10 May 2013
Aida, Manitoba Opera
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
From the opening scene of Manitoba Opera’s lavish production of Verdi’s beloved four-act opera, we knew the ill-fated Ethiopian title princess (disguised as a slave) was conflicted.
Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo is the embodiment of the long-suffering Aida, in love with Radames, captain of the guard. In dramatic stance, she sang of her contradictory loves for her father, the Ethiopian king, her country and Radames. We could feel her heartbreak through the passion of her lithe singing in “Ritorna vincitor”, every note crafted to shimmering perfection. Capalbo’s ability to make the softest pianissimo note build and swell into a booming fortissimo is nothing short of extraordinary. (And she makes it seem easy.)
Aida’s love interest, Radames, played by Puerto Rican tenor Rafael Davila returns her affection, proclaiming his love eloquently in Celeste Aida, forma divina, sustaining the ultimate B-flat with impressive assurance. Davila’s robust voice is versatile, enabling him to exude the confidence of the conquering hero, yet also portray the sweet lover to the hilt. Only a slight crack in his voice as he reached for the upper register in “Pur ti riveggio, mia dolce” Aida signalled some fatigue.
Here’s where things got complicated. Aida’s employer, Amneris (Italian mezzo soprano Tiziana Carraro) daughter of the King of Egypt, also loves Radames. Amneris is determined to marry Radames, but suspects that Aida is her rival.
Carraro has a true presence onstage, with her sultry walk and strong features. Her velvety, somewhat throaty vocal quality aptly conveyed her jealous doubts. One distracting tendency, however, limited her ability to engage the audience. As she sang, she cast her eyes downward, only looking up when she stopped singing. She never looked out beseechingly for empathy; rarely looked at her singing partners, even when declaring love to Radames. This denied any real chemistry between characters.
David Watson sang the role of the King of Egypt with his customary reliability and wonderful clear diction. Tenor Terence Mierau took his brief role of messenger to heart, giving it an impassioned performance and it’s always a pleasure to hear the fine, pure voice of Winnipeg soprano Lara Ciekiewicz, resplendent here as the High Priestess.
All eyes were drawn to bass Phillip Ens as Ramfis, High Priest of Egypt in his gold-encrusted robe. He brought the requisite grandeur and authority to the role, his bold delivery and rumbling voice almost shaking the ground.
We didn’t see baritone Gregory Dahl (Amonsaro, King of Ethiopia/Aida’s father) until late in the opera, but his warm, powerful voice and commanding presence were worth the wait.
Of special note was the superbly balanced ensemble work — every individual voice distinguishable. And the tomb scene was unforgettably touching, with Capalbo and Davila pulling on the audiences’ heartstrings as they sang their final and most desperate final words.
Mounting this work boasting over 100 performers onstage was an awe-inspiring accomplishment for director Brian Deedrick and stage manager Robert Pel.
As an entertainment piece, this presentation has it all — ornate, gilded sets, Egyptian friezes and a gigantic sphinx-like head designed by Roberto Oswald, lavish costuming from Edmonton Opera, and lighting by Scott Henderson that subtly assisted us to predict the action as it shifted with the mood.
The women’s chorus in the boudoir scene sang with flowing youthfulness, while the men were all pomp and power. Athletic dancers, several from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Aspirant Program leapt across the stage wielding knives and swords. And the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in the pit was in good hands with conductor Tyrone Paterson, with just a few discrepancies in tempo between singers and orchestra. Bravo to the brass section for its authentically triumphant, military majesty.
This was an impressive production of mammoth proportions superbly crafted in every detail.