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.
05 Mar 2013
Bernarda Fink and the Italian Baroque
Argentinean mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink continued her series residency at the Wigmore Hall with an unusual programme of Italian baroque works, partnered by the Academy of Ancient Music, led by violinist Rodolfo Richter.
From the very first tumbling triplet cascades of Veracini’s Overture No.6
in G Minor it was apparent that the AAM would present a performance notable for
its remarkable instrumental ensemble, dazzling clarity of articulation and
supple rhythmic agility. Richter’s stage manner may be characterised by
modest diffidence, but there is a discreet and impressive assurance about his
leadership, a barely discernible glance or subtle gesture sufficient to ensure
ensemble entries are crisp and precise, and tempi are intuitively sensed by
Blending pleasingly into a cohesive, sweet tone, the string players, oboists
and theorbo player found much diversity of colour in Veracini’s varied score,
the aching harmonic piquancies of the Largo giving way to vigorous polyphonic
dialogue in the subsequent Allegro. In the rumbustious bucolic Minuet which
concludes the overture, the players found a surprising dynamism in the almost
exclusively single-part texture, deftly shaping the robust, spritely melodic
Titled ‘Italian Passions’, this programme set out to explore “the
extremes of human emotion and the open-hearted Italian spirit”. Bernarda
Fink’s moving, almost operatic performance of Tarquinio Merula’s
idiosyncratic lullaby-chaconne, ‘Hor ch’è tempo di dormire’, certainly
presented a contrast to the bright buoyancy of Veracini. Above a sinister
rocking ostinato, which perhaps intimated the disturbed cries of the restless
child, Fink affectingly enacted Mary’s tender but urgent coaxing as she tries
to lull the baby Jesus to sleep. She drew every expressive nuance from the
melody; her deepest register was modulated with particular beauty and power to
convey the mother’s anguished warnings of the sufferings to come — her
distress deepened by the dry, insistent repetitions of Elizabeth Kenny’s
theorbo. Fink’s instinctive engagement with the text, complemented by the
range of colour and the flexibility of her voice enabled her to tell the tale
with fluency and naturalness. In the final two verses, with their
recitative-like melody, she found a stillness and repose as the mother vows to
“watch o’er my love/ And remain with bowed head/ So long as my child
After Merula’s deeply emotionally lament, ‘Sovvente il sole’ from
Vivaldi’s serenata Andromeda liberate depicted a melancholy
lover’s out-pouring of unrequited passion. Vivaldi’s dissonant inflections
were richly enjoyed by the strings above which Fink’s pure mezzo tone and
Richter’s delicate solo violin traceries entwined in perfectly controlled
long, flowing phrases.
The aria was enclosed between two fleet-footed violin concertos by Vivaldi,
‘L’amoroso’ and ‘L’inquietudine’. In the lilting first movement of
the former, Richter’s bow caressed the strings with sensuous gentleness, and
soloists and ensemble combined exuberance and refinement in the concluding
Allegro. ‘L’inquietudine’ evinced some technically impressive passage
work, Richter’s semiquavers ever swift and light, the running lines full of
character and élan.
After the interval, the strings were re-joined by the two oboists, Frank de
Bruine and Lars Henriksson, for a rendition of Albinioni’s Concerto in C
major for two oboes Op.9 No.9 which celebrated the composer’s rich, joyful
The concluding work, Il Pianto di Maria by Giovanni Battisti
Ferrandini, was long attributed to Handel; Fink and the AAM demonstrated what a
formidable and compelling work this 8-movement cantata is, the sacred text —
drawn from both the Stabat mater and scenes depicting the Crucifixion —
delivered with a theatricality and direct impact more typical of opera
seria than of devotional compositions.
This is another portrait of a mother’s love and suffering for her son, and
again Fink’s expressive immediacy was striking. In the opening recitative,
her pained cry — “ah ciel!” — as Mary watches the “hideous tragedy”
of Calvary unfold, was redolent with distress and the “immense bitterness of
her torment”. Fink convincingly negotiated the rapid changes of emotion,
moving from sobriety to passion, from agony to defiance. The final da capo aria
had a quiet beauty and sober power as the mother reflects, “For his death
took away/ The awareness of his pain”.
The playing of the AAM strings was stylish: the arching melodic contours
were elegantly shaped, and the passages of close counterpoint and dialogue full
of grace. The players were alert to the emotive nuances of the frequent chains
of dissonance, and to the pictorial effects achieved by Ferrandini in the
accompanied recitatives — as, for example, in the third movements where sharp
stabbing gestures suggest Christ’s agony, “Lashed by scourges,/ Pierced by
thorns,/ Wounded by nails”; or when the turbulence of the “[t]here
universals earthquakes” decreed by God to mark the Crucifixion, Resurrection
and Last Judgement are portrayed by agitated string passages reminiscent of
Monteverdi’s stile concitato idiom.
The final, brief, and inconclusive, recitative, with its moralising dictum,
“Tremble, man, you too, who are earth!” was shocking and disturbing. It is
hard to imagine a more intense, impassioned portrayal of a mother’s adoration
Veracini Overture in G minor; Merula Aria: Hor ch’è tempo di
dormire; Vivaldi Concerto in E for violin RV271 ‘L’amoroso’, Aria:
Sovvente il sole from Andromeda liberate, Concerto in D for violin RV234
‘L’inquietudine’; Albinoni Concerto in C Op. 9 No. 9; Ferrandini Cantata:
Il pianto di Maria. Academy of Ancient Music. Bernarda Fink, mezzo-soprano.
Rodolfo Richter, director, violin. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday, 25th February