Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

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!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

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.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

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.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

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 Presents an Imaginative Carmen

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.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

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.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Michelle Johnson as Manon [Photo by Kelly & Massa Photography courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia]
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.

Giacomo Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Michelle Johnson as Manon

Photos by Kelly & Massa Photography courtesy of Opera Company of Philadelphia

 

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 enjoyable evening.

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 greater potential.

Manon_Lescaut_Phil_02.gifThiago 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.

Manon_Lescaut_Phil_03.gifScene 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 Solitude.

Andrew Moravcsik

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):