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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi and Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo [Photo © ROH 2012 / Mike Hoban]
02 May 2012

La bohème, Royal Opera House, London

A robust Mimì and a self-regarding Rodolfo impart a distinctive flavour to this full-throttled version of John Copley’s evergreen La bohème.

Giacomo Puccini: La bohème

Mimì: Carmen Giannattasio; Rodolfo: Joseph Calleja; Musetta: Nuccia Focile; Marcello: Fabio Capitanucci; Colline: Matthew Rose; Schaunard: Thomas Oliemans; Benoît: Jeremy White; Alcindoro: Donald Maxwell. Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House. Conductor: Semyon Bychkov. Director: John Copley. Designs: Julia Trevelyan Oman. Lighting Design: John Charlton. Royal Opera House, London, 30 April 2012.

Above: Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi and Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo

Photos © ROH 2012 / Mike Hoban


This latest revival of Copley’s vintage 1974 production of La bohème has an anniversary quality. It is the 25th time it has been presented, and, remarkably, it marks the 50th anniversary of Copley’s first employment as a director at the Royal Opera House. Copley was presented with a cake at the end of the performance.

Anniversaries or not, I have mixed feelings about the endless revivals of safe, classic productions. On one hand it is impossible not to feel that they cramp experiment and exploration (Leoncavallo’s La bohème, anyone?) and give opera-going the air of a familiar, timid ritual.

On the other hand, it is hard to deny that they boast strong claims to be essential viewing for anyone who loves opera, and that they set the benchmarks against which more daring productions should be measured. Copley’s Bohème is the sort of production which gets remembered as a “good, old-fashioned” one and engenders warm feelings of recognition, conveying the impression that it is timeless and somehow authentic. It succeeds wonderfully well because it puts itself entirely at the service of the opera, translating Puccini’s imagined world into vivid and memorable stage pictures.

The general style of Copley’s production, matching that of Puccini’s score, might be described as rose-tinted realism with a rich vein of humour. The different worlds of the bohemians’ attic, the Café Momus and the Barrière d’Enfer are patiently and lovingly assembled in a way which paradoxically conveys both historical verisimilitude and a sense of romantic enchantment. This is the nineteenth-century Paris we all wish to believe in, not least for its potent ability to mythologize itself. Despite the many references to cold and poverty, there is no doubting its basic allure: better to be cold and poor there than warm and comfortable in many another city. This latest incarnation of the production was notable for power and passion rather than poetry and pathos. The gentleman in the next seat, a veteran opera-goer who informed me he had been coming to the Royal Opera since 1953, complained that it was “can belto rather than bel canto” and left at the first interval. That was harsh, indeed unfair, but not completely devoid of point. Such criticism would focus primarily on Carmen Giannattasio’s robust Mimì, who only seemed frail and consumptive at the very end (even then more in the acting than in the sounding), and in the earlier acts appeared impervious to the cold. The great Mimìs are able to suggest that every high note comes at a heavy price to ruined lungs, and much of the glory and pathos of the role turns on the recognition that she is prepared to pay that price, choosing intensity of living over the sort of calm, sensible existence her doctor would recommend. In this sense Giannattasio was a disappointment, and her performance musically impressive rather than truly moving.

LA-BOHEME-10166_0801.gifNuccia Focile as Musetta, Fabio Capitanucci as Marcello, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi and Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo

There is really only one way to play Mimì, but Rodolfo is susceptible to a variety of interpretations. Joseph Calleja did occasionally give the impression that he was mainly there for the purple passages when his beautifully clear, heroic-sounding voice could be unleashed to thrill the house, but that is dramatically acceptable if one thinks of Rodolfo as something of a poseur, in love with the whole idea of being a poet. In fact Calleja’s representation was internally consistent, and carried off with many deft strokes of acting. His wonderfully helpless look when Mimì expressed her wish for a muff appeared as much a comment on the misfortune of poets in an ungrateful world as on any frustrated longing he may have had to relieve her sufferings. He was, in short, not the sort of Rodolfo that one especially feels for, but it was impossible not to enjoy his performance. Perhaps a more heart-melting Mimì would have brought out greater depths in his representation.

One of the delights of seeing opera at Covent Garden is the assurance that secondary parts are almost always cast incredibly well. The latest La bohème is no disappointment. Fabio Capitanucci was the best Marcello I’ve ever seen, looking and acting the part consummately well. His secret seemed to be simply to embrace the part as though he were the hero of the opera. I was vividly reminded of one of the items on my operatic wish list: alternating productions of the Puccini and Leoncavallo Bohèmes with the same singers taking the same roles. Capitanucci as Marcello would be a perfect starting point for the project. Matthew Rose as Colline and Thomas Oliemans as Schaunard were equally outstanding, and made up a very strong quartet , conveying a natural sense of tried and tested camaraderie. Rose’s fourth act address to his old coat was a beautifully judged piece of singing, and one of the highlights of the evening — almost as moving, dare I say it, as Giannattasio’s dying agonies.

David Chandler

LA-BOHEME-10166_0181.gifFabio Capitanucci as Marcello, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi, Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, Matthew Rose as Colline and Thomas Oliemans as Schaunard

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