Recently in Performances
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
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Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
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Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
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Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
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