Recently in Performances
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.
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 town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
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.
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.
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.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.