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.
06 Feb 2013
Fille du Regiment from San Diego Opera
Born to a very poor family in 1797, Gaetano Donizetti was lucky enough to become the pupil of Johann Simone Mayr, the Maestro di Capella of his native city, who recognized his talent and made sure he received appropriate instruction.
As a young composer who came from a poor family, he had to accept
every possible commission. In 1822, he began to produce light operatic comedies
for Naples. Eventually, he began to write more serious works, but he had an
immense gift for comedy as evidenced by works such as La Fille du
Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), L’Elisir d’Amore
(The Elixir of Love), and Don Pasquale. In 1830, he had a major
international success in Anna Bolena. After that he was invited to
compose in other countries such as France, where the censors seemed easier to
please. In 1838 he left Naples for Paris where, two years later, he produced a
trio of successful operas to French texts, La Fille du Régiment,
Les Martyrs, and La Favorite. He also did an Italian
adaptation of La Fille for La Scala. In 1843, the first United States
performance of the opera took place in French in New Orleans.
On January 29, 2013, San Diego Opera offered La Fille du Régiment
as its first presentation of the season. Emilio Sagi’s production, originally
seen at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Italy, moved the time of the action
from the nineteenth century to the twentieth, just after World War II. Instead
of French soldiers in Austria, we saw American soldiers in France. Designer
Julio Galán gave us a bombed out bar for Act I, and a luxurious salon for Act
II. His costumes included many dull tan army uniforms, but there were more
interesting outfits on the nobility in the second act. Slovakian coloratura
soprano L’ubica Vargicovà who was seen in San Diego previously as Gilda in
Verdi’s Rigoletto, sang Marie. She has also sung the Queen of the
Night in Los Angeles Opera’s The Magic Flute, so Marie’s high
notes and fioritura held no terrors for her. She sang with great
precision and showed excellent comic timing.
Ewa Podleś is the Marquise de Birkenfeld
As her lover, Tonio, Stephen Costello once again showed us the warm, bright
ringing tones of his tenor voice. San Diego has heard him as Romeo and Faust,
but the role of Tonio is much more demanding than either. His virtuosic first
act aria ‘Ah, mes amis,’ is well known for its nine high Cs and Costello
hit each of them exactly in the center of the note, holding the last one with
seeming ease. Naturally, the applause was deafening. For the rest of his role
he was a charming lover who sang with exquisite lyric tones.
San Diego has heard Polish Contralto Ewa Podleś before, both in recital and
in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, but this was her first foray into comedy
there. Vocally, she showed the wide range of her color-filled contralto voice.
She was hilariously funny when, wearing a gorgeous dark red costume, she quoted
a line from Bizet’s Carmen. At the same time she brought out the
Marquise of Berkenfeld’s importance in steering the plot toward its jubilant
Opulent voiced American bass Kevin Burdette was an amusing but believable
military officer who eventually won the heart of the most demanding, but
secretly lonely, Marquise. Soprano Carol Vaness, who is doing more teaching
than singing these days, played the speaking role of the Dutchess of
Krakenthorp. It did not keep her from singing a phrase from San Diego’s next
presentation, Saint-Saëns’ Samson and Delilah, however, and that
pleased her many fans in the audience. Malcolm MacKenzie was an entertaining
Hortensio and Scott Sikon an impressive Corporal.
Kevin Burdette is Sgt. Sulpice,L'ubica Vargicová is Marie and Stephen Costello is Tonio
The opera’s chorus under the direction of Charles Prestinari moved as
individuals and maintained precise harmonies. In his San Diego Opera debut,
Maestro Yves Abel conducted with suave French style that brought out the
score’s tonal beauty. His brisk pacing that kept the tension tight. La
Fille is best known for its uniquely difficult tenor aria, but it has much
more to offer than that high wire act. It is filled with glorious music and
charming situations that can be focused to amuse a particular audience. In this
case the Act II guests, some of them major donors to the opera, were announced
as local royalty to the great amusement of many in the audience who knew them
personally. This Donizetti opera is perfection in operatic comedy and it was a
wonderful start for San Diego Opera’s 2013 season.
Cast and Production
Marie: L’ubica Vargicová; Tonio: Stephen Costello; Marquise de
Berkenfeld: Ewa Podleś; Sergeant Sulpice: Kevin Burdette; Corporal: Scott
Sikon; Hortensio: Malcolm Mackenzie; Conductor: Yves Abel; Director: Emilio
Sagi; Scenic and Costume Designer Julio Galán; Lighting Design: Marie