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.
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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
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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.
26 Apr 2012
Manon Lescaut, Philadelphia
It is Manon month in the Mid-Atlantic states. In New York, the Met is presenting Massanet’s take, while Opera Company of Philadelphia has just opened Puccini’s version: his first successful opera, Manon Lescaut.
The latter is a tribute to the company management, which programmed a work not
heard in Philadelphia for decades in lieu of yet another Bohème,
Tosca or Butterfly, and then overcame adversity to craft an
Opera Philadelphia often benefits from the remarkable number of fine singers
trained in local conservatories—but rarely as much as in this production.
When the scheduled soprano (Ermonela Jaho) cancelled less than a month ago,
Texas-born Michelle Johnston, a 29-year old in her final year at AVA, stepped
in, learned the role from scratch, and sang it with distinction. A grand
finalist in last year’s Met national auditions, Johnston is a well-schooled
singer with the most of the resources to tackle the singular challenge of
Manon, whose evolution from youthful innocence through giddy greed to death in
disgrace is mirrored by a vocal transformation from lyric to
coloratura to spinto soprano. She was most impressive in
slimming down her voice for the Act II minuet scene, complete with a (quasi-)
trill. Given her youth and the rushed conditions of her premiere, it is perhaps
inevitable that, earlier and later, Johnston sometimes seemed a bit cautious.
Later in the run, she will perhaps cut loose more at the big emotional moments,
such as the aria, “Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata.” Overall, however, this was
a smart and sensitive performance by a young singer to watch.
Thiago Arancam is a 32-year old Brazilian lirico spinto tenor who
started singing late and has been trained largely in Milan. He is a sexy guy on
stage, with a voice both pleasant and intriguing, mostly due to its unusually
dark color—a quality often thought to signal grand heroic potential. For the
moment, he sings smoothly and in tune, if uniformly at forte. Yet the
sound in the middle and lower parts of the voice lacks the mixture of warm
timbre and clear ring Italian tenors prize, and sometimes fades out
suddenly—a quality that suggests the tone is being forced. Even at best, the
result, some robust high notes aside, his agreeable approach skims over
subtleties in the character of the Chevalier des Grieux: his flirtatious
serenade, sweet reflection on falling in love, and the gut-wrenching "No! No!,
Pazzo son" all sounded vaguely similar. Perhaps Arancam—scheduled to sing
this role in Dresden under Christian Thielemann in a year—will yet realize
Thiago Arancam as Des Grieux and Michelle Johnson as Manon Lescaut
Two character baritones supported the cast well. Daniel Mobbs continued his
strong work for Philadelphia, seeming to inhabit to the character of Manon’s
rich seducer and patron Geronte de Ravoir. Troy Cook was strong if a bit uneven
as her brother. Cody Austin sang brightly as the student Edmondo, John Viscardi
pranced menacingly as the Dancing Master, and John David Miles’s robust tones
came out of nowhere as the Sergeant.
The production was vintage Philadelphia: realistic, colorful, and
cost-effective without probing even the (relatively shallow) depths of
Manon Lescaut’s libretto-by-committee. Still, it offered one
interesting idea, namely a (mechanically-challenged) drop with projected
paraphrases from of the literary text from which the story originates.
Music director Corrado Rovaris was largely in his element in this
fast-moving score, with the orchestra responding brilliantly—better than I
have ever hesrd them—in moments such as the police raid at the end of Act II.
To be sure, one might have liked to hear Rovaris encourage the young cast to
linger at other critical moments, but rubato is not his thing.
Scene from Manon Lescaut
Given the success of this production, perhaps Philadelphia will now dare to
extend its successful string of operas by 20th-century master Hans Werner Henze
to include his unjustly neglected adaptation of the Manon tale, Boulevard