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

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Janáček, The Makropulos Case, Bavarian State Opera

Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

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.

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):