Recently in Performances
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.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
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.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
05 Oct 2012
Cecilia Bartoli Comes, Divides and Conquers
Cleopatra, one of few female seductresses in operatic history to emerge not only alive but empowered in the final act, is a fitting role for Cecilia Bartoli in her first season as artistic director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival.
She has assembled a dynamite new production of Handel’s
Giulio Cesare in Egitto, which premiered in May and returned to the
Summer Festival, with the early music ensemble Il Giardino Armonico
under the Italian singer’s old friend Giovanni Antonini alongside a
handpicked cast and the French-Dutch directing team Moshe Leiser/Patrice
Caurier. The opera, which premiered at the King’s Theater in 1724, was
one of Handel’s most popular in its time and still stands out from his
other operas for its stylistic variety and gripping drama. A libretto by Nicola
Francesco Haym adapts the story of Caesar’s amorous and political
alliance with Cleopatra after his arrival in Egypt in 48-47 BC but changes
historical details freely. He also packs in a high concentration of da capo
arias in keeping with the taste of Londoners in the 18th century.
Handel’s writing for Cleopatra includes some of his most beloved
numbers, and Bartoli meets expectations in this production (seen at the Haus
für Mozart on August 27) with natural charisma and authority. Although her
giggling first entrance bordered on kitsch in Leiser and Caurier’s bold
vision of a modern-day Egypt occupied by the European Union, she managed to
pull off their tongue-in-cheek direction as she pranced onstage in a leopard
jacked and boots during her first aria “Non disperar, chi sa?,”
playing with her unrivalled technique to manipulate coloratura passages for
clear dramatic purpose. This ability made itself most apparent in the firework
runs and carefully timed turns of “Dal Tempesta,” sung under an oil
tower as the future pharaoh resolved her energy anew in the third act. Bartoli
amused without affectation as a disguised servant, teasing the blue-suited
bureaucrat, Caesar (Andreas Scholl) after her aria “V’adoro,
pupille” in which takes off on a missile. Her slow aria “Piangero
la sorte mia,” which she sings in captivity by her ruthless brother,
Ptolomeo (Christoph Dumaux), brimmed with devastated emotion as she spun out
silver threads of coloratura
Scholl, who sings as many arias as his female counterpart, impressed equally
with the clear timbre and refined phrasing of countertenor as well as his
caricature-like dramatic portrayal of the role. “Dall’ondoso
periglio,” in which the Roman emperor prays to God to be reunited with
the woman for whom he has grown so much affection, featured pearly cascades and
pianissimi that floated sumptuously to the back of the theatre. The singing of
acclaimed mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter was a model of legato and inner expression
as Cornelia, the widow of Pompeo whom Ptolomeo has beheaded. Her chemistry with
the rising star Philippe Jaroussky in the role of Cornelia’s son, Sestus,
who slays the Egyptian pharaoh in revenge, was as touching as the musical
polish they both brought to every moment onstage. Jarsoussky revealed
impeccable taste in the ornamentation of the da capo to his aria “Cara
speme, questo core.”
The voice of Dumaux was slightly less penetrating, but he gave a powerful
account of his aria “Domero la tua fierezza” in which he declares
that he will curb Cleopatra’s pride, his rival for the throne. He also
executed some very athletic moves in his vindictive aria “Si, spietata,
il tu rigore.” The baritone Ruben Drole was a strong-voiced Achilles,
Ptolomeo’s advisor, and the alto Jochen Kowalski brought comic flair to
the role of Nirena, Cleopatra’s maid. Peter Kalman made for a valiant
Curio, Caesar’s tribune. The idiomatic articulation and richly nuanced
performance of Il Giardino Armonico nearly asserted the ensemble as a
character in its right. Antonini maintains a strong bass that nevertheless
allows every instrument to sing. The musicians cried with Bartoli in her
pleading aria “Se pieta di me non senti.”
Leiser and Caurier also deserve much credit for a staging that ingeniously
updates the mix of comedy and tragedy in Handel’s opera, casting a
critical eye toward modern European politics while allowing the singers to
indulge in just the right amount of slapstick. I found myself laughing with the
production rather than at it even through the most gregarious of gestures, when
as when Caesar is given a pair of 3D glasses during the prelude to
“V’adoro, pupille,” casting Cleopatra’s appearance as a
scene within a scene. The burning tires, Christmas-lit oil tower, and final
scene of a tank rolling onto the recreation of a cobblestoned street in
Salzburg (sets by Christian Fenouillat) made for a biting but riotously amusing
commentary on the current state of affairs. Even the dancing soldiers
(choreography by Beate Vollack), whose classical moves contrasted paradoxically
with their rifles, were perfectly in place. Costumes by Agostino Cavalca
reflected the imaginative scope of the directors, with corn rows for Ptolomeo
and a series of sexy costumes for Cleopatra in which the Intendantin still
managed to preserve her class.
Click here for cast and production information.