Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

A scene from <em>Bonjour M. Gauguin</em> [Photo by Alessandra Mello courtesy of West Edge Opera]
11 Apr 2013

Bonjour M. Gauguin in Berkeley

Once Berkeley Opera, renamed West Edge Opera, this enterprising company offers the Bay Area’s only serious alternative to corporate opera, to wit Bonjour M. Gauguin.

Bonjour M. Gauguin in Berkeley

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: A scene from Bonjour M. Gauguin

Photos by Alessandra Mello courtesy of West Edge Opera

 

It was the reprise of an opera by an enterprising young Italian composer, Fabrizio Carlone (b. 1970) who promoted its premiere in Venice in 2005 that included the manufacture of a CD and DVD. No doubt short on cash West Edge Opera is long on creativity, the least of which was discovering this already far-away produced opera, thus saving the considerable costs of a first performance while offering the Bay Area the excitement of operatic discovery.

It was a pleasurable evening of something new, not just another Magic Flute, and we discovered more than a new opera — we were reminded of the French painter Paul Gauguin with more information than most of us ever knew.

And once again we witnessed a new generation, that of this young Italian composer, chanting its mantra of revolution and finding a new victim/hero to sing about.

Gauguin2.gifAnders Froehlich as Gauguin, Shawnette Sulker as his inner voice

We learned that messieur Gauguin was not a very nice man who died enriched (finally) by his artistic and moral sweat — current sentiment does not seem to concern itself with condemning dishonorable behavior nor honoring penniless death. It was a sequential, exhaustive (about two hours) account of his life in snippets of his own and his contemporary’s words. An unusual libretto that was more a lecture about Gauguin and his art than a dramatic action.

It was in fact absolutely flat dramatically, the French language, by nature little inflected was in perfect accord with Mr. Carlone’s music that percolated underneath achieving quiet, never overly intense musical climaxes. And these emotional climaxes, of which there were a considerable number, were intellectual rather than visceral insuring an evenly illuminated two-hour musical and histrionic landscape.

The actions of geographic change were narrated. Gauguin’s reflections and his contemporaries reactions were recited. This prompted West Edge producers to embellish the lengthy text with abstract dance movement except when specific action was mimed in overt description. The staging was entrusted to Bay Area choreographer Yannis Adoniou who with his dance group Kunst-Stoff, a company of five dancers, energetically executed complex, unceasing movement. The odd number of dancers was evened to six (three male/female couples) when it was joined by Gauguin himself, dancer Anders Froehlich.

M. Froehlich is also an accomplished singer, a fine light baritone who achieved with apparent ease the refined lyricism required by the composer. If without the roughness and rudeness of the described Gauguin this singer fulfilled to near perfection the intellectual and conceptual elegance of the score and this production.

Composer Carlone’s Gauguin was complemented by an inner voice, the exotically costumed soprano Shawnette Sulker who is endowed with a rich voice that she used securely to fulfill the extensive and challenging coloratura requirements of the role. When joined by Gauguin and the three narrators, Keith Perry, Paul Murray and Nicole Takesono, Mlle. Sulker provided the brilliant upper edge to finely wrought five-voice ensembles that were among the musical highlights of the evening.

There were some staging resolutions that defied comprehension, like the bare innerspring mattress that was thrown about the stage nearly the entire evening. Had it related to the bed on which the artist Gauguin laid his naked Tahitian girl in Spirit of the Dead Watching we might have felt some visual structure to the staging of the opera.

Gauguin3.gifKeith Perry, Paul Murray and Nicole Takesono as Narrators, Anders Froehlich as Gauguin, Shawnette Sulker as his inner voice, and dancers

The action of Gauguin painting his Tahitian masterpiece Spirit of the Dead Watching occurred near the end of the opera, and was the biggest moment of the opera. It was mimed by Gauguin and described by Gauguin as well, and illustrated by photographic images projected on the large screen that dominated stage right. This splendid scene was of unusual intensity that even brought to mind Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini casting his statue of Perseus — a David and Goliath comparison, nonetheless germane.

This large screen however was unceasing illuminated throughout the evening by images of paintings that most often were by Gauguin, but often times were by other artists, rarely identified, prompting personal mental scurrying to identify the images and reconcile them to the narration. As well the English translation of the sung French was projected on this screen. Watching this screen and frantic thinking came into direct conflict with participating in the performance.

Conductor Mary Chun and the San Francisco Sound Group Orchestra were in the pit. Mme. Chun oversaw the realization of composer Carlone’s score with authority, precision and sensitivity. She created a musical warmth that encouraged the exceptional level of lyricism achieved by the singers, all in recognition of composer Carlone’s lyric gifts (he is Italian, so supposedly they come naturally).

The San Francisco Sound Group was comprised of nine players entrusted with illuminating composer Carlone’s pallet of, therefore, nine colors. A limited pallet for two hours of music. Composer Carlone’s pedigree is impeccable, including the Ferienkurs für Neue Musik in Darmstadt and the Académie d’été of Ircam in Paris. Thus much current European compositional technology is present in his basically neo-impressionist style. There was a plethora of textures, shapes and rhythms if not volume.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production:

Gauguin: Anders Froehlich; Inner Voice: Shawnette Sulker; Clovis Gauguin: Schuler Wijsen; Narrator #1: Keith Perry; Narrator #2: Paul Murray; Narrator #3: Nicole Takesono; Dancers: Yannis Adoniou, Jerremy Bannon-Neche, Lindsey Renee Derry, Katie Gaydos, Kate Jordan. The sfSoundGroup Orchestra. Conductor: Mary Chun, Stage Director/Choreographer: Yannis Adoniou; Lighting Designer: Lucas Benjaminh Krech; Video Designer: Jeremy Knight; Costume Designer: Shannon Maxham. El Cerrito High School Auditorium, April 6, 2013.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):