Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
12 Apr 2013
The Marriage of Figaro Ends Season at Arizona Opera
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
The son of a watchmaker, Beaumarchais first became noticed at the French court when he made a watch with a new type of mechanism that was small enough to be mounted on a ring. Twice, he married a rich older lady who, after a short time, died in questionable circumstances. He joined the king’s secret service and took the side of the American colonists against the English. Under the name of Rodrigue Hortalez and Company, he employed a fleet of forty ships for the American cause.
During the same period of time he was writing Le Barbier de Seville (The Barber of Seville), which was staged in 1775, and Le Mariage de Figaro, which he completed in 1778. Although there were many private readings of the Figaro play in the late 1770s, most people did not see it until 1784 because of problems with king and the censors. There is a great deal of the personality of Beaumarchais in his resourceful title character. French revolutionaries, however, did not appreciate the playwright. Because of his past positions at court he was imprisoned. Later he was released, but his possessions were confiscated. He died a poor man in 1799.
On Saturday, April 6, 2013, Arizona Opera presented Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Susan Benson’s scenery, originally designed for the Banff Centre, had walls painted in the rococo style of French painter Jean-Antoine Watteau. They were a joy to behold and they meshed beautifully with Mozart’s music. Douglas Provost’s subtle lighting helped make them an important part of the show. Benson’s costumes were totally authentic, too, even to their colors and underpinnings. Kelly Robinson’s stage direction allowed the singers to establish believable characters and they made the plot easy to grasp despite its intricate twists.
Jason Hardy, who made his debut at this performance, was a secure Mozart singer with a vigorous, robust sound that matched his energetic stage presence. As Susanna, Joélle Harvey was a perfect match for him. At the end of this longest role in the repertoire, the tiny, vivacious soprano was still as fresh as a newly opened cactus flower. She even embellished some of her lines with tasteful ornaments that might well have been sung in Mozart’s time. Erin Wall was a lovelorn Countess who sang enthralling legato lines with an opulent sound palette, and she never seemed to run out of breath. Her Count, Marian Pop, was a charismatic comedian with sonorous low tones. His first act double take had the whole audience laughing. Cherubino is a character with his feet planted firmly on a cloud. Jamie Van Eyck filled the bill perfectly, singing her arias with polished tones and bringing the audience thoughts of first love.
Peter Strummer was a strong and commanding Bartolo who was all the more amusing because he took himself so seriously. He tossed off the fast patter of his aria with finesse. As Marcellina, Susan Nicely sang a thoroughly amusing duet with her supposed rival, Susanna. One can muse on what kind of a mother-in-law she would eventually become. Members of the Marion Roose Pullin Resident Artists Program sang the smaller roles. Soprano Bevin Hill was an ebullient Barbarina with a sweet clear voice. Tenor David Margulis was a stuttering Don Curzio and a nosey, self-satisfied Don Basilio. Tall, lanky Thomas Cannon hunched down and assumed a plodding gait to become Antonio, the alcoholic gardener. The part really showed his talent for characterization.
Of course, it is the conductor who holds the entire performance together and Joel Revzen kept a tight rein on all of it. His overture was on the fast side, but his overall tempi were pleasantly brisk. Most importantly, he gave the singers all the room they needed. Only on the following Monday did we learn that General Director Scott Altman had handed in his resignation. Director of Artistic Administration Ryan Taylor holds the top position until a new general director is selected.
Cast and production information:
Figaro, Jason Hardy; Susanna, Joélle Harvey; Countess Almaviva, Erin Wall; Count Almaviva, Marian Pop; Cherubino Jamie Van Eyck; Dr. Bartolo, Peter Strummer; Marcellina, Susan Nicely; Don Basilio and Don Curzio, David Margulis; Antonio, Thomas Cannon; Barbarina, Bevin Hill; Conductor, Joel Revzen; Director, Kelly Robinson; Set and Costume Design, Susan Benson; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi, Lighting Designer, Douglas Provost.