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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Original illustration by Tomi Um for operamission
08 Jun 2012

Almira, operamission

There are many different ways to analyze the health of New York City. My personal measurements judge the town thus: How many aspiring artsy kids are forced to share a single apartment in an outer borough while they “find themselves” and how many small but immensely able opera companies are functional at any given time.

G. F. Händel: Almira, Königin von Kastilien (Almira, Queen of Castile), HWV 1

Almira: Christy Lombardozzi; Edilia: Nell Snaidas; Bellante: Kristen Plumley; Consalvo: Mark Risinger; Osman: Keith Jameson; Fernando: Michael Weyandt; Raymondo: David Kravitz; Tabaco: Karim Sulayman. Presented by operamission at the Gershwin Hotel in New York with the Operamission Handel Band, conducted by Jennifer Peterson. Performance of May 29.

Above: Original illustration by Tomi Um for operamission

Photos by Mallury Patrick Pollard courtesy of operamission

 

Almira041.gifChristy Lombardozzi as Almira

That latter stat defies all the rest just now: Small opera companies are thriving. My post-Met-season has included Holst, Telemann, Richard Strauss and De Falla; Rossini, Gay, Rachmaninoff, Chabrier and Saint-Saëns lurk in my near future; and now the American professional premiere of Handel’s tyro effort, Almira (1705), has been presented by a youthful group called operamission, providing four hours of pleasure for any Handelian who chanced through the Flatiron District.

Almira was composed by the 19-year-old Saxon who had not yet gone to Italy to have his rough edges planed, for Hamburg’s Theater am Gänsemarkt, the largest and grandest private opera house in Northern Europe, which for a quarter century had been importing works by the likes of Lully, Cavalli and Steffani and “improving” them to the taste of that rich and sophisticated imperial free city, no egotistical royal court being around to interfere. An entirely homegrown school of opera-making had arisen to exploit this setting. Among its charms was a rear wall that could be opened after the celebratory conclusion of a performance for a fireworks display on the River Elbe.

Almira099.gifMichael Weyandt as Fernando

Some Gänsemarkt operas (such as Telemann’s Orpheus, recently given its New York premiere by the City Opera) mixed two or three languages, and the local style was also mongrel in the extreme. There was, if operamission’s Almira is exemplary, far less egotism, less of artists so confident of audience adulation that they stepped out of character to over-ornament the dramatic event. That is the direction opera took in Italy (and, under Handel’s auspices, would move in England), but it had not come to Hamburg. The stories enacted were long and foolish, but the pace was swift, and young Handel was already a tunesmith to rank with the best. The merchants of Hamburg got their money’s worth and so, three hundred years later, did we.

Another local peculiarity in Hamburg was the absence of the Italian custom of using castrati. Heroes and villains were generally sung by tenors and basses, which made the operas a little easier for later generations to perform and to accept—the program for this Almira calls it “the only Handel opera staged during the nineteenth century.” (In Hamburg and Leipzig, “severely truncated.”) Today, however, the lack of male altos or women in trousers may be a hard for the contemporary audience for baroque opera to swallow when attending Almira. Sorry: Tenors and basses is what we got here, though they are required to be considerably more flexible than the male singers of the nineteenth century would be.

Almira029.gifKeith Jameson as Osman and Nell Snaidas as Edilia

Almira, Königin von Kastilien (Almira, Queen of Castile) mixes languages (German and Italian—the libretto is a bit of a hodgepodge) and styles with bits of plot derived from many sources. Winton Dean, the grand authority on Handel’s operas, sounds impatient with it in his study of Handel’s operatic oeuvre, condemning him for not deepening the characters or straightening out the story with its coincidences and contingencies, letters gone awry, confessions overheard and misunderstood. To the lover of Handel’s mature output, however, the score is frankly astonishing for what it does achieve, the way the young genius contrasts his sets of rival lovers in their rival clichés, the way the grandeur demanded by audiences in wealthy Hamburg was worked into the story in procession and dance, the way the manners of the different source schools (French, Italian, German) were maneuvered to create a more or less seamless piece of theater and, most of all, the flood of melody already at his command. To expect the more personal maturity of his greatest works would be churlish. Almira is a delight on its own terms, and its own terms (minus gaudy costumes and sets) are how operamission takes it.

The lobby of the Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street (right beside the Sex Museum, you can’t miss it) is a tall room. The 21-piece band of original instruments, recorders, valveless horns, baroque bassoon, cello, harpsichord—was that a viola da gamba joining in the recits?—is stuck at one end of the L-shaped playing space, which permits double doors to open for grand entrances, and there’s some room for court dances by a tiny corps de ballet.

Almira100.gifKeith Jameson as Osman

A single lobby pillar did duty as a tree, an arras, all sorts of concealing partition. The audience had the remainder of the room, so some head-swiveling to follow the action was required. Not the least of the pleasures of the occasion was the absence of titles of any kind. A detailed synopsis in the program included the texts of all the arias (both sung and translation) and the lights were up (as in Handel’s day) so that they could be read, but comprehension of the complicated and unfamiliar plot was left to the expressiveness and acting chops of the singers. None of them had any trouble getting the story across. Free of blinking and distracting translations, we could revel in music and its performance. I do hope operamission retains this tradition.

In brief, Almira (Christy Lombardozzi), newly-crowned Queen of Castile, is in search of a husband. She inclines towards the foundling Fernando (Michael Weyandt) who is, in fact, in love with her, but for typical libretto reasons she thinks he’s in love with her cousin Edilia (Nell Snaidas). This confusion is encouraged by underhanded Osman (Keith Jameson, whom you may recall as the Apprentice in the Met’s recent Billy Budd), who is Fernando’s foster brother and has been flirting with Edilia himself, all of which goes by the board when he hopes to attain the crown matrimonial. His father, the regent Consalvo (Mark Risinger), hopes to marry the queen off to a man of proper birth, that is, not Fernando. That would be more than enough plot for the mature Handel (when he was hiring imported Italian singers for his own company), but on the Gänsemarkt’s thaler, he added Bellante (Kristen Plumley), who is also in love with Osman and therefore spurns Consalvo’s antiquated flirtations, and a Mauretanian king, Raymondo (David Kravitz), who hopes to woo Almira but, happily, falls for Edilia instead. All we need for denouement is the discovery that Fernando is of noble birth, a long-lost son of Consalvo’s, and all three couples may marry—and do.

Almira082.gifMark Risinger as Consalvo and Christy Lombardozzi as Almira

These regal types, honorable or otherwise, are served by Tabarco (Karim Sulayman). The sarcastic servant is another Gänsemarkt tradition (as those who attended Conradi’s Ariadne in Boston will recall); he extols gold and drink, doubts everyone’s high-flown sentiments, cracks wise about insincere young lovers and ridiculous old ones, attempts blackmail and information leakage, and generally cuts the exalted brew. His lineage is actually very exalted, for he traces his ancestry to Pseudolus, Mosca, Juliet’s Nurse, Hamlet’s gravediggers and Sancho Panza, and his operatic descent is grander still: Mozart’s Leporello and Papageno, the Sacristan in Tosca and the Noctambulist in Louise. We need him to remind us (and the other characters) what planet we live on. It isn’t just highfalutin planet opera, or not all the time.

To find a singer or two worthy of attention and able in practice in one of these small companies is nothing unusual; it is one of the joys of going to them. To find eight excellent singers in eight wide-ranging roles in such a company is astonishing, but that was the case with operamission's Almira.

There are three sopranos here, you will note, and (like all characters in opera seria), they are obliged to offer arias of a variety of states of mind: yearning, wrath, flirtation, outrage, tragic renunciation. Operamission’s music director, Jennifer Peterson, who conducted from the harpsichord, figured out how to vary the voices nicely, from Lombardozzi’s long, pure lines of queenly suffering to Snaidas’s high, spiky staccati of merriment or anger and Plumley’s gracious or dubious sentiments. Considering how interchangeable were their feelings (each lady feels amorously misused by someone or other), they individuated nicely.

Almira127.gifDavid Kravitz as Raymondo and Nell Snaidas as Edilia

Square-shouldered and handsome, Michael Weyandt ably deployed his agile baritone to proper stone-faced Dudley Do-Right effect as Fernando, the all-but-uncomplaining (ten arias) object of everybody’s plots and betrayals. Keith Jameson, as his devious brother Osman, had much more fun, skulking and conniving. His tenor seems a bit grainy for leading lover roles in any case, and his stage personality thrives on shifty characters. Mark Risinger sang the grandee Consalvo with poise and dignity but did not quite convince as a despairing lover. David Kravitz’s Raymondo was all sly politician until Edilia stole his heart, when his lyric bass found a warmer element. Karim Sulayman, who specializes in wisecracking servants (I’ve seen him with Vertical Players and Opera Lafayette) had more fun than anybody; plot shenanigans never unsettle his enjoyable light bass. I’m not sure which I’d look forward to more: His Leporello or his Osmin (in Seraglio).

The staging by Jeff Caldwell made witty use of an awkwardly shaped stage and less than grandiose forces to keep us on the proper page of the plot and happy with its impressive length. This was a performance without a single mis-cast singer or actor in eight long roles, which makes one eager to hear whatever operamission comes up with.

Almira121.gifKarim Sulayman as Tabaco

Due perhaps to an audience so intent that it withheld applause until the end of the evening — or perhaps to an absence of da capo repeats with their self-glorifying fireworks — the long score moved swiftly and delightfully through a lengthy score to a joyful conclusion.

John Yohalem

Click here for the program for this production.

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):