“Hi! I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
A New Production of Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago
The opening images of Richard Strauss’s Elektra in its new production at Lyric Opera of Chicago establish a tension persisting until the final chords of the score indeed signal a resolution of this familial tragedy.
A New Production of Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago
A review by Salvatore Calomino
Above: Christine Goerke [Photo by Christian Steiner courtesy of IMG Artists]
Christine Goerke, in her debut with this company, delivered a relentless yet at
the same time lyrical performance, one in which Elektra’s early delusions are
transformed by the character’s determination to see her plan for revenge
ultimately realized. Her sister Chrysothemis is sung by soprano Emily Magee,
their mother Klytmämnestra by mezzo-soprano Jill Grove, Orest by bass-baritone
Alan Held, and Aegisth by tenor Roger Honeywell. Sir Andrew Davis conducts
these performances which open Lyric Opera’s fifty-eighth season.
At the sound of the distinctive opening chords the stage depicts a
servants’ courtyard at center with, at left, a stairwell leading up to a
stone edifice tilted menacingly. The doorway at the top of the stairwell emits
a reddish glow. During the opening dialogue of the maids Elektra is visible
from time to time caught up in gestures of emotional distress coupled with
sounds akin to laughter. In her defense of Elektra’s nobility of spirit the
fifth maid, sung and declaimed here with admirable attention to diction by
Tracy Cantin, communicates further the tension that accompanies Elektra’s
dilemma. Once the maids have retreated indoors Elektra occupies the stage alone
and delivers her opening monologue. From the start Ms. Goerke uses her dramatic
and vocal powers to portray a character obsessed with the dimensions of past
injustice and future vengeance. Goerke’s calls to her father Agamemnon,
coupled with a narration of his slaughter, are delivered with an impressive and
secure range. In her erratic memory this Elektra intones the dramatic low
pitches of “Sie schlugen dich im Bade tot” [“They murdered you in the
bath”] in flashes with tender appeals phrased piano for Agamemnon in
spirit again to reveal himself [“Zeig dich deinem Kind” (“Appear before
your child”)]. As the orchestra swells gradually toward the close of
Elektra’s extended monologue Goerke’s voice rises in believable excitement
at the thought of a triumphal dance. In her plan for sibling cooperation she
envisions the “Purpurgezelte” [“pavilions of purple”] that will be
erected upon the successful revenge taken for Agamemnon’s death. Here
Goerke’s forte notes matched the orchestral power and were
integrated into a seamless portrayal of distress and vision. The final appeal
to “Agamemnon,” just as at the start of the scene, suggests here through
audible symmetry a barely contained simmer of emotional fury which is still to
Jill Grove [Photo by Dario Acosta courtesy of IMG Artists]
At the entrance of Chrysothemis in the following scene Goerke injects a
palpable scorn into her greeting, “Was willst du, Tochter meiner Mutter?”
[“What do you seek, daughter of my mother?”]. In their interaction and
frenzied discussion of Klytmämnestra’s plan to imprison Elektra, Ms. Magee
creates an emotionally complex figure. Her Chrysothemis attempts to warn
Elektra yet also unleashes lyrical pleas to be allowed to live as a woman and
to ignore the past. Once her feelings become charged to the point of declaring,
“Viel lieber tot als leben und nicht leben,” [“So much better to be dead
rather than to live and not live”], Magee’s yearning vocal line rises
exquisitely in contrast to Elektra’s present starkness.
In the following scene Chrysothemis runs off to allow the inevitable
confrontation between Klytmämnestra and Elektra. Jill Grove shows herself to
be an equal partner in this vocal and dramatic confrontation, as her
Klytmämnestra derides the “paralysis” [“gelähmt sein”] of her own
strength when confronted by her daughter. In her address to Elektra the rising
notes on “Habt ihr gehört? Habt ihr verstanden?” [“Did you hear? Did you
understand?”] flow into a solid and chilling contralto pitch on “Ich will
nicht mehr hören” [“I do not wish to hear any more”], both establishing
the dread that she herself feels and can likewise inspire in others. The
revelation that a sacrifice must be made to halt Klytmämnestra’s nightmares
leads to Elektra’s triumphant announcement that the Queen herself must die as
this “Opfer.” Grove uses appropriately melodramatic gestures to register
the Queen’s horror until a servant provides her with the information that her
feared son Orest has died before returning to the court. As she regains her
composure Grove’s Klytmämnestra retreats with her retinue while delivering
exultant cries of relief.
When Chrysothemis announces this very information to Elektra in their
following exchange Goerke’s repetition of “Es ist nicht wahr” [“It is
not true”] communicates her frustration in acidic tones. Elektra reveals to
Chrysothemis that she has hidden the axe used in Agamemnon’s murder and the
sisters must now wield it in lieu of Orest. The accompanying duet between
Goerke and Magee stands out as a lyrical showpiece of this production as their
voices blend and move apart in rhythmic succession. At the ultimate refusal of
Chrysothemis to participate in the vengeance and her flight into the house,
Elektra is left in grim resolve to dig for the buried axe herself.
As Elektra continues to search for the hidden weapon, a shadow appears on
the back and side walls of the stage. The stranger [“Was willst du, fremder
Mensch?” (“What do you seek, stranger?”)] identifies himself as a former
companion of Orest who has come to deliver personally the news of his death to
the Queen. In the scene of recognition Orest is able first to appreciate the
identity of his sister through conversation despite her degraded state. Mr.
Held portrays the stranger convincingly with questioning tones of respect,
until the moment of recognition when his resonant voice blooms into the role of
the heroic brother with a determined mission. In like manner, Goerke’s
dramatic cry of recognition at the identification of her brother is softened as
she sings piano with distended notes of relief and love. Despite their
ecstatic reunion they are reminded of the task as Orest enters the palace. Only
Elektra’s despair at having forgotten to provide Orest with the axe breaks
the awful tension sustained in the orchestral accompaniment. The screams of
Klytmämnestra are followed soon by the arrival in the courtyard of a drunken
Aegisth. Elektra assures him passage into the house and to the same fate as
that met by her mother. At the appearance of Chrysothemis in the courtyard and
her joyous declaration of “Gut sind die Götter” [“The gods are
benevolent”], Elektra begins her dance of celebration predicted earlier in
her dramatic monologue. The continued emotional strain has, however, snapped
and Elektra falls down lifeless to the horror of her sister. The final cries by
Chrysothemis of “Orest!” bring about the crashing chords of resolution. The
production of Elektra by Lyric Opera of Chicago with its superb cast
as well as musical leadership by Sir Andrew Davis will remain as a testament to
the innovation and greatness of Strauss’s music.