Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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