Recently in Performances
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain. And, if the second half of the programme - 20th-century American classics with the odd folky diversion - did feel a little like a prolonged encore (which was followed by three further suavely delivered numbers complete with mischievous banter and musical high-jinks), this did not lessen the musical and theatrical accomplishment or the evident delight of the Wigmore Hall audience, although I confess to feeling a bit of a sugar-rush
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
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