Recently in Performances
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
05 Oct 2012
Mozart’s Ghost finds its Way through Das Labyrinth
W.A. Mozart, despite a historically antagonistic relationship with his city of birth, retains an omnipresence in Salzburg that emerges in full force with each iteration of the illustrious summer festival.
The indulgence reached its
pinnacle in 2006—fifty years prior to his tercentenary—with the
staging of all 22 of his operas, including early works which scholars have
discovered to have been co-authored by his father, Leopold. This season, the
new Intendant Alexander Pereira has brushed the dust off another 18th-century
obscurity, written not by W.A. himself but in posthumous tribute to his last
opera, Die Zauberflöte. The librettist and impresario Emmanuel
Schickaneder, eager to ride the success of the Singspiel, set to work writing a
sequel, Das Labyrinth, and found a willing partner in the composer
Peter von Winter. The work was premiered at the Theater an der Wien in 1798,
seven years after Mozart’s death and the premiere of Die
To Schickaneder ‘s credit, the ambiguous nature of good and evil in
the original libretto continues to provide scholars with endless fodder. When
Goethe heard of the Das Labyrinth’s success in 1803, he began penning his
own sequel which was left incomplete after the fruitless search for a composer.
While Goethe develops the story in a more Romantic direction, endowing Tamino
and Pamina with a son, the Genius, and augmenting the magical powers of both
the Queen of the Night and Sarastro, the trajectory of Schickaneder’s
sequel does not depart much from Die Zauberflöte despite the
introduction of several new characters and a labyrinth which represents the
final trial for Tamino and Pamina (never mind that Sarastro already initiated
them into his sun circle). Meanwhile, the Queen is scheming not only with the moor
Monostatos but Tipheus, King of Paphos, who vies for Pamina’s hand. They
manage to briefly abduct the princess, but the Queen must ultimately cede to
Sarastro’s powers when Tamino defeats Tipheus in a duel. Papageno and
Papagena, who have discovered a large extended family, also help suppress evil
by capturing Monostatos.
Winter’s score faithfully adopts strains of the original opera with a
range of success. The first duet of Papageno and Papagena, “Lalaera!
Lara! Lara!,” is a pleasant spinoff of “Pa, pa, pa…”
without directly rehashing Mozart’s melodies. The chorus of priests that
ends the eleventh scene of Act One is skilfully crafted, a ghost of
Mozart’s incomparable harmonies, yet it would have been better placed at
the very end of the act. The Queen’s opening aria “Ha! Wohl mir!
Höre es, Natur” reveals that Winter studied his late Mozart operas
carefully, with strong hints of his proto-Romanticism, yet it is melodically
not very inventive, and the firework coloratura that characterizes the role is
reduced to a passage of uninspired runs toward the end. The sequel’s
Pamina is assigned more virtuosity than her original counterpart, but sadly,
the spin-off to the aria “Ach, ich fühl’s”—“ Ach!
Ich muss alleine tragen”—gives no musical indication of her longing
to die and instead culminates in meaningless coloratura. The Three Women, here
named Venus, Amor and Page, get some nice numbers, revealing Winter’s
talent for colourful, pseudo-Mozartean scoring, and yet the effort could have
been more self-conscious. The five-note motive representing the magic flute
does not emerge once, not even when Sarastro hands it to Tamino for protection before
he enters the labyrinth.
Despite the worn-out qualities of the piece, it has its genuinely charming
moments, particularly with Papageno and his clan. In the Salzburg production,
seen August 26, the young Austrian baritone Thomas Tatzl stole the show as the
feathered bird catcher, joking to the audience with tireless charisma and a
naturally warm, well-projected voice. Swiss soprano Regula Mühlemann was also
delightful as Papagena. The celebrated tenor Michael Schade was the stand-out
of the evening from a purely vocal perspective in the role of Tamino, while
Malin Hartelius was more uneven as Pamina, struggling to overcome the
unfavourable acoustics of the Residenzhof, a covered courtyard where audience
members sat with blankets on their laps to ward of the chill of the Salzburger
Schnürrregen (sudden rainfall). The bass of Christoff Fischesser
similarly risked being swallowed in the role of Sarastro. As the Queen of the
Night, Julia Novikova was strongest in pure lyric moments. The baritone Klaus
Kuttler was a frustrated Monostatos, and Anton Scharinger amusing as the Older
The Three Women (Nina Bernsteiner, Christina Daletska, and Monia Bohinec)
brought fine singing to the stage, as did members of the Festival
Children’s Choir who appeared to Tamino as the “Three Genies”
after Monostatos’ attempt to abduct Papagena. The Salzburger Bachchor,
prepared by Alois Glassner, did full justice to Winter’s choral numbers,
and Ivor Bolton led the Orchestra of the Mozarteum in a characteristically
crisp, authentic reading of the score, even if it occasionally lacked elegance.
Sets by Raimund Orfeo Voigt started out inauspiciously with a mini-proscenium
of a theatre that looked straight out of a high-school production but improved
with towering black panels punctured with light to represent Sarastro’s
circle. Costumes by Elisabeth Binder-Neururer were designed in the local
tradition of semi-rococo but reached their apex in the colourful Lederhosen-
and Tracht-inspired garb of the Papageno family. The dancing, feathered
children of the finale reaffirmed Salzburg as an anachronism Mozart might never
have imagined could exist over three centuries after his death.
Click here for cast and production information.