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.
02 Feb 2013
Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Staatsoper Berlin
Recent seasons have seen a surge in so-called ‘Holocaust
operas,’ from Peter Androsch’s Spiegelrund, which
premiered in Vienna last week, to Mieczysław Weinberg’s The
Passenger, unveiled with a half-century of delay in Bregenz in 2010.
topic of Nazi politics may be bone-chilling, but when written by survivors,
allows for some emotional distance and reflection. Meanwhile, history has
bequeathed us what may be considered a Holocaust opera in the true sense of the
word. The Staatsoper Berlin is currently performing Viktor Ullmann’s
Der Kaiser von Atlantis (The Emperor of Atlantis),which was penned at
the concentration camp Theresienstadt to a libretto by Peter Kien just before
the authors were transported to Auschwitz in 1944. The chamber opera premiered
in Amsterdam 31 years after their death.
Theresienstadt served as both a transit post and a kind of sham for the
extent of the SS forces’ brutality. Leo Baeck, Pavel Haas, and Gideon
Klein count among the conscripted intelligentsia at the ‘model
ghetto,’ where Ullmann was engaged as an official music critic. A
freelance musician schooled in Schönbergian composition, the Silesian native
found himself with more time to compose than ever before. His score creates a
dizzying, but organic blend of serialist passages, sardonic cabaret, and
Mahleresque harmonies while subversively weaving in melodies such as ‘Ein
feste Burg ist unser Gott’ in the final chorus. It is an at once
harrowing and uplifting setting of Kien’s libretto, which provides a
vivid depiction of the inner turmoil but resignation a prisoner found in the
end of life as he knew it.
The story in some ways calls to Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre in
its montage-like structure and ambiguous treatment of death. A Loudspeaker
announces in the prologue that the living can no longer laugh and the dying can
no longer lament. Harlekin, better known as Arlecchino, the commedia
dell’arte stock character, is so bored that he begs Death to his
duty. But Death has decided to condemn mortals to eternal life. Kaiser Overall,
whose resemblance to Hitler prevented further rehearsals of the opera in the
summer of 1944, is informed by telephone of a plague whereby none of his
soldiers can die. Only when the war is over does Death, “the
gardener…the final lullaby,” deliver the world from pestilence.
The story further includes a drummer, a soldier and a girl named Bubbikopf.
Kyungho Kim as Harlekin | Ein Soldat, Gyula Orendt as Kaiser Overall and Alin Anca as Der Lautsprecher | Der Tod
The Staatsoper staging by Mascha Pörzgen, seen January 29 at the
company’s Werkstatt, a small wing used for new music theater,
recreates the opera’s surreal qualities while maintaining a tasteful dose
of aesthetic restraint. The roles of Death and the Loudspeaker are cast with a
single bass-baritone (the tireless Alin Anca), who is wheeled in on a
motor-driven stool before revealing the garb of terrorist-like solider. His
exchanges with the sad clown-faced Harlekin are appropriately ambivalent, while
the Drummer assumes the presence of a caricature as she walks through the scene
beating wooden spoons mid-air. Kaiser Overall is a psychotic bureaucrat who
occupies the only hollow space in an all-white set (designs by Cordelia
Matthes). The proscenium moves in closer to the audience following
Harlekin’s eerie lullaby “Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf.”
The cast, all members of the Staatsoper’s international opera studio,
gave a tight, convincing performance despite vocal unevenness. Anca carried the
show with theatrical verve and a booming bass that at times risked being too
loud for the space. As Harlekin and the soldier in the third scene, Kyungho Kim
did not rise to the same standards of sound quality and diction but was a
moving presence. The soprano Rowan Hellier gave a stand-out performance as the
Drummer, while Narine Yeghiyan, in the role of Bubbikopf, at times sounded
strained. Gyula Orendt gave an earnest performance as the Kaiser. Felix Krieger
led an elegant reading of the score with an ensemble of the Staatskapelle,
although the musicians’ position on a landing to the side of the stage
was not always ideal acoustically (drowning out Orendt in his final aria, the
very Mahlerian ‘Von allem, was geschieht’).The unearthly final
chorus could have been drawn out with more nostalgia, while the counterpoint of
a repeated, descending violin melody gave chills down the spine.
Der Kaiser von Atlantis runs through February 9.