Recently in Performances
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.
One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle
Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement”
for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and
anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the
emotions and reason of the audience.
Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal,
Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its
focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy
and with a clever twist,
Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner
productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and
Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it
comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos
this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
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