Recently in Performances
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.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
23 Oct 2012
Don Giovanni at ENO
Some especially puerile, needlessly irritating, marketing, involving
pictures of condom packets oddly chosen in so many ways, since few
people find contraceptive especially erotic, and Don Giovanni would seem an
unlikely candidate to have employed them had attended the run-up to this
revival of Rufus Norriss production of Don Giovanni.
2010, it registered as the worst staging I had ever seen: a fiercely
contested category, when one considers that it
includes Francesca Zambellos mindless farrago across Covent Garden at
the Royal Opera now, may the Commendatore be thanked, consigned to the
flames of Hell. (Kasper Holten, Director of Opera, is said to have insisted,
having viewed it in horror, that the sets be destroyed, lest it never return.)
There were grounds for the odd glimmer of hope; Norris was said to have revised
the production in the face of its well-nigh universal mauling from critics and
other audience members alike. Yet the marketing did little to allay ones
fears, especially when reading the bizarre description on ENOs website of
a riveting romp [that] follows the last twenty-four hours in the life of
the legendary Lothario. Something really ought to be done about whomever
is involved in publicising productions; for, irrespective of the quality of
what we see on stage, they more often than not end up sounding merely
ludicrous: in this case, more Carry On Seville than one of the
greatest musical dramas in the repertory. Even if one were willing thus to
disparage Da Ponte and I am certainly not does Mozarts
re-telling of the Fall in any sense characterised by the phrase riveting
Iain Patterson as Don Giovanni and Darren Jeffery as Leporello
How, then, had Norriss revisions turned out? Early on, I felt there
was a degree of improvement. The weird obsession with electricity
certainly not of the musical variety had gone, but not to be replaced by
anything else. Certain but only certain of the most bizarre impositions had
gone, or been weeded out, yet not always thoroughly enough. For instance, there
was a strange remnant of the already strange moment when, towards the end of
the Act Two sextet, people began to strip off, when Don Ottavio an
uptight fiancé, according to the company website
carefully removed his shoes and socks. No one reacted, and a few minutes later
I think, during Donna Annaa Non mi dir he put
them back on again. Otherwise, the hideous sets and other designs remain as
they were, though one might claim a degree of contemporary
relevance in that Don Giovannis dated leisure
wear now brings with it unfortunate resonances of the late Jimmy Saville.
Alas, nothing is made of the similarity. The flat designed as if by a teenage
girl, full of hearts and pink balloons, remains; as does the building that
resembles a community centre. Leporello still appears to be a tramp. There are
no discernible attempts to reflect Da Pontes, let alone Mozarts,
careful societal distinctions and there is no sign whatsoever that anyone has
understood that Don Giovanni is a religious drama or it is nothing. Norris has
clearly opted for nothing.
There is, believe it or not, a villain perhaps more pernicious still. Jeremy
Samss dreadful, attention-seeking English translation does its best to
live up to the riveting romp description. A few, very loud, members
of the audience did their best to disrupt what little action there
was by laughing uproariously after every single line: the very instance of a
rhyme is intrinsically hilarious to some, it would seem. A catalogue of
Samss sins sin has gone by the board in the drama itself
would take far longer than Leporellos aria. But I no more understand why
the countries in that aria should be transformed into months ma in
Ispagna becomes March and April than I do why Zerlina
was singing about owning a pharmacy in Vedrai carino, or whatever
it became in this version. It is barely a translation, but nor is
it any sense a reimagination along the brilliant lines of the recent gay
Don Giovanni at Heaven; it merely caters towards those with no
more elevated thoughts than Zerlina going down on her knees, about which we are
informed time and time again, lest anyone should have missed such
humour. The lack of respect accorded to Da Ponte borders upon the
Edward Gardner led a watered-down Harnoncourt-style performance. At first it
might even have seemed exciting, but it soon became wearing, mistaking the
aggressively loud for the dramatically potent. Where was the repose, let alone
the well-nigh unbearable beauty, in Mozarts score? A peculiar
version was employed, in that Elvira retained both her arias,
whereas Ottavio only had his in the first act. On stage, Prague remains
preferable every time, despite the painful musical losses its adoption entails;
sadly, few conductors seem to bother.
Iain Paterson remains bizarrely miscast in the title role, entirely bereft
of charisma. Darren Jefferys Leporello was bluff and dull in tone. (How
one longed for Erwin Schrott in either role, or both!) Katherine
Broderick was too often shrill and squally as Donna Anna, and her stage
presence was less then convincing, shuffling on and off, without so much as a
hint of seria imperiousness. Her uptight fiancé was sung
well enough, by Ben Johnson, though to my ears, his instrument is too much of
an English tenor to sound at home in Mozart. Sarah Redgwicks
Elvira was probably the best of the bunch, perhaps alongside Matthew
Bests Commendatore, but anyone would have struggled in this production,
with these words. Elvira more or less managed to seem a credible character,
thanks to Redgwicks impressive acting skills, quite an achievement in the
circumstances. Sarah Tynan made little impression either way as Zerlina, though
she had far more of a voice than the dry-, even feeble-toned Masetto of John
Molloy: surely another instance of miscasting.
ENO had a viscerally exciting production, genuinely daring, almost worthy of
Giovannis kinetic energy. It seems quite incomprehensible why anyone
should have elected to ditch the coke-fuelled orgiastic extravagance of Calixto
Bieito now there is a properly Catholic sensibility for Rufus
Norris. whose lukewarm response at the curtain calls was more genuinely amusing
than anything we had seen or heard on stage. Maybe the contraceptive imagery
was judicious after all.
Cast and Production:
Don Giovanni: Iain Paterson; Leporello: Darren Jeffery; Donna Anna:
Katherine Broderick; Don Ottavio: Ben Johnson; Donna Elvira: Sarah Redwick;
Commendatore: Matthew Best; Zerlina: Sarah Tynan; Masetto: John Molloy.
Director: Rufus Norris; Set designs: Ian MacNeil; Costumes: Nicky Gillibrand;
Lighting: Paul Anderson; Movement: Jonathan Lunn; Projections: Finn Ross.
Orchestra and Chorus of the English National Opera (chorus master: Martin
Fitzpatrick)/Edward Gardner (conductor). The Coliseum, London, Wednesday 17