Recently in Reviews
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
05 Aug 2012
Glyndebourne : Ravel Double Bill L'enfant et les sortilèges, L'heure espagnole
Surrealist fantasy with wit and style! L'heure espagnole and L'enfant et les sortilèges, the Ravel Double Bill at Glyndebourne, mixes charm, intelligence and nightmare.
The audience applauded the scenery, but this time the praise was sincere. Ravel's music and ideas come alive. I'm tempted to say, "beyond our wildest dreams", because dreams release the creative imagination. Ravel begins L'enfant et les sortilèges with strange mock-orientalism, to emphasize the alien nature of what is to come. The child (Khatouna Gadelia) throws a tantrum, reflected in the stamping ostinato in the music, and the repetitive, angular vocal line. "Méchant! Méchant! Méchant!". Table, chair and Maman's skirts loom menacingly, overwhelming the child. This is what it feels to be little, dwarfed by the world of adults. The child rebels and rips his room apart. But the objects he wrecks have feelings, too.
"L'enfant et les sortilèges" says director Laurent Pelly "lasts about 45 minutes, but has the depth of an opera of three or four hours". (read the interview in Opera Today here). Ravel's music is extraordinarliy vivid, but his concepts don't easily translate into visual images. Pelly, however, is a master at bringing abstract ideas to life, as anyone who has seen his Glyndebourne Humperdinck Hansel und Gretel would know. The Teapot and the Chinese cup dance, their "human" bodies exposed beneath the hard exteriors of their form. Ravel glories in mad chinoiserie, which conductor Kazushi Ono plays up with manic relish. The words aren't real but dadaist invention, even in Colette's original. At Glyndebourne the surtitles flash "Sessue Hayakawa" .Since this Glyndebourne production is a co-production with Seiji Osawa's Saito Kinen Festival, it will be seen by Japanese audiences who will get the joke (and can read the nonsense "Chinese" writing). Hayakawa was a Hollywood megastar from the 1920's, who subtly subverted western stereotypes of Asian people. Ravel is sending up the whole notion of western attitudes to the East.
And by exploring exotic genres, Ravel expanded the palette of mainstream western music. Even in Colette's original French text,the Teapot and teacup sing in cod-English "Sir, I punch your nose. I knock out you, stupid chose (thing)". Shepherds and Shepherdesses jump out of the wallpaper the Child has defaced, singing of bizarrely coloured dogs and lambs. Everything safe and familiar is transformed. Ravel writes mock-pastoral,while the pastorals do a solemn mock baroque dance. Visions of Le petit Trianon! Revolution is afoot. The Fire explodes, threatening to engulf the room. Kathleen Kim shoots out of the fireplace in a structure that resembles flame. Kim also sings the Nightingale and the Princess. As theatre, the Fire is a dramatic stunning device, but also reminds us this Child has unleashed dangerous forces.
Some of Ravel's concepts are so abstract that they're a test of any director. Arithmetic, for example, which is so important to Ravel that he embeds the formal logic of mathematics into his music (The connection with L'heure espagnole is obvious) In the 1987 Glyndebourne production, the The Little Old Man who represents Arithmetic was surrounded by cardboard cut-outs of numbers. Pelly, however, brings out the true inner significance. The Child has rebelled against maths homework, and now the Glyndebourne chorus appears as identikit Child to mock him. The formality of rows and series - is this a droll in-joke about Ravel's music, and the music which followed? Kazushi Ono defines the structure with clarity, and the chorus moves with precision. Surrealism liberates the imagination, but art needs an element of intellectual rigour,
Sofas, chairs and clocks, Cats, animals and insects, all confront the Child with their human-ness. In the Garden, adult values no longer dominate. Here, the Child will learn the true nature of humanity Pelly, who designed the costumes, doesn't trivialise the "animals" but shows them as realistically as is possible (given that Bats and Squirrels don't sing). So different from the twee "animals" in Melly Still's The Cunning Little Vixen (review here). Here, animals are treated with dignity, for that's the message of the opera, that no-one is supreme in this universe.The Glyndebourne chorus transform into trees, each one individualized. Even "statues" move. The darkness now is less nightmare than transformative dream. At last the Child recognizes that selfishness is cruel. He caged and tortured the Squirrel, but now looks into her eyes and sees things throgh her perspective. The Squirrel was sung by Stéphanie d'Oustrac, who also sings the Cat. At last, the Child can be a child again and call "Maman! up towards the lighted window. Laurent Pelly's L'enfant et les sortilèges is a masterwork of emotional intelligence and sensitivity, absolutely informed by Ravel's music.
Stéphanie d'Oustrac also sang the main role of Concepción in L'heure espagnole. Elliot Madore sang Ramiro the Muleteer who carries clocks around so effortlessly that he becomes a Grandfather Clock in L'enfant et les sortilèges (where he also sings the Tom Cat). This constant role-changing might stress singers, but is very much part of the meaning of both operas, so they all performed well. Torquemada the clockmaker thinks life can be regulated by clockwork, but as his wife discovers, things don't always go as planned. François Piolino sang Torquemada, and also the Teapot, the Frog and the Old Man of Arithmetic). The staging of L'heure espagnole seems relatively dated compared with the sheer genius of Pelly's L'enfant et les sortilèges, but its clutter also suggests why we need clocks (and Arithmetic, and indeed of the mechanisms of the world around us).
This production will be screened from 19th August in cinemas and online, and will eventually be released on DVD.