Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10 Apr 2013
Cinderella Goes to the Opera
The Los Angeles opera company marketed its spring production of Rossini's La Cenerentola as Cinderella though there is no opera by that name. The libretto of La Cenerentola is not the Cinderella story we know.
However, given that fairy tales have murky origins, are common to many different languages and cultures (and this one is no exception) it’s easy to understand that the Company chose a title likely to be familiar to a public living just down the road from Disney Land.
What exactly did they present on stage? La Cenerentola is a comic opera based on a French fairy tale by Charles Perrault, titled Cendrillon, ou la petite pantoufle de verre — Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper (Cendre, cenere, and cinder are all ashy prefixes) Perrault’s story, written in the late 1600s, is essentially the Cinderella story we know. Grimm’s is grimmer.
A year after the première of The Barber of Seville, Rossini was commissioned to write an opera for the Teatro Valle in Rome. It turned out to be a commission with problems. Three days before the December 1816 deadline for a libretto, none had been turned in. In urgent conference with librettist Jacopo Ferretti, Rossini rejected story after story as impractical for various reasons, among them, the unsuitability of the cast which had already been hired. When he finally agreed to the Cinderella story, he insisted it not have a fairy godmother or pumpkins that turned into coaches. Rossini, apparently did not look kindly on supernatural phenomena. He wanted his opera to have a moral component. Ferretti gave him La Cenerentola, ossia La bonta in trionfo — Cinderella or the Triumph of Goodness.
Ferretti completed the libretto in twenty-two days. Rossini composed the music in twenty-four days. A month later, on 25 January 1817, the opera received its first (seriously underrehearsed) performance at the Teatro Valle. It was not an instant success.
To do away with the supernatural and to add a moral to the story, Rossini’s Cenerentola is a girl named Angelina, whose mother has died. She lives with her step father, Don Magnifico, and his two daughters, and has become their mistreated servant. When a beggar seeking food enters the house, the nasty step sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe try to throw him out, but Angelina feeds him. An announcement is made that Prince Ramiro will soon appear to seek a wife. The step sisters overwork Cenerentola to help them prepare for his arrival. The prince appears, but wanting to be loved for himself alone, he is disguised as his own valet. No sooner do he and Cenerentola exchange one look, but they fall in love. In a moment, Dandini, the Prince’s valet, outfitted as the Prince, comes on the scene and invites everyone to the ball, where, he says, the Prince will choose his wife. Cenerentola (of course) is not allowed to go. How will she get transportation without pumpkins and a gorgeous outfit without a fairy godmother? The beggar was the Prince’s wise tutor in disguise. He can arrange anything. Suffice it to say that after the usual jolly confusion, the Prince returns to Don Magnifico’s house and identifies the servant girl as his true love. And once Cenerentola has become a princess, she forgives her cruel family, and all is hugs and kisses.
Mezzo Ketevan Kemoklidze, who offered an attractive and well acted Cenerentola, at the April 6th performance I attended, handled both her lyric and coloratura passages well, but her voice did not carry into the house. For some reason, perhaps the depth from which the principles were often required to perform, there were times their voices seemed barely to rise over the orchestra. It was apparent, however, that tenor René Barbera, as Prince Ramiro, has a bright and secure top voice. Stacy Tappan and Ronnita Nicole Miller were properly outlandish as the nasty Clorinda and Tisbe. Baritone Alessandro Corbelli, a veteran buffo performer was an amusing Don Magnifico, though here again - perhaps another sound issue — there was a lack of crispness in his patter. Bass baritone Vito Priante, making his US debut, was a delightful dandy in both voice and body as Dandini. Bass Nicola Ulivieri, as the tutor Alidoro, was impressive in his Mozartian “Là del ciel nell´arcano profondo”.
Los Angeles used a delightful production created in 2008 by Spanish director Joan Font in a joint venture with Barcelona’s Liceu, Houston Grand Opera, the Welsh National Opera and Grand Théâtre de Géneve. Señor Font employed brilliant colored costumes and added dancers dressed as the nicest, kindest, most amusing rats you’ll ever see, to add movement and interest to the static plot. No review of this performance can be complete without acknowledging the intensity and attention to detail that the dancers brought to their roles. Nor can it be complete without mention of Maestro James Conlon’s sensitivity to the score, reflecting his program notes and pre-performance lecture, in both of which, he recounted his love for Rossini’s music.
Sadly, in the end, Señor Font did not give us a happy story about virtue rewarded. He sabotaged Rossini’s message at the very last moment by sadistically quick-switching Cenerentola and the audience from the bright lights, joy and forgiveness reigning at her wedding, back to her lonely, dark, ashy hearth. It was mean spirited and trite. We all know life is but a dream.
Cast and production information:
Clorinda: Stacy Tappan; Tisbe:Ronnita Nicole Miller; Angelina (Cenerentola):Ketevan Kemoklidze; Alidoro:Nicola Ulivieri; Don Magnifico:Alessandro Corbelli; Don Ramiro: René Barbera; Dandini:Vito Priante. Orchestra and chorus of the Los Angeles Opera. Conductor: James Conlon. Director: Joan Font. Scenery and Costume Design: Joan Guillén. Lighting Designer: Albert Faura. Chorus Director: Grant Gershon. Choreographer: Xevi Dorca.