Recently in Performances
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.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
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.