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.
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.