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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.

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

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.



Latonia Moore is Aida [ Photo © Ken Howard]
25 Apr 2013

Aida with all the Trimmings, Even a Blue Silk Elephant!

With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.

Aida with all the Trimmings, Even a Blue Silk Elephant!

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Latonia Moore is Aida

Photos © Ken Howard


With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces. The Khedive’s theater opened with Verdi’s already well-known Rigoletto, and he still did not have a work that was written specifically for Egypt. French Egyptologist Auguste-Edouard Mariette presented the ruler with a scenario for an Egyptian opera that may well have actually been written by a seasoned librettist, and Verdi was contacted. This time not only did the Khedive offer an enormous amount of money, it was also noted that the offer would go to Charles Gounod if Verdi did not accept.

Verdi could not let that happen, so he then agreed to compose the opera for 150, 000 lire. Since Verdi’s choice of a librettist would only receive 20,000 lire, the high price paid the composer becomes obvious. Although the composer would not be required to go to Cairo, he was asked send a representative to oversee the rehearsals and performance. One of the reasons he did not go to Egypt for the premiere was that the entire audience was made up of dignitaries, politicians, and critics. Verdi wrote the title role of Aida for Teresa Stolz, but she did not go to Cairo either. For her and for Verdi, the real opening night was the premiere of Aida at La Scala in Milan on February 8, 1872. Needless to say, both openings were tremendously successful.

On April 23, 2013, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s Aida in a production originally staged by Jo Davies, but directed in this city by Andrew Sinclair. The colorful and imaginative scenic and costume design was by Zandra Rhodes and the striking wigs by Stephen Bryant. A good Aida production is a grand spectacle. This was no exception and it was truly spectacular right down to the Triumphal Scene’s blue silk elephant! This was one production in which the visual art on the stage was of the same caliber as the excellent singing of some of the world’s finest artists. The only question I had about the scenery had to do with the final scene in the dark tomb. I did not see any structure holding the couple prisoner.

Director Andrew Sinclair added some interesting bits of staging. There was a human sacrifice with some “blood” in the Temple of Vulcan, and Amonasro was stabbed before he could escape to Ethiopia. The Aida, Latonia Moore, had a large enveloping lyric voice with which she floated piannissimi seemingly at will. Her sound soared over entire ensembles and she dominated the stage with her presence. Not only is her singing a joy to hear, she can act as well and she made us feel for her plight as a prisoner of war.

As Radames, Walter Fraccaro was a strong military leader who sang with a substantial, if not really beautiful, sound. Like Moore, mezzo-soprano Jill Groves has a large voice with interesting colors and overtones. She was a haughty Amneris who completely lost her heart to Radames. She paced her singing well and her Judgment Scene was the culmination of a fine rendition of the role. Mark S. Doss is a good singer who can create a memorable character on the stage. His Amonasro was always surrounded by an aura of danger and he sang with a dark dramatic sound. Ramfis, the High Priest was a very powerful man and Reinhard Hagen commanded the stage with definitive bass notes and a strong presence.

Kenneth Heidecke’s choreography was appropriate to each of the scenes in which there was dancing. The chorus has a huge part to play in this opera and Chorus Master Charles Prestinari had several groups representing Egyptians and their Ethiopian prisoners singing Verdi’s glorious harmonies while their characters were at odds with each other. With this production, conductor Daniele Callegari made a most successful San Diego Opera debut. His tempi were brisk but never too fast. He gave the singers room to breathe and never covered their softer tones. As a result of all of these excellent artists working together, San Diego Opera patrons enjoyed a truly memorable performance of this spectacular work.

Maria Nockin

Click here for cast and production information.

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