Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Irish soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Rusalka in San Francisco

It must be a dream. Though really it is a nightmare. The water sprite Rusalka tortures herself if she is telling the story, or tortures the man who has imagined her if he is telling the story. Either way the bizarrely construed confusion of Czech fairy tales has no easily apparent meaning or message.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Illustration by Underworld Productions Opera
30 May 2013

Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il Trionfo dell’Onore

Just when you imagine you’ve got the operatic time-line fixed in your mind in a clean sweep of what goes where and when and how, you hear another work from another forgotten corner of the repertory that upends one’s conclusions.

Alessandro Scarlatti’s Il Trionfo dell’Onore

A review by John Yohalem

Above: Illustration by Underworld Productions Opera

 

Alessandro Scarlatti was a tremendously prolific composer of the Italian era after Cavalli and before Vivaldi and Handel, famous throughout Italy, then soon forgotten. In this period, the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (it is convenient to recall that his son, Domenico, the keyboard virtuoso, was born the same year as Handel and Bach in the generation of Vivaldi and Telemann), Venice had half a dozen theaters playing opera several nights a week (more during Carnival), and the demand for new work to fill them was insatiable. The other major cities of the disunited peninsula had their own theaters, their own traditions, their own composers—but Scarlatti moved about in search of commissions and a regular income to support his large family. He is remembered as a “Neapolitan” composer, perhaps because most of his manuscripts turned up in the Naples Conservatory, but he was far more international than that. Venice and Naples were capitals of very different states.

How large were these theaters? Not very. None of them belonged to the city; private landowners, usually noblemen, built them and rented them out to impresarios, who hired the musicians and produced the operas. You couldn’t easily light a large theater (wax drips, you know) and the tiny orchestras could not easily drown out audience chatter. In the great serious operas, chatter would cease when a famous singer expressed a special emotion in melody, but for nightly entertainment something lighter might be called for.

Comic stories were silly, romantic, predictable, the personalities taken from commedia dell’arte more fallible, less high-minded than the serious, heroic ones whom they often parodied, and the voices were expected to be serviceable if not top-flight. Opera buffa was a step down, and major singers did not take it. Did the lighter operas pay the composer as well as the serious ones? That’s a question I cannot answer. Certainly Scarlatti eagerly accepted both sorts of commission, and so did Pergolesi in Naples and Telemann in Hamburg. (Cavalli, as you will recall, intermingled comic scenes with serious ones in his narratives … but that style was out of fashion, though it is more immediately interesting to us today.) Handel probably would have set comic libretti, but he decamped to London—where comic foolery did not play in foreign tongues. His mature operas with comic stories are therefore constructed on a “serious” model: Serse, Partenope, Alessandro. Agrippina, with its old-fashioned mix of serious and comic characters, was composed during the sojourn in Venice when he met the Scarlattis.

Underworld Productions Opera has just given the New York premiere of Scarlatti’s 1718 opera buffa, Il Trionfo dell’Onore, which may or may not be typical of the comic output of the day. (Winton Dean says Scarlatti was stylistically eccentric, which appeals more to us than it did to the regular audience of his own time.) What stood out for me in this light piece was the way conflicts developed by way of duets rather than the, occasionally tedious serious manner of aria succeeding aria. This is a manner I had thought the invention of Mozart, Paisiello and Rossini, but here were are, a century before Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and two ladies display their personality in a duet of apparent sympathy while confiding to us that they are both in love with the same rogue and hate each other accordingly. We also have love duets of many varieties, from gentlemanly seductions (the lady flirtatious or sarcastic in response) to heartfelt recriminations.

In the cast at the Leonard Nimoy/Thalia, the men did not please as much as the women did, though all of them proved adept at conveying the casual yet emotional nature of romantic comedy. The two gentleman seducers who set the plot rolling were written for those irresistible figures, women in drag (think: Cherubino). In Venice, castrati were reserved for more upscale, heroic opera, while in the Papal States they were expected to play all the women, actual women being forbidden to set foot on the stage. (Lecherous old ladies were often played by men in drag, in any key at all.) Modern opera companies may do as they like in such matters, and what they tend to do is make use of whatever talent is on hand. The show must go on.

Thus we had Eric S. Brenner, a thin-voiced countertenor, as Riccardo, the scamp who neglects his fiancée Leonora to pursue her friend Doralice, ignoring her betrothal to Leonora’s brother, Erminio. Erminio was sung by a mezzo, Stephanie McGuire, so effectively ardent that I thought her, too, a countertenor. Maria Todaro, who has a deep alto of impressive quality, sang the heartbroken Leonora, and was quite humorous displaying her dark tones in sarcastic asides with Elise Jablow’s naïve, sweetly sung Doralice. Catherine Leech sang Rosina, a pert servant, with that combination of mischief and sentiment that we associate with Mozart’s Susanna, as she resisted the advances of both Riccardo’s lecherous uncle (dry-voiced Christopher Preston Thompson) and Riccardo’s bombastic friend Rodimarte (a bumptious baritone, Stephen Lavonier), and sighed to no avail for Ms. McGuire’s Erminio. Briana Sakamoto completed the cast as the elderly innkeeper with designs on the uncle who is after her servant. Somehow four happy couples evolved by the conclusion, though one wouldn’t predict happy marriages for many of the eight. Nor does one foresee major careers for most of these voices (I’d like to hear Ms. Todaro again), but their zesty performances and lack of top-flight pretension give us, perhaps, a more precise notion of the light musical theater derived from antique commedia that got audiences joyously through an evening out in 1718 when the regatta teams weren’t out playing water polo. How very enjoyable to encounter such a thing in New York in 2013!

John Yohalem


Production and cast information:

Riccardo: Eric S. Brenner; Bombarda: Stephen Lavonier; Leonora: Maria Todaro; Cornelia: Briana Sakamoto; Rosina: Catherine Leech; Flaminio: Christopher Preston Thompson; Doralice: Elise Jablow; Ermino: Stephanie McGuire. Sinfonia New York under Dorian Komanoff Bandy. Underworld Productions. At the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater. Performance of May 22.

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):