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.
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