Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

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):