Recently in Performances
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.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
23 Dec 2012
Subject: Aimez-vous Meyerbeer?
Well, so many don’t nowadays, it appears to me, judging by the critical
reception of Robert le Diable at the ROH. Rum-ti-tum? We recall
Macbeth, Rigoletto, Trov and even Trav being characterised
thus, popular fare but risible or blush- making, yet those works now command
the highest respect.
True, Meyerbeer lacks the high melodic genius of Verdi,
whose every work is both obviously his yet paradoxically also has its own
unique sound world; but I think the problem is not that. We are out of sympathy
with the social world for which such works were conceived.
Marina Poplavskaya as Alice and John Relyea as Bertram
Long, leisurely five-acters? Plots elevated to the level of the hieratic?
Above all comfortable plushness, with little apparent intellectual bite? All
that suited opera audiences of the time, but something more is needed for
survival, and you don’t have to listen very hard to discern it. Skill in the
construction of a theatre piece, to start with: how different do the two long
scenes between Bertram/Raimbaut and Bertram/Alice sound, for instance,
reflecting Bertram’s manipulation of each of these victims and their
differing reactions (no pushover, she); how each character is delineated
through the music, their unfolding scenas certainly not generic as is
the libretto; how atmospheric are the orchestral passages, even though perhaps
some might long for Weber.
All this would go for naught, of course, without a fine performance. Do you
ever have that feeling, when the lights dim and the first notes arise, that all
will be well this evening, and there is nowhere else you would rather be? It
was that way on Saturday last, softly bathed in pellucid sound (Daniel Oren
conducting) perfectly judged for the auditorium, without that muddiness that
often tells you you’re in for a sticky ride; above all the singers had the
measure of the style: to my ear French display opera has a certain chic
restraint, without the glitz of its Italian counterpart, and whilst Damrau
would have been starrier, Ciofi (yes, an Italian) was most touching, every
cadence perfectly placed. Poplavskaya excelled herself, with an unusual
combination of staunchness and thrilling ease; Hymel paid Meyerbeer the
compliment of taking him seriously, and was utterly believable in the role,
which he made seem child’s play to sing; Relyea has been seriously
undervalued, and Jean-Francois Borras was a delightful new discovery for me.
And the Chorus excelled themselves.
A scene from Robert le Diable
Which brings me to Laurent Pelly’s production. When it comes to the
chorus, modern directors seem to model themselves on Eisenstein. Here there is
a difference: Pelly’s chorus is sometimes Greek, hovering en masse, but
always in articulated geometrical forms — think Pina Bausch dance, where we
see individuals impelled however to move in unison. So in Act 1 we see the
knights tightly choreographed but moving like lava when the occasion demands;
later they assume a diamond formation, as if grouped in a giant boardgame.
Sounds odd, maybe, but it has the effect of throwing the main characters into
individual relief, and aiding the flow of the plot.
The nuns’ music surprised me (I must have been confusing them with
Casanova’s); it is hard to guess what the original movement must
have been, but the costumes were closely modelled on lithographs of that time,
the music perhaps self-indulgently long and unvaried, the dancers nicely
distinguished even if all in the same plight. Only ten, on this big space? I
thought; but then the whole chorus flooded on, swamping the stage, even more
deshabilles, and equally frantic, in a splendid coup de
théâtre. Costumes might well have been taken from contemporary
miniatures; settings from prints of the time (the stage department excelled
itself in their manipulation).
I came away elated, thinking that the composer had achieved an integrated
piece of work on a high level, with that afterglow you get following a really
good meal. I guess that’s what the original audiences felt too. Will
Meyerbeer catch on? Don’t put money on it. Maybe you have to be a bourgeois
Marxist to like it?!
here for additional production information.