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Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“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.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.



Leo Nucci as Nabucco [Photo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore]
31 Mar 2013

Nabucco, Royal Opera House, London

“Gli arredi festivi giù cadano infranti, Il popol di Giuda di lutto s’ammanti!”. Verdi’s Nabucco at the Royal Opera House respected the spirit of the opera.

Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco

Click here for cast and production information

Above: Leo Nucci as Nabucco

Photos © ROH / Catherine Ashmore


The people of Judah are in mourning. The Overture is heard against a simple backdrop, focusing attention on the music, and not on the “false idols” of decorative frippery.

In this time of crisis, the people concentrate on the fundamentals of their religion. In this production, we concentrate on the fundamentals of the opera: on Verdi, and on his music. We listen to the orchestra, contemplating what the Temple means . When the chorus gathers and bursts into song, the impact is explosive.

NABUCCO-2587ashm_0939.gifLiudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille

This production, a joint venture between the Royal Opera House and Teatro alla Scala Milan, is strikingly perceptive in musical terms. This staging takes its cue from the invisible images in the orchestration. Daniele Abbado, the director, observes how Verdi contrasts large form against detail. The people of Judah worship a single, austere God, not multiple false idols. The director, Daniele Abbado, observes how Verdi builds the concept into his orchestration. Just as solo instruments are heard at critical moments in the drama, .individual voices stand clear against the background of massed chorus,. This contrast runs throughout the opera. Abbado’s staging reflects musical form : densely concentrated choruses, principals weaving in and out of the mass. When the crowd parts, and Leo Nucci’s Nabucco emerges, the effect is humbling. The King of the Babylonians is supposed to be all-powerful, but the God of Judah strikes him down. Nabucco isn’t divine, but human.

Leo Nucci has been singing Nabucco for decades. It is a privilege to hear him sing it again in this musically-informed production, where we can concentrate on his true artistry. He’s no longer young, but neither is Nabucco. Nucci brings out the depth of personality in the role. Babylon is a violent kingdom, and Nabucco sanctions savagery. It’s statecraft, after all. He plays a political game of public bluff, placing the crown on his head to assert authority. Nucci is small of stature, but his voice commands authority. Wisely, in this staging, he’s costumed in ordinary clothes, stressing the private side of his character, highlighting his misery and his love for his daughter. Nucci can create the role through his voice, and Abbado, who respects the drama in the music, lets him do so. When Nucci sings “una lagrima spuntò” he suggests that the madness is the first stage in a journey towards redemption, which culminates in the superb Act Four arias.

Forceful, impressive performances from Marianna Pizzolato and Ludmyla Monastryrska as Fenena and Abigaille respectively. The women represent dual personality, which Verdi emphasizes in his showpiece writing for the parts. The drama is in the music, the stage directions in the score fairly circumspect. Vitalij Kowalijow sang Zaccaria with great intensity. His High Priest is a force to be reckoned with, inspired as he is by his profound faith. Andrea Caré sang Ismaele. Robert Lloyd sang the High Priest of Baal. Two singers from the ROH Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, Dušica Bijelic and David Butt Philip sang Anna and Abdallo. Young as they are, they have great promise, justifying the investment that’s being put into developing them.

NABUCCO-2587ashm_0361.gifMariana Pizzolato as Fenena

Nabucco, though, is nothing without the choruses. As always, the Royal Opera House choruses, directed by Renato Balsadonna were excellent. Because they weren’t required to flaff about “acting”, we could cherish their singing. “Va, Pensiaro” was staged so simply that we could listen to the way the voices blended like instruments in an orchestra. Pure, clean light shone from above, truly “ove olezzano tepide e molli, l’aure dolci”. Much effort went into getting balances and positions right. These choruses, and the orchestral playing around them illustrated the meaning of this opera.. The gods of Babylon are hollow structures that cannot endure. The Hebrews survive together because they have higher, nobler ideals.

Verdi’s writing is so inherently dramatic that in some ways, the plot is just a frame for a powerful expression of spiritual values. In this case, the religion is Judaism, but the plight of the Hebrews would have had relevance to the Italy in which Verdi lived, fractured as it was by faction and foreign rule. Abbado’s Nabucco is well informed, true to the wider context of Verdi’s music and ideas.

This Nabucco won’t please audiences who need to follow graven images. There isn’t much bloodthirsty violence, and some details are hard to follow. But that’s all the more reason to appreciate what Abbado and conductor Nicola Luisotti are aiming at : a staging based on the music itself. Even the colours in the staging reflect the subtlety in the orchestration. We don’t see black and white but gradations of shades within the spectrum. Far too often, productions are slammed because some people resent a director having an opinion other than their own. But there is no such thing as non-interpretation in performance. Even when we read a score, we are “interpreting” the way the notes relate to each other, and making unconscious decisions about meaning. Sometimes productions are extremely interventionist but popular because they fit assumptions shaped by convention. Such is the hold false gods have on us. All the more reason, I think, we need to appreciate productions like this which highlight the music and its inherent drama, and connect us to the composer and the ideals he believed in.

Anne Ozorio

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