Recently in Performances
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.
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 town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
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.
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.
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.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
28 Aug 2012
La bohème at the Salzburg Festival
It is difficult to speak with excessive enthusiasm of the programming of a Salzburg Festival that included both Carmen and La bohème, though it would subsequently be redeemed in part by a staging of Die Soldaten.
That said, La bohème proved more successful in almost every way than the relatively disappointing Carmen seen earlier in the week.
Above all, this was a triumph — perhaps predictable, but none the less worth of mention for that — for Daniele Gatti and the Vienna Philharmonic. This was the first time during this year’s Festival in which I had heard the VPO on top form — though it would not be the last. The comparison may be odious but it made me realise quite what had been missing in the Welsh National Opera performance I had heard in June. Wagnerisms abound, of course, but it takes a great conductor truly to relish them like this and to transmute them into something quite personal to Puccini. Harmony and orchestration are really what is most interesting about the composer’s work, however naggingly memorable some of his melodies might be. Gatti presided over an orchestral performance comparable to his Salzburg Elektra a couple of years ago, the sheer depth of tone resounding throughout the Grosses Festspielhaus as impressive as the shimmering, translucent beauties of Puccini’s more modernistic passages. Pacing was irreproachable, permitting the story and, most important, the score to unfold as they would, rather than imposing an irrelevant external framework upon them; unity was thereby enhanced rather than detracted from.
The cast was first-rate too. Piotr Beczala has often sounded too Italianate, indeed too Puccini-like, in much of the repertoire in which I have heard him; this is clearly where he is most at home. The odd moment at which I thought less might have been more aside, there was nothing for which to reproach him here and much to laud. If ultimately Rodolfo is hardly the most interesting of roles, Beczala did what he could with it, dynamic range and shading especially noteworthy. Likewise, unsurprisingly, for Anna Netrebko’s Mimi, a star turn if ever there were one. Netrebko truly inhabited the role, both more generally and with particular reference to Damiano Michieletto’s production too. Many of the more celebrated opera singers in this repertoire might have disdained a production that failed vulgarly to flatter them ; Netrebko relished the contemporary setting and the emphasis upon Mimi as disadvantaged. Her voice was in excellent repair, soaring gloriously above the equally glorious orchestra. I had not come across Nino Machaidze before, but her sexy, intelligent Musetta made me hope that I shall do so again soon. Massimo Cavalletti’s Marcello put not a foot wrong; nor indeed did any member of the ‘supporting’ cast. Choral singing was of the highest standard throughout — an often overlooked aspect, crucial to a successful performance of this opera.
Nino Machaidze as Musetta, Massimo Cavalletti as Marcello, Marcello Giordani as Rodolfo, Alessio Arduini as Schaunard and Carlo Colombara as Colline
In a sense, there was nothing especially radical about Michieletto’s production, though given what most houses present for La bohème, one could say that even the very fact of moving the action to the twenty-first century shows a thirst for adventure. (In this of all operas, there is surely an imperative, albeit incessantly flouted, to rid a staging of every last ounce of sentimentality.) Costumes alone, designed with flair by Carla Teti, would doubtless have had self-appointed ‘traditionalists’ spluttering: a good in itself, though hardly enough. Designs were splendid: spectacular in a good rather than vulgar-Zeffirelli sense. The Paris street and metro map that unfolded from time to time was really rather fun. Act Three’s sense of an urban, frozen wasteland, replete with obligatory burger van, was chilling, in more than one sense. Yet the production had subtler virtues too, foremost amongst which should be accounted the space it permitted one to question the work and assumptions one might hold about it. Whilst I cannot (yet?) bring myself quite to accept the metatheatrical claims made for the opera by some, however much more interesting they might make it, there was to be discovered here, even if this were not the director’s intention, an indictment of the selfishness of youth. Where Michieletto spoke of celebration, it was equally possible, and indeed in my case more so, to recognise from experience the shallow posing and disingenuousness of student-style declarations of love, purpose, and principle. Mimi became a more interesting victim, or perhaps better, the circumstances that brought about her fate became sharpened, without turning the opera into something that it was not. I wonder how this will be received in Shanghai, with whose Grand Theatre this is a co-production.