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
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.