coloratura ecstasies.
All of this activity and ironic subtext-as-commentary-within-action
undoubtedly gives the score a better chance of being appreciated than it would
ever secure if performed “straight.” Doubt crept in during the more
elaborate vocal displays—the piece was written for vocal display,
illustrating and underlining the meanings of the text, and as the intended
first cast were Salzburg singers, Mozart knew just what they could do. The
young singers performing for Gotham Chamber Opera were all of them more than
qualified to do justice to Mozart, personable, talented actors as well. But
none of the performances was entirely on the mark, coloratura were often
uneven, a little tuneless or imprecise, and it was impossible to suppress the
notion that they’d have sung better if there had been less wriggling about
(or tottering, in the case of amputated Publio, or clambering up the walls of
the armoire in the case of Scipio, or thrash-dancing in the case of Licenza).
It was an occasion of colorful performing but the Mozart-singing suffered for
Susannah Biller as Fortuna, Michele Angelini as Scipione and Marie-Ève Munger as Constanza
The two most interesting voices, the ones that made me eager to hear them
again in less athletic circumstances, belonged to Michele Angelini as dreaming
Scipio and to Maeve Höglund as Licenza. Angelini possesses a baritonal tenor,
an agreeable sound of masculine depth and a happy instinct for phrasing, plus
an easy extension to an agreeable lyric top. One foresees enjoying him as
Idomeneo or Belmonte. Höglund had the most sensuous voice of the bunch, a
soprano with mezzo undertones, luscious and sensuous in a text that lacked
seductive implications but seemed to have them when she put it over. Susannah
Biller’s Fortuna was flashy, sometimes to strident effect. Marie-Ève
Munger’s Costanza was altogether more cozy, but then it can’t be easy to
impersonate something so stolid with any flare. Arthur Espiritu and Chad A.
Johnson were effective as the ghosts of Scipio’s family past. Neal Goren led
a very spirited orchestra and chorus, and nearly two hours passed as
harmoniously as Ptolemy the Astronomer could have demanded.