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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.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
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 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.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
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.
02 Mar 2013
Samson and Delilah, San Diego Opera
Samson and Delilah is the only opera by Camille Saint-Saens that is
still regularly performed. He had written two previous operas and would write
several more, along with a long list of instrumental pieces including The
Carnival of the Animals.
In the 1860s the composer was aware of a renewed
interest in choral music, so he planned an oratorio on the story of Samson that
is found in Chapter sixteen of the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. He
spoke to the husband of one of his wife's cousins, Ferdinand Lemaire, about
writing a libretto for it and the writer said the story would make a good
opera. They began working on it as an opera, but other concerns interrupted
Fellow composer Franz Liszt, who was interested in producing new works by
talented composers, persuaded Saint-Saëns to finish Samson and
Delilah, saying that he would produce the completed work at the
grand-ducal opera house in Weimar.
The composer tailored the role of Delilah for Pauline Viardot
(1821–1910), but by the time the work was finished and could be staged,
the singer was too old to perform it. She did, however, organize a private
performance of the second act at a friend's home with the composer at the
piano. A great admirer of the work, she hoped that this private performance
would encourage the director of the Paris Opéra to mount a full production.
Although Saint-Saëns completed the score in 1876, no opera houses in France
displayed any desire to stage Samson and Delilah.
It was Liszt's support that led to the work being premiered in a German
translation on December 2, 1877, in Weimar, where it was a resounding success.
But there were many intervening years before it started to become popular in
other cities. Its Paris premiere at the Éden-Théâtre did not take place until
October 31, 1890, but audiences did give it a warm reception. Over the next two
years, performances were staged in Bordeaux, Geneva, Toulouse, Nantes, Dijon,
and Montpellier. When the Paris Opéra finally presented the opera on November
23, 1892, audience members and critics alike praised it.
On February 19, 2013, San Diego Opera presented Samson and Delilah
in a traditional production directed by Leslie Koenig. The solid looking,
effective scenery was designed by Douglas Schmidt and the soft colored costumes
were originated by Carrie Robbins. All were constructed at San Francisco Opera.
Koenig’s direction told the story in a straightforward manner and made no
attempt to update or change the setting from the borders of Judah, Dan, and
Philistia in the late twelfth or early eleventh century BCE.
Clifton Forbis was a dramatic Samson who showed us the wages of his
character’s sins. Vocally, he started off slowly, but it is a long role
and his pacing was good after the first scene. His best singing was heard
during the poignant third act aria, ‘Vois ma misère, helas’. Tall
and slim Nadia Krasteva was a sensual, seductive Delilah who fully captured her
man when she sang ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix’ (My Heart
Opens at your Voice). Her voice had a purple velvet sound and the low notes of
her chest voice were exquisite. As the High Priest of Dagon, Anooshah Golesorki
commanded the stage as he sang with a stentorian voice. His second act duet
with Krasteva was quite memorable.
Gregory Reinhart was a compelling Old Hebrew and Mikhail Svetlov a fiery
Abimilech. Doug Jones, Scott Sikon, and Greg Fedderly gave interesting
portrayals as Philistines. Since the composer originally thought to write this
work as an oratorio, the chorus is very important. Under the direction of
Charles F. Prestinari, the San Diego Opera Chorus sang Saint-Saens’
rousing music with great gusto. Conductor Karen Keltner is an expert on both
French language and French music, so she coached the singers’ diction in
addition to leading the orchestra in this idiomatic performance. She brought
out Saint-Saens’ love for the exotic and her interpretation was
particularly impressive in the ‘Bacchanal’. Her tempi were well
thought out and the playing was rich and translucent. Kenneth von
Heidecke’s choreography was fun to watch and the enticing music made the
entire audience want to join the dance.
Cast and Production Information
Clifton Forbis, Samson; Nadia Krasteva, Delilah; Mikhail Svetlov,
Abimelech; Anoosha Golesorki, High Priest of Dagon; Scott Sikon and Doug Jones,
Philistines; Greg Fedderly, Philistine Messenger; Gregory Reinhart, Old Hebrew;
Karen Keltner, conductor; Leslie Koenig, director; Kenneth von Heidecke,
choreographer; Charles F. Prestinari, chorus master; Douglas Schmidt, scenery;
Carrie Robbins, costumes; Gary Marder, lighting design. San Diego Opera, Civic
Theater, Tuesday, February 19, 2013.