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

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Falstaff in Genoa

A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susannah Biller as Fortuna [Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Gotham Chamber Opera]
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.

W. A. Mozart: Il Sogno di Scipione

Constanza: Marie-Ève Munger; Fortuna: Susannah Biller; Licenza: Maeve Höglund; Scipione: Michele Angelini; Publio: Arthur Espiritu; Emilio: Chad A. Johnson. Chorus and orchestra of the Gotham Chamber Opera, conducted by Neal Goren. Production by Christopher Alden. At the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. Performance of April 13.

Above: Susannah Biller as Fortuna

Photos by Richard Termine courtesy of Gotham Chamber Opera

 

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.

RT_MG_0537_1.pngMichele 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.

RT_MG_0260_1.pngCast 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 it.

RT_MG_0246_1.pngSusannah 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.

John Yohalem

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):