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On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
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.
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.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
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’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
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.
16 Nov 2012
Alagna sings Nemorino - L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House, London,
One of the main reasons for interest in the Royal Opera’s latest revival of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was that tenor Roberto Alagna had chosen to return to the role of Nemorino. Though he had sung Nemorino earlier in his career, he had never sung the role at Covent Garden. The other cast members were of a high order too, with Alexandra Kurzak as Adina, Ambrogio Maestri as Dulcamara and Fabio Capitanucci as Belcore. So plenty of reasons for seeing the revival, which I caught on opening night 13 November 2012.
Laurent Pelly’s production had been revived by Daniel Dooner, the results in Chantal Thomas’s designs looked handsome and it was all charmingly entertaining without being heartless. Pelly and Thomas had chosen to set the opera in a small Italian farming town in the 1950’s. Wheat and straw bales were a big feature of the set, with a wheat-field as part of the backdrop and piles of straw bales used extensively in large stacks as the location for much of the action. The other significant visual effect was the use of transport. The chorus moved around on bicycles, vespas and mopeds, Dulcamara arrived in a huge truck and Nemorino appeared driving a tractor (whilst drunk) towards the end of act 2.
Neither the set nor the production really pushed the 1950’s setting too far, which meant that the piece worked very well. Donizetti’s opera is about a small town farming community and Pelly’s lovely detailed observation ensured that we were drawn into the doings of this particular one. The chorus were very much part of the action, and helped create the mis-en-scene for the soloists. The entire performance had the feeling of a group enterprise, an ensemble piece despite the presence of star names; it was all the better for it.
Alagna can no longer sing Nemorino with the grace and beauty of tone that he once could. But his determination to sing Nemorino whilst also singing Radames and Enee is rather admirable and has the feel of an earlier age when these roles were often taken by singers with larger voices. Of course, all this would be as naught if Alagna could not still sing the role. Granted, his voice was at times slightly louder than ideal, but he negotiated all the passagework deftly, if not ideally neatly. His voice did not always quite behave as he wanted, a couple of high notes were compromised, but he still produced some lovely tone and his account of Una furtiva lagrima was still a thing of beauty on its own terms. If you accepted that stylistically he was channelling Puccini, then there was a great deal to admire.
But it was Alagna as an actor, as a stage creature, who made the performance. From the outset he was completely charming, with a winning manner and an extreme physicality to the performance (to the extent of even losing his clothes) which could have turned into a stunt but in fact became part of his delightful characterisation of Nemorino. I have to admit that I went into the performance a little dubious, but came away entranced. Alagna’s performance was very much team work, he worked with his other performers and was clearly having a whale of a time.
It helped, of course, that he had such a strong team around him. Alexandra Kurzak has sung in the production before and remains a complete delight in this repertoire. Her capabilities in singing elaborate bel canto roles is astounding, but she is not just a technical delight she uses her technical abilities to create a real character. Her Adina was wonderfully pert and flirtatious, but even from the outset it was obvious that she felt something for Nemorino, and Kurzak allowed us to see this and developed it.
There were plenty of vocal delights on the way as well, but everything combined superbly in her account of her act 2 aria Prendi, per me sei libero where her feeling for Nemorino is displayed, combined with technical finesse.
Dulcamara was played by Ambrogio Maestri with rotund good humour. He was more the loveable rogue than the edgy character in some versions of this opera and I understand that the satire was more pointed when Pelly’s production was new. Maestri is very adept at using his bulk to devastating comic effect, but his account of the role was also very finely sung. It was buffo, but with a very clear musical line and very good it was too. Maestri also had a number of delightful tricks, such as interpolating little whistling noises when singing the comic duet with Adina during the wedding scene in act 2. But you felt that Maestri was less interesting in comic business for its own sake, and more intent on using it to create character.
Fabio Capitanucci (last seen here as Chorebe in Les Troyens) was finely fatuous Belcore, but one with a creditable swagger who would clearly be of interest to the ladies. Much of the humour came from the fact that his troops consisted of just two recruits, two mismatched boys one tall one small, both in ill-fitting suits. The way that, at the end he smoothly transferred his affections to Giannetta (Susana Gaspar) made it clear that Belcore was a survivor.
Gaspar (currently one of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Young Artists), was announced as suffering from a cold, but there were thankfully no audible effects and she made a charming Gianetta.
Bruno Campanella conducted; he got off to a slow start, and there were one or two hiccups in ensemble between pit and stage in the more complex choruses. But as Campanella got into the swing of things, there was much to enjoy in his performance. I have to confess, that I do rather prefer this opera in a smaller opera house, but he managed to get a nicely sparkling performance from the orchestra.
This was a joyous evening in the theatre, just what L’elisir d’amore should be.