Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

Roberto Devereux in Genova

Radvanovsky in New York, Devia in Genoa — Donizetti queens are indeed in the news! Just now in Genoa Mariella Devia was the Elizabeth I for her beloved Roberto Devereux in a new trilogy of Donizetti queens (Maria Stuarda and Anne Bolena) directed by baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera

‘All men become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’ ‘Is that clever?’ ‘It is perfectly phrased!’

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

La Juive in Lyon

Though all big opera is called grand opera, French grand opera itself is a very specific genre. It is an ephemeral style not at all easy to bring to life. For example . . .

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alan Held as Simone and Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca in the Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy Alan Held as Simone and Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca in the Canadian Opera Company production of <em>A Florentine Tragedy</em> [Photo by Chris Hutcheson courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]
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.

Alexander Zemlinsky: A Florentine Tragedy — Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Alan Held as Simone and Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca in the Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy [Photo by Chris Hutcheson courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]

 

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 the set.

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.

        

florentine-COC_02.gif(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 embrace.

florentine-COC_03.gifA 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 have wished.

florentine-COC_04.gif(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.

Leslie Barcza

This review first appeared at barczablog. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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):