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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.
02 Aug 2012
Santa Fe Opera convinces : Rossini Maometto II
Santa Fe, NM : It is not unusual for Santa Fe Opera to produce little known or
rarely heard operas in their enduring devotion to both unusual and ‘lost’ repertory, as well as commissioned and contemporary works. But is it unusual - very - for two such mountings in one season to be smash hits. Santa Fe lately enjoyed two such successes, graced by elevated musical and performance quality, and strong audience acceptance.
Since founder and conductor John Crosby’s retirement in 2000, and the appointment that October of Richard Gaddes as General Director, with the subsequent assumption of those duties in 2008 by Charles MacKay, Santa Fe Opera’s musical quality and artistic values have grown impressively.
The pit orchestra has been constantly improved by such conductors as Edo de Waart and Alan Gilbert, and now by Frédéric Chaslin the current chief conductor. As a result, this season’s performances of two rare and especially challenging scores by Rossini and Szymanowski were beautifully realized by Chaslin and the young American music director Evan Rogister, showing high competence. Chaslin’s input as chief conductor for SFO, and especially as conductor of Rossini’s 1820 masterwork, Maometto II, proved invaluable. He’s a major asset.
Gioachino Rossini’s little-known tragedy enjoyed a splendid cast that included four highly gifted singers doing full justice to the severe vocal and musical demands set by the great Rossini in his fruitful Naples-San Carlo Opera years that were so creative (18 operas in seven years!). Santa Fe has now produced a superb Ermione (2000), as well as Maometto II from those years, and next season, La Donna del Lago (Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake), will be heard, completing a rich sampling of a famous, if not oft-performed, period of Italian bel canto history. This is true festival fare, and few opera companies have the resources or resolve to make it work as well as does the Santa Fe troupe. General Director Charles MacKay took risks in producing such repertory but all concerned have been well rewarded.
The rare Rossini had two key advocates to make it happen just now at Santa Fe: Italian lyric basso Luca Pisaroni, who was keen to sing the title role, and the distinguished musicologist Prof. Philip Gossett, who is editing a new critical edition of all Rossini’s works, and had ready at hand a reconstruction of the ‘original’ Naples version of 1820, mainly the work of distinguished Dutch musicologist and editor Hans Schellevis. Mr. Gossett said in a recent interview that the Santa Fe premiere is a tryout of the new scholarly score for evaluation in performance as part of the forthcoming edition of which he is General Editor.
Bel canto specialist Pisaroni wanted to perform the grand tragic piece that had haunted him since his young years when he witnessed the American basso Sam Ramey, in 1985 make a signal success as Maometto in Italy. Under MacKay’s leadership, the necessary support and talents were found and the rest is, literally, musical history. I expect future performances of Maometto II will in some way derive from Santa Fe’s premiere presentation of this important and newly refined masterwork of the Rossini canon.
Over the three hour duration of Maometto II, one may be challenged by the pouring forth of endless florid singing and flood of set pieces, connected by orchestrally accompanied recitatives in bel canto style. We are simply not used to hearing so many notes, so many verses, so many melodic and musical tropes and schemes, and their repetition and lengthy development - so much material, in fact, that Rossini’s middle-period serious works may briefly turn tedious. But then a new idea or musical delight makes it all worthwhile. The music is often glorious, romantic or heroic; solo arias, trios or larger forms, much of it pleases and often thrills. I cannot detail it all, but the performance of a 30-minute terzetto in Act I is one of the most remarkable developments in musical form in its time, even if today it may occasionally seem redundant. In Rossini’s time he was pushing the art with his experimental operas. Maometto II is a Rossini tragic opera, not known to the general opera public, that could command any major world stage and just now there are singers capable of performing it.
In addition to Pisaroni, to whom all laud and glory for his performance, the cast included a young Connecticut soprano Leah Crocetto providing a lovely assumption of Anna, in love with Maometto the Turkish general who is seeking to conquer her homeland, the Venetian colony Negroponte, and the stunning Irish mezzo soprano Patricia Bardon, as Venetian General Calbo (a trouser role), who loves Anna - a highly theatrical triangle, as Anna is put in the true focal point of the opera in making a choice between love and honor. Ms. Crocetto’s youth gives her the ability to move freely and well on stage, in spite of a certain avoir-du-pois, and most of all her warm singing is fresh, strong, technically brilliant and filled with great potential for the drammatico d’agilita roles of Rossini, Bellini, perhaps Spontini and others that are popular today. If she seemed to be occasionally marking time, all was forgiven in the death scene finale, when over a full chorus she spun out ravishing pianissimo tones and then, in her suicide scene, forceful dramatic outcries that bespoke an end to her agonies. Wow!
Ms. Bardon had a similar success with her big scene, an aria encompassing the widest possible mezzo range of both emotion and music. Her voice was full and mature in the best way, filling all florid demands and offering exhilarating color and rhetorical ‘punch.’ Bardon gave her all and maybe ten per cent more, with spectacular results. One more singer was a key to success, as Paolo Erisso, Anna’s desperate father and Head of the Venetians in Negroponte, attempting to defend all against the irrepressible Turks, namely California tenor Bruce Sledge whose bright high tenor served perfectly.
I heard the second performance, July 18, when Susan Sheston’s chorus, comprised mainly of the opera’s apprentice singers, performed their important music accurately and nobly. They had serious work to do and did it well. Smaller solo roles were successfully taken by Matthrew Newlin and Michael Daily.
Stage direction and scenic and costume design were in the hands of the celebrated Director David Alden and visual designer Jon Morrell who were highly effective. Alden’s work was mainly traditional, as it should be for Rossini, and much enhanced by Morrell whose innovative unit set was dynamic and surprising with costumes that were rich and pleasing. Choreographer Peggy Hickey must be commended for her dancers and dancing singers who made the Turco-Venetian hand combat scene into a quasi-Ninja ballet, cleverly realized. Fight director Jonathan Rider had a strong hand in this as did reliable lighting director, Duane Schuler. Maometto II turned out to be one of the most compelling evenings of music theater, if of a certain bel canto style, that I have seen in Santa Fe.
© J.A. Van Sant, 2012