Recently in Reviews
On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.
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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
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.