Recently in Performances
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.
Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.
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.
Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.
“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.
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.
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
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
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.
01 May 2012
Two from Florence
The double bill of Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy with
Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, currently being presented by the Canadian Opera Company, is a marriage made in heaven, a pair of complementary opposites who seem to belong together.
They’re alike in some key ways
- Both operas are set in Florence
- They are roughly contemporary in composition from around 1917-1918
- Both operas have plots driven by avarice and disparities of wealth
Yet even so,
- Zemlinsky is not well-known, while Puccini is arguably the most popular
composer of the 20th Century
- A Florentine Tragedy is dark, while Gianni Schicchi is
a comic masterpiece
- Notwithstanding the date of composition, Zemlinsky’s music is often
dissonant and disturbing, whereas Puccini’s occasional dissonances are
usually zany rather than disturbing, and serve to set up the luscious
melodies he spins. But Zemlinsky does offer a few wonderful climaxes.
Conducted by Andrew Davis, I believe this is the largest COC orchestral
complement we’ve seen in a long time, at least in the Zemlinsky. Huge as the
assembled forces may have been for most of the work, Davis held them delicately
in check, swelling only occasionally, particularly at the volcanic conclusion.
The Zemlinsky work sounds a lot like Richard Strauss, with the expressionist
flair we find from operas such as Elektra or Salome.
Wilson Chin’s set design captured these two very distinct worlds, allowing
them to cohere wonderfully as a satisfying evening of opera. The dark work
(called a “tragedy” but maybe not so tragic) unfolds as a love triangle on
a big bare stage, while the light comedy takes place in a cramped space full of
junk. Although they’re different the worlds of both are so preoccupied with
property and materialism that it’s manifested in the physical environment of
Bass-baritone Alan Held had a busy night. As Simone in the tragedy he’s
singing a great deal, much of it in a high register, followed by the role of
Gianni Schicchi, which isn’t much easier, also lying high. The teutonic style
of the Zemlinsky seems to be a better fit for Held’s voice than the
Italianate comedy, although true to his name he more than held his own.
(l - r) Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca, Michael König as Guido Bardi and Alan Held as Simone (background) in the Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy, 2012. [Photo by Michael Cooper courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]
While I laughed throughout the Puccini I enjoyed the dark opera more. For me
it’s a brand-new work, full of wonderful moments, luscious orchestral
sonorities, unexpected emotional turns, and a wonderful concluding five
minutes. Director Catherine Malfitano is to be congratulated for shaping this
complex and ambiguous work successfully. Bianca, Simone’s wife, is shown with
her husband in an oversize portrait centre stage (you can see it in the photo)
with her husband’s hand in a controlling position on her neck. In their first
encounter he gently seizes her -if that isn’t a complete oxymoron—by the
back of the neck. While this may seem obvious, the story is anything but.
Held’s physical presence is threatening even though he is subservient to the
Prince, who is busily cuckolding his subject right in Simone’s own home.
Gun-Brit Barkmin makes a wonderfully complex Bianca, surrendering to Michael
König’s Prince, yet seemingly in thrall to her husband’s complex
dominance. It should be no surprise that this twisted tale comes to us from
Oscar Wilde. Malfitano’s conclusion to A Florentine Tragedy provided
a wonderful echo of the cloak from one of the original Puccini triptych, namely
Il Tabarro ; where the cloak in the Puccini shocker conceals a dead
body, in this case the cloak leads to an unexpectedly loving and sensual
A scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of Gianni Schicchi, 2012. [Photo by Michael Cooper courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]
While I found the Puccini a huge relief after the darkness of Zemlinsky, I
wasn’t sure about the updating. Instead of Medieval Florence we get something
closer to Jersey Shore: which is apt I suppose considering that Malfitano is
both American and Italian. Sometimes the updating was very good, as for
instance when René Barbera as Rinuccio sang his big paean to Florence from
atop a pile of junk. I worried for his safety -and no this isn’t to be
mistaken for Spiderman—with the young tenor perched easily twenty
feet above the stage floor. I reminded myself that while the set appeared
rickety of course it was carefully constructed to support him. Overall I found
that the modernization made the show warm & fuzzy rather than edgy,
defusing some of the laughter that the opera can sometimes generate. It’s
still lots of fun though and especially delightful after the Zemlinsky.
Barbera’s singing was one of the highlights of the evening, along with the
Lauretta of Simone Osborne, singing “Oh mio babbino caro”. I felt Davis was
channelling Toscanini, imbuing the operas with wonderful pace & verve, but
also sometimes challenging the singers to perhaps sing faster than they might
(l - r) Simone Osborne as Lauretta, René Barbera as Rinuccio and Alan Held as Gianni Schicchi in the Canadian Opera Company production of Gianni Schicchi, 2012. [Photo by Michael Cooper courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]
Held, Barbera & Osborne make a loveable family unit, in this
crowd-pleaser of an opera. I hope no one is scared off by the opera composed by
a guy whose name starts with a Z. This double bill deserves to score well with
the Toronto audience.
The Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy
andGianni Schicchi continue at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto
until May 25th.
This review first appeared at barczablog. It is reprinted with the