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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.
01 Aug 2012
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Opera Holland Park, London
This was unquestionably the best all-round performance I have yet seen from Opera Holland Park, staging and musical performances alike often putting august metropolitan houses from around the world to shame.
Where musical direction has sometimes proved variable, in Alexander Polianichko, OHP had recruited a fine Tchaikovsky conductor. (His reading of Cherevichki at the Royal Opera House was the first time I encountered his work.) Polianichko clearly felt at ease with the score and communicated that ease freely. Tempi and transitions were all well handled, nothing especially drawing attention to itself, the drama progressing ‘naturally’ from the musical ebb and flow - though, as we all know, it takes a great deal of art to conceal art. This might not have been the searing drama I heard Daniel Barenboim bring to Tchaikovsky’s opera in Berlin, but it served the work very well. It would be vain to suggest that the City of London Sinfonia would not have benefited from a greater number of strings - and there was room in the pit - but a chamber-orchestral performance worked far better than I had expected, noticeably better, indeed, than it had for Mozart or Beethoven, which suggests that the conductor and the performers on the night were at least as important as actual numbers. Certainly the strings played with cultivation and commitment. If they were sometimes overshadowed by some ravishing woodwind playing, the problem of balancing was not their fault.
Daniel Slater’s production was manifestly superior in every respect to the lifeless, Made-for-the-Met offering Deborah Warner foisted upon the Coliseum earlier this season. It will be interesting to see how Slater’s staging compares with the new production Kasper Holten is preparing for Covent Garden, since during a couple of conversations I had with Holten earlier this year, he mentioned the importance of memory to his conception of the work. (I think I can give that away at least, since it is not really giving anything away!)
That certainly shine through in Slater’s understanding too, Onegin a ghostly, dream-like figure often watching when he was not participating. Leslie Travers’s set - which might, and I mean this as a compliment - work equally well for an intelligent production of Der Rosenkavalier, evoke faded grandeur, the end of a line, aristocratic furniture upended, reminding us that Onegin was an outsider both chronologically as well as temperamentally. The third act, five years later, is set during the early years of the Revolution, the Polonaise treated as an opportunity for temporal relocation, young Soviet soldiers rearranging the stage, laying out a red carpet for (General?) Gremin and his well-connected wife, and, most touchingly, the nurse Filipievna snuffing out the candles from the Larinas’ chandelier.
It rises again, in fine post-revolutionary fettle, seemingly powered by newer, electric means, putting one inevitably in mind of Lenin’s equation of communism as Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country. I wondered at first how the new, Leninist setting would benefit the work, but was entirely won over, for the point was not so much the Leninist setting - though might that not also be an interesting idea: Onegin as Bolshevik, soon disaffected? - as the passing of time. There is nothing wrong, of course, with that being expressed as originally envisaged, but Tsarist St Petersburg is not in itself the point any more than Leningrad might be.
Books play an important role too. When we meet Tatiana, she is very much engrossed in her book (Richardson, presumably), something of a plain-Jane in contrast to the flightier Olga. Her mother, of course, counsels her - whether it be wisely is another matter - that she had to grow out of the fictions her youthful reading engendered, in order to live in the real world. The replacement of the Larinas’ library by an all-red set of books - suggesting, perhaps, a Progress Publishers’ collected edition, even though that fabled firm would not be founded until 1931? - again provides an excellent visual shorthand for the changed circumstances of the third act. Tatiana’s frustration is powerfully represented by her sweeping those books from the shelves.
In many respects, I felt that Slater’s staging brought Tchaikovsky’s opera, or at least its central character, closer to Pushkin’s ‘original’ than is usually the case. For not only is Onegin an outsider, he is filled with restlessness, and one has a very clear sense of him journeying from one scene to the next, much as in Pushkin’s lyric narrative. There is one loss here - though this is far from confined to this particular staging - in that there is relatively little room for Tchaikovsky’s homoeroticism, intentional or otherwise. Still, no staging of an interesting work will be able to deal with every concrete aspect, let alone with every dramatic possibility. This was the only staging I can recall seeing in the theatre to compare with Steven Pimlott’s bizarrely underrated production for the Royal Opera.
Mark Stone presented an Onegin handsome of tone as well as presence, aloof, restless, tormented without the slightest hint of exaggeration. Anna Leese was an excellent foil as Tatiana, her portrayal as intelligent, as dramatically progressive, as it was moving. Hannah Pedley’s Olga was pleasingly rich-toned, without detriment to her relative flightiness as a character (especially in this production). Whilst Peter Auty’s Lensky was well received, I found his performance and Patrick Mundy’s Triquet the only real disappointments in the cast, both somewhat coarse of timbre, the former in particular often sounding as if he would be happier singing Puccini. Otherwise, there was much to enjoy in the finely etched Mme Larina and Filipievna of Anne Mason and Elizabeth Sikora respectively, and in the less-geriatricly-portrayed-than-usual Gremin of Graeme Broadbent. The choral singing was excellent, an ideal match of clarity and weight, testament surely to excellent training from chorus master, Kelvin Lim. A memorable evening indeed.