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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.
18 Mar 2013
Götterdämmerung at the Staatsoper Berlin
In the final of scene of Götterdämmerung in a new production at
the Staatsoper Berlin, Brünnhilde appears in a flowing pink gown just as the
music has modulated and penetrates the hall of the Gibichungs, represented by
rows of glowing translucent boxes that preserve the dismembered limbs of their
She unfastens the ring—here represented as a sequined hand—from
the arm of Siegfried’s corpse, and moves regally upstage. When video
projections of fire onto a shiny back wall cede to blue swirls of water—the
Rhine overflowing after Valhalla has burned to ash—the fading, ghostly image
of a woman with her mouth agape hovers like a virtual nightmare. A crowd of
Gibichungs, dressed in drab civil suits with touches of barbaric fur, turn
toward the back wall and stare at an image of excavated human remains. As their
expressions reveal signs of cognizance, a giant replica of the marble relief
Human Passions by Jef Lambeaux, a depiction of nude bodies writhing
somewhere between heaven and hell, descends and traps the action behind it.
As program notes by the dramaturge Michael Steinberg explain, this image has
provided a kind of Leitmotif for the Ring cycle by stage team
Guy Cassiers and Enrico Bagnoli, which has unfolded in epic fashion over the
past three years in co-production with La Scala. The opening instalment,
Das Rheingold, culminated in a video projection of the full image; in
Die Walküre, it mutates into a twisting, multi-media pile of bodies.
Cassiers, the director, has set out to address globalization in an age of
virtual reality and pornographic violence, adopting with Bagnoli a streamlined
yet abstract aesthetic. Laser-like red lines that designate warfare in
Walküre reappear as the fragile network (or destiny rope) of the
Norns in Götterdämmerung, and rows of white spears that serve as a
canvas for flickering video projections descend to drive home the notion of
While the visual symbolism of Cassiers and Bagnoli is sometimes too
conceptual to connect with its intellectual underpinnings—now a black mass
which spreads like an expressionist painting when Siegfried makes a blood oath
with Günther, now a woman who sticks her computerized tongue out at the
audience—the production scores a triumph in the use of light-dark imagery to
mirror the archetypal forces at play, underscoring the music rather than
overwhelming it with images. The restraint bordered on excessive for the
opening scene in the shadowy hall of the Gibichungs, designated by a simple
metal wall and a box of glowing limbs, and it took a moment to realize that a
group of dancers on their knees behind Siegfried represented Grane,
Brünnhilde’s horse. Yet choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui was
surprisingly effective when the bodies draped themselves in black cloth and
transformed into the Tarnhelm, the magic helmet which allows Siegfried to still
the ring from Brünnhilde. Costumes by Tim Van Steenbergen, with a modernist
take on Lederhosen for the leading Gibichungs and leather motorcycle
get-up for Siegfried, add to the dystopic vision.
Ian Storey as Siegfried and Marina Poplavskaya as Gutrune with the State Opera Chorus
If the production leans too heavily on the audience’s powers of
imagination, Daniel Barenboim, currently music director in both Berlin and
Milan, fills the vacuum with the sharpest insight into dramatic nuance. The
Staatskapelle swelled and subsided with organic ease as the score soared from
subterranean tunnels to celestial plains, mutating like the ring’s magical
forces to accommodate each singer. Irène Theorin, the cycle’s Brünnhilde in
all instalments, threatened to burst the walls of the Schiller Theater when her
seasoned Wagnerian soprano broke out from its round timbre into a screech, but
she inhabited the role of the mortalized goddess with an affecting blend of
dignity, hysteria and vengeance. In the role of Siegfried, Ian Storey, a tenor
of higher vintage than the previous installment’s Lance Ryan last fall,
struggled with a wobble in the opening scenes but warmed up to give an
indomitable performance of the hero before he is stabbed in the back by Hagen.
As the evil Gibichung, Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko was an increasingly
ominous presence, spitting out his words with villainous resolve in the
soliloquy “Hier sitz’ ich zur Wacht.”
It was a surprise to hear Marina Poplavskaja, a dramatic soprano who has
forged an international career in roles such as Desdemona and Violetta, portray
Gutrune—who drugs Siegfried with a magic potion in order to separate him from
Brünnhilde—but her voice poured out clearly above Barenboim’s sensitive
conducting and captured the Gibichung’s wicked wiles. She also gave a
pleasant account of the Second Norn. Marina Prudenskaya gave an affecting
performance as the Valykrie, Waltraute, who beseeches Brünnhilde to give back
the ring to the Rhinemaidens, and as the Third Norn. The mezzo Margarita
Nekrasova, in the role of the First Norn, did not blend easily but evoked
impending pathos with a more typically Wagnerian voice. Aga Mikolaj, Maria
Gortsevskaya, and Ann Lapkovskaja made for a seductive, youthful trio as the
Rhinemaidens. Even at the Twilight of the Gods, Cassiers’ vision ends the
cycle with the possibility for atonement. Despite the horrors the human race
has wracked upon the environment and itself, it can learn from the past and
Click here for cast and production information.