Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
18 Nov 2012
More Tosca in San Francisco
Who is Patricia Racette? Sexually ripe Nedda, maternal Cio-Cio-San, neurotic Sister Angelica? But now the jealous Tosca? And without question Mme. Racette has again proven herself the Puccini heroine par excellence of this moment.
Patricia Racette is a powerful lyric soprano who like all great singers possesses a unique voice, its signature sound is the interplay of excited overtones. This excitement, these vocal nerve endings possess all of these Puccini victims, and transmit their vulnerability, their super human strength, their beauty, above all a melodramatic feminine humanity that has endured one full century now, and will still be real as long as there may be humankind.
Mme. Racette is a committed and skilled actress, but more so she is an honest artist. Her voice is in its prime, as it has been and will be for some time. To her voice she adds intelligent and straight forward musicianship that ties us securely to her character, thus we are held captive by her very presence even in the numerous pantomimes when Tosca does not sing, but silently observes the murdered Scarpia, and approaches the dead Cavaradossi. It is her rock solid artistry in service to real human drama that seduces us.
Mark Delavan as Scarpia
If in the first act la Racette does not find the persona of a jealous diva, one we suspect we would find in the more usual spinto voiced Tosca. Racette does persuade us that she is a woman in love, and a woman vulnerable to powerful men, fiery revolutionaries and corrupt functionaries. At the opera’s end, finally trapped by these forces she frees herself in her dramatic leap. And what a leap it was — in spread eagle form, the euphoria of liberation. Patricia Racette is a bona fide diva.
These days in the War Memorial when Nicola Luisotti is on the podium individual performances are tied to the pit, an aria is really a duet, and such was the case last night in a stunning delivery of Vissi d’arte, the maestro in his euphoria of pillaging every possible tremor of feeling from a very willing orchestra, the soprano but a part of his larger whole. Scarpia and his henchmen plotting to ensnare Angelotti, Cavaradossi and Tosca captured with a musical force nearly equal to Verdi’s Otello, culminating in a Te Deum that had much more to do with Luisotti and Puccini and the joy of sheer power than with Scarpia.
The maestro plumbs a depth of sound and searches color in the orchestral voice, and only then pushes forward the flow of musical action. This creates a stop and go rhythm of often extreme tempos, fast or slow. Last night in the second act in particular these fluctuating tempos musically riveted us to the interplay of Tosca and her tormentor, and in the third act bound us to her nervous fear.
Tosca’s tormentor, the Scarpia of bass baritone Mark Delavan, was not driven by the pure, unadulterated lust that usually drives this politically privileged baron. Instead Delavan toyed with his power, the seduction of Tosca was played as a game with himself, as proof of his privilege, not as release of his unbridled libido. Delavan found a humanity in Puccini’s villain that was supremely ugly, more offensive than exercising sexual prowess. Utilizing the inherent beauty of his now mature voice he thoroughly embodied the bloated, entitled political aristocracy. This was Mark Delavan as an estimable artist. We would have expressed our appreciation had he stayed around for the bows at the end of the opera.
Mark Delavan as Scarpia and Patricia Racette as Tosca
Against all this, a quirk of impresario privilege, San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley cast an Adler Fellow as the artist and revolutionary tenor Cavaradossi. Young tenor Brian Jagde held his own to some degree, while definitely out of his league. He possesses a young, vibrant voice and secure high notes. He lacks the squillo that would make his voice Italianate, nor is he yet schooled in the style. There was the occasional catch that sometimes might have been the tenorial sob and other times might have been a momentary catch in an overburdened voice. While Mr. Jagde was abundantly rewarded by the crowd for his performance the fact remains that the War Memorial is not an appropriate stage for a young singer to break in a role.
Supporting roles were superbly cast. Christian Van Horn made a detailed and very present Attavanti who set the stage for a revolutionary tone to Puccini’s opera. Tenor Joel Sorensen etched a sniveling Spoletta, brutalized by Scarpia and Adler Fellow Ao Li was right-on as Sciarrone. Not to overlook the low key, masterful, not too intrusive Sacristan of Dale Travis.
The production was the 1997 remake of the 1923 production, and it is time to send it to the dump — its nostalgia has been lost and it is boring. The staging of this umpteenth revival was however masterfully managed by Jose Maria Condemi. Hopefully Mr. Condemi will write a book to reveal the now secret (maybe best left untold stories) of staging these San Francisco Opera Tosca follies.
Cast and Production
Floria Tosca: Patricia Racette; Mario Cavaradossi: Brian Jagde; Baron Scarpia: Mark Delavan; Angelotti: Christian Van Horn; Spoletta: Joel Sorensen; Sacristan: Dale Travis; Sciarrone: Ao Li; Jailer: Ryan Kuster; Shepherd Boy: Ryan Nelson-Flack. San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Stage Director: Jose Maria Condemi; Production Designer: Thierry Bosquet; Lighting Designer: Christopher Maravich. San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. November 16, 2012.