Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

To Rome With Love Poster
19 Oct 2012

To Rome With Love: A Woody Allen film

What might a Woody Allen treatment involving opera read like? Tosca, third act — the firing squad lets loose shrapnel from a malfunctioning prop carbine, verily cutting into the Cavaradossi.

To Rome With Love: A Woody Allen film

A review by Robert Carreras

Above: To Rome With Love Poster

 

Cut to a hospital somewhere in Italy — an anxiety-ridden voice is heard recounting, to anyone within earshot, of how he’d dreamt about this happening, that the shirt he wore for this performance — a present from his mother-in-law — was now ruined, and that the soprano probably put her boy toy supernumerary up to taking him out. And finally, “Is the doctor Jewish, you know cause, cause…I’d prefer if he were kosher since, since I had a club sandwich today and, and, that’ll kind of balance things out.”

Some of you might recognize part of the above as non-fiction. In1995, tenor Fabio Armiliato went through the ordeal of hospitalization and recovery after this exact unfortunate improvisation became part of a production of Tosca. The rest of this, to the best of my knowledge, is fiction, dialogue invented by me as an ode to the painfully self-examining and incessantly loquacious director’s filmmaking style. There need no longer be a wondering of how Allen might handle the subject of opera in film.

Checking out reviews of To Rome With Love (in theaters as of June 22), two stood out for their specific contrasts. One was a rave, from a publication not solely specializing in classical music, but from an opera newsy. The less complimenting piece centered on Allen’s relationship to the arts and how that influenced the construct of the film. The rave set aside particular positive attention for an opera singer by the name Armiliato. To Rome With Love, then, is a convergence of Allen and opera, as it is a convergence of Allen and Armiliato and their two characters.

Fabio is one of two Armiliatos to leave an imprint in opera today. Marco is a conductor that has had great success leading major orchestras at major theaters, through major opera assignments the world over. Fabio’s career has progressed so that he has become one of the premiere exponents of the dramatic repertory. Aside from a Tosca experience (and a Carmen one involving a sword and an Armiliato extremity) that would be difficult to make up, there is little indication why he would appear in Allen’s film. It turns out that Armiliato is a natural in Allen’s nearly probable satirical environment; I appear to have enjoyed Armiliato more than the reviewer that appraised his presence “charming.”

F. Armiliato singing at ‘red-carpet’ event promoting To Rome With Love

Genoese Armiliato plays Giancarlo, the owner of a funerary home shoppe in a strip mall. He is what you’d expect from a caricature of this persona and as the film gets underway, Armiliato gets lost in it. He is sullen and dry and flat, that is until he cleanses off embalming fluid and rigor mortis at the end of the work day and produces those big, operatically-trained sounds of Armiliato’s in the shower.

Setting the character’s temperament aside, Armiliato is warm and appears comfortable on camera. He also has a way with playing the ridiculous smoothly, and with having humor and irony fade into one another. If Allen has a gift for writing in absurdities that are nevertheless easy for actors to identify with, opera singer Armiliato seemed to easily find that place in the “filmy” climate. In opera, Armiliato’s reception steers sharply in the direction of physique (“tall, dark and handsome”), presence (“animal-like magnetism”) and greater still towards his voice — style and taste. Of his dramatics on stage, the general consensus is, well, quiet. This is a good thing in opera. It worked to an advantage in To Rome With Love.

There is nothing left to be desired from this soundtrack (per Armiliato) stacked up against the best recorded material of Del Monaco. The miking and its exposure tells us more about what Armiliato does vocally. It is a hearty, if a bit thick, and well-supported sound that rises fully through the range. It is singing that sets itself apart in knowing the music and for a strong sense of the style (mostly versimo). On the opera stage, Armiliato’s tone sounds like it falls short of the pitch in the very lower parts of the range but the middle and high range singing, squillante e potente, is from a voice opera-special and movie-star handsome.

This absolutely startles (even if your expecting it) and begins Allen’s character’s mind to churn when he visits his daughter (played by Alison Pill) and her boyfriend (played Flavio Parenti) — son of mortician. Allen’s character (Jerry) is a bit change of pace for him. He still has lots to say, and says it with the tense and torn interlocution that we’ve come to expect. But the direction of the message is “out of character.”

As a more careful than wise elder-statesman (a funny turn in it’s own right), he is less believable pinning the label of communist revolutionary on his daughter’s beau. As a cutting-edge opera-director, the kind that seeks to reinvent, update and upset all things traditional in opera, he is at least theoretically more in his element. The story doesn’t play like it’s about him anyway, or even like the ideas are bounced off him as happens in Allen’s early works.

The convergence of opera and Allen in film is poetic for the director, a convergence of fortune and the fantastic: an extraordinary talent (Ginacarlo’s) that only surfaces in the shower and a director (Jerry), in an outside-imposed professional asylum, that has no qualms about fitting this into the plot twist of Pagliacci in a major opera house. But before anyone is aware of the limitations of this talent, Jerry seeks the advice of others. The first to object is Michelangelo (Giancarlo’s son), with loud warnings of his father becoming a product, a cog and bourgeois puppet. His son sees him as fine as he is.

Giancarlo strongly agrees at first. And before you know it, the film turns to an audition, with presumably opera-elites in jury. Here we get to probably the funniest moment with regards to singing in the film. “Nessun Dorma” is already going badly, hacked up, strained high notes, no signs of the enormously gifted voice heard coming from the shower of the Giancarlo home. Then, the final note arrives. In mid-scream, Armiliato contorts his face to match, sticking-out his tongue in, possibly, a last ditch effort to loosen his voice. Or, possibly, Armiliato is sticking it out at us, the audience.

Allen’s To Rome With Love goes only so much farther into opera than many a film, and other parts of the ensemble set pieces that are the director’s forte also play to the world of opera, to love, infatuation, and the fickle nature and folly of fame.

Judy Davis (Phyllis) is again an Allen wife, less frustrated by the predicaments he has for her this time around. Roberto Benigni (Leopoldo) is a nobody who has celebrity suddenly thrust on him for no apparent reason. A young man (played by Alessandro Tiberi) loses his girlfriend (played by Alessandra Mastronardi) but gains Penelope Cruz (Anna), a lady-of-the-night that knocks on the wrong hotel door (“sono tutta tua,” she says to him, things have been paid for). This leads to some of the best comedic moments of the film. Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig, and Ellen Page (young Jack, Sally, and Monica) help Alec Baldwin (older Jack) relive an after-college year in Italy, with Baldwin meeting that younger Jack struggling to make sense of the world.

To open and close the film, this world is directed by a polizia (Pierluigi Marchionne). From the pedestal of a traffic circle in “every street” Rome, this character muses to the audience of the events and world that pass around, this world where Allen, opera, and Armiliato, meet.

Robert Carreras


Click here for additional information regarding this film.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):