28 Aug 2012
Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro 2012
Ciro in Babilonia Matilda di Shaban and Il signor Bruschino in Rossini land.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
Ciro in Babilonia Matilda di Shaban and Il signor Bruschino in Rossini land.
A couple of years ago the Rossini Festival staged the very first Rossini opera, Dimitrio e Polibio. It is on a serious subject (a father finds his long lost son and reconciles with an old enemy as well). Rossini was 15 years old. It was five years later that he discovered his comic muse with L’equivoco stravagante, followed the very next year (1812) by four more comedies, plus what the Festival considers his first opera seria, Ciro in Babilonia (forgetting that Dimitrio e Polibio is an opera seria). The rest is history.
The Festival had entrusted the staging of Dimitrio e Polibio to Italian director Davide Livermore who gave us enough lazzi (little visual tricks) to amuse ourselves mightily and make the opera itself as incidental to the evening’s entertainment as it is to the Rossini oeuvre. Ciro in Babilonia ossia La caduta di Baldassare is pretty thin material as well. It was another opportunity for Mr. Livermore!
Though thrust between Rossini and Mr. Livermore (lee-vehr-more-aye, no accent one assumes) was former enfant terrible New York Times music critic Will Crutchfield, now a conductor and coach of bel canto at the Caramoor Center for the Arts (64 kms north of New York City). Conductor Crutchfield is a strange mixture of erudition, musicality, and limited musical charisma who seems possessed by the operatic ideal of collaboration.
Meanwhile there was some singing too, most notably by 62 year-old Polish contralto Ewa Podles as lovesick Ciro. At this point in her career Mme. Podles is most often reverentially cast as a celebrated singer in a character role (the evil aunt in San Francisco’s Suor Angelica as example). The surprise is that Mme. Podles can still do a coloratura trouser role with plenty of voice and dazzling aplomb. Rossini’s Ciro is however a decidedly pale character to host such force of voice and personality.
Mme. Podles did indeed make this unlucky Persian king (he lost a battle plus his wife to Belshazzar) into a character well beyond the possible imaginings of Rossini. This only succeeded in rendering Australian soprano Jessica Pratt less convincing as the Rossini heroine Amira, his Rossini imagined femme fatale wife. Mlle. Pratt possibly could have approached the vocal ideal of such a creature as she is a fine Rossini singer, popping off interpolated stratospheric notes in shimmering coloratura.
Baldassare, the lovesick ruler of Babilonia (yes, like Handel’s Xerxes) loses in the end. Ciro wins a battle and gets his wife back and everyone lives happily ever after, though of course all this is pure fantasy. Baldassare too, Missouri born tenor Michael Spires, was no match for Ciro. He cut a good figure, his very long lament Qual crudel, qual trista sorte made a case for the greatness of the Rossini-to-come, and earned him a real ovation (real ovations are long and loud in Pesaro).
Mr. Livermore took on Rossini’s opera seriaand cleverly did away with it knowing that we would find its superimposition onto a silent film epic imitation more amusing. Surely we did (though an opera seria every once in a while does hit the spot). That its transformation was thorough is beyond question, including the suppression of supertitles so we could not know really what was being said or thought (these singers did not project the Italian text as did, for example, the singers in Mathilda di Shabran to a remarkable degree). So it was opera without words, though we all know opera has words, and some of us, probably many of us ached for real opera.
Mr. Livermore made constant reference to the silent film era with video techniques effected by Torino’s D-Wok (an enterprise that offers “multi-sensory creativity recipes”). These effects were brilliantly and sensitively used to goose up Rossini’s incipient greatness, like the moving background film images slipping into judder for the serious moments in the Ciro/Amira recognition duet, plus the scratches on the film (thin streaks of light) increasing in intensity and frequency as Rossini’s music intensified at the opera’s conclusion. Not to ignore the close-up shots of melodramatic faces in sepia tinted frames, and (whew!) the absolutely stunning early film-art epic costumes designed by Gianluca Falaschi.
Scene from Il signor Bruschino
Mr. Livermore was a singer before he became one of Italy’s most gifted and interesting stage directors. Well aware of the needs of singers he and his designer Nicolas Bovey provided a moving platform stage layout that propelled the singers to positions of direct communication with the conductor (and therefore the audience) for the big arias. In fact Mo. Crutchflield seemed more interested in his singers than in the fine orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna even though a splendid violin solo rang out in forceful melodramatic pathos with Mlle. Pratt’s Deh, per me non v’affliggete (don’t beat yourself up on my account).
Davide Livermore’s production was smart indeed, too smart for what Rossini had to say.
Well, enough with opera seria, let’s get back to comedy. The very next year, a big one, Rossini first dashed of a one-act farce, Il signor Bruschino before composing his first great tragedy, Tancredi, and his first great comedy, L’italiana in Algeri. The Festival entrusted the staging of this incidental farce to Teatro Sotterraneo, a Florentine group comprised of dancers, actors, performance artists, singers, etc., who collectively create and perform theater.
At first the suspicion was that this was in fact the case, that the stage manager, his assistant, the dresser, etc., who rushed about the stage doing schtick before, during and after the overture were Teatro Sotterraneo, that a couple of old guys (Bruschino and Gaudenzio as we later learned) putting on strange costumes and sort of coxcomb like plastic wigs were Teatro Sotterraneo, and that Florville and Sofia who sang about their problems were Teatro Sotterraneo actors and not really Rossini singers.
The sets and costumes, the issue of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino which was part of this opera-by-committee committee, were a crossroads somewhere, maybe Pesaro, or in the unlikely case that you (and the far more likely case that these talented kids) had been to a Disneyland in Anaheim, Tokyo, Orlando or Paris in the recent past, maybe a theme park somewhere. Probably it was just the Lungomare in Pesaro — in fact there was even a sign announcing that we were in Rossiniland with arrows pointing to La Gazza Ladra and other such attractions.
What would Disneyland/Rossiniland be without you and me to wonder and marvel at what we found there? So what looked like the youth cult that surely must be Teatro Sotterraneo, plus a few more seasoned tourists like us, timidly interfaced with Bruschino, Florville and Filiberto there in Rossiniland (the Cinderella, Daffy and Donald Ducks, etc., of Disneyland). That is when we were not distracted by a sudden parade chasing after William Tell (yes, Rossini’s late, great opera was quoted).
So it was a farce within a farce, one dumbly brilliant farce, make that brilliantly dumb farce within another. A stroke of genius. Anything went to sabotage the integrity of one of Rossini’s lesser efforts, efforts that in fact gave it the vibrantly casual artistic life it deserves.
With due respect to the singers, they were appropriately neither Teatro Sotterraneo nor were they the cast you would dream of for a Pesaro Italiana or Tancredi. They were wonderful singing actors who brought Rossini’s farce alive in high art that was well beyond mere opera. Roberto de Candia and Carlo Lepore supplied experience and savoir faire as Bruschino and Gaudenzio, Andrea Vicenzo Bonsignore as the innkeeper Filiberto, David Alegret as Florville the young lover, and Maria Aleida with her amazingly high notes as Sofia the ingenue supplied the promise. Young Italian conductor Daniele Rustioni was a lively participant in the proceedings as were members of the Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini.
Much magnificence was added to the Rossini oeuvre over the next ten years, like all of the more recognizable Rossini titles (the operas in French were still to come), including Matilde di Shabran ossia Bellezza e cuor di ferro in 1821, a very strange piece. Like Handel’s Xerxes it is either a tragedy or a comedy, and in the best of all possible worlds it is both.
It was a revival of a 2004 production erected in the limited stage housing of the 600 or so seat Teatro Rossini that made its way to Covent Garden in 2008 where the two concentric floor to rafters circular staircases, the sum total of its scenery, were presumably resized to a considerably larger dimension. Back now in Pesaro at the Adriatic Arena in this (or yet another) enlarged version it did not come close to making the startling scenic impressions that have marked Adriatic Arena productions in recent years (like Mose in Egitto, Zelmira, and Ermione).
However it did have Juan Diego Flórez and that seemed enough to bring the audience to an a priori delirium. The twenty-three year-old Juan Diego made his Pesaro debut in the role of Corradino the Iron Hearted back in 1996, in a resurrection of Matilde di Shabran after 175 years of oblivion. Needless to say it was Mr. Flórez who sang it in London at age 35, and may it suffice to say that the role still belongs to him alone at age 39. Possibly this is because he may be the only one who can sing it. Or maybe wants to.
Scene from Matilda di Shabran
Corradino the Iron Hearted has a lot to sing about. The peace and quiet (save for an occasional battle) of his chateau has been disturbed by the arrival of two women who are chasing him. He hates women. So there are a lot of high “C”’s and more than a few elaborate rages. Corradino is head-strong and not too smart (well, he is a tenor). Though of course Juan Diego is nothing if not smart, and very famous for his high “C”‘s. This combination of character and singer is exploited to perfection by Mr. Flórez in minimal moves and maximal voice and musicianship.
This is mature Rossini who masterfully constructs huge ensembles, a quintet in the first act bringing iron hearted Juan Diego together with German formed Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko as Matilda, the pushy ingenue who lets nothing get in her way (like Rosina) and Italian mezzo Chiara Chialli as the pushy Contessa who, after four hours [!] of conniving, was the sore loser. Young Italian buffo Nicola Alaimo as the wise doctor Aliprando and Italian baritone Paolo Bordogna as the opportunistic Neopolitan poet Isidoro (gifted Pesaro regulars) finished the five who lined up across the stage and let it rip.
The staging of the opera was limited to the principals running up and down the spiral staircases when not forming a line to sing together. The quintet was joined in the extended first act finale by the two additional principals, young Russian mezzo Anna Goryachova as Edoardo, captured son of the Iron Hearted’s arch enemy, and excellent Spanish bass Simon Orfila as Ginardo, the castle gatekeeper.
Holding all of this together with the orchestra of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna was young Italian conductor Michele Mariotti, a graduate of the Conservatorio Rossini di Pesaro who has gone to the top fast. Mo. Mariotti brought unusual elegance to the opera’s overture, and coaxed continued suavity and a far more than usual or expected orchestral participation in the complex musical proceedings without foregoing his responsibilities to the stage.
Without the participation of a real production conception (Italian film director Mario Martone’s production was more or less costume opera, at least as seen from row 14), the performance missed achieving the magical Rossini operatic delirium that has been the hallmark of recent Adriatic Arena productions. Not that this lack was lamented by the audience who responded to Rossini’s magnificent ensembles with huge, really huge, foot stomping ovations.
Olga Peretyatko, Matilda, had the last word in an extended solo scene at the end of the opera in which she unleashed torrents of brilliant coloratura bragging about her conquest of Juan Diego, the real Rossini diva she has become over the past several years in Pesaro.
Ciro in Babilonia
Baldassare: Michael Spyres; Ciro: Ewa Podles; Amira: Jessica Pratt; Argene: Carmen Romeu; Zambri: Mirco Palazzi; Arbace: Robert McPherson; Daniello: Raffaele Costantini. Teatro Rossini, Pesaro. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Conductor: Will Crutchfield; Stage Directoro: Davide Livermore; Scenery and projections: Nicolas Bovey; Videodesign: D-WOK; Costumes: Gianluca Falaschi. (August 13, 2012)
Il signor Bruschino
Gaudenzio: Carlo Lepore; Sofia: Maria Aleida; Bruschino father: Roberto de Candia; Bruschino son / Commissario: Francisco Brito; Florville: David Alegret; Filiberto: Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore; Marianna: Chiara Amarù. Teatro Rossini, Pesaro. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini. Conductor: Daniele Rustioni; Stage Director: Teatro Sotterraneo; Sets and Costumes: Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino; Lights: Roberto Cafaggini. (August 15, 2012)
Matilda di Shabran
Matilde di Shabran: Olga Peretyatko; Edoardo: Anna Goryachova; Raimondo Lopez: Marco Filippo Romano; Corradino: Juan Diego Flórez; Ginardo: Simon Orfila; Aliprando: Nicola Alaimo; Isidoro: Paolo Bordogna; Contessa d’Arco: Chiara Chialli; Egoldo: Giorgio Misseri; Rodrigo: Ugo Rosati, Luca Fisani. Adriatic Arena, Pesaro. Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Conductor: Michele Mariotti; Stage Director: Mario Martone; Scenery: Sergio Tramonti; Costumes: Ursula Patzak; Lights: Pasquale Mari. (August 14, 2012)