10 May 2013
Aida, Manitoba Opera
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
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.