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

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

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.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

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!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

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.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

11 May 2013

Mulhouse: Rare Britten Well Done

National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.

The pacifist Britten wrote the piece for BBC television in 1971, partly as a response to the lingering Viet Nam War which was still raging. The structure of the dramatic episodes, the cross fades written into the transitions, and the contrasting instrumental sounds in the sparsely-scored work were all a consideration of the medium.

Indeed, my one and only experience with the piece was when PBS broadcast the original production in the early 70’s, when television sound was still rather rudimentary. Now encountering the work live in the theatre, I was not prepared for the rich diversity of the instrumental writing, nor for the sonorous ensemble effects. Britten was, of course, not only a master orchestrator, but quite adept at setting texts to good dramatic effect. He was well-served in Mulhouse by cast, band, and production leadership.

L’Opéra national du Rhin has wisely chosen to feature the excellent young members of their Opera Studio program and if the result is any indication, opera has a promising future in France. The title role is a Big Sing, with lots of it lying in the middle voice, and Laurent Deleuil essayed Owen with a well-schooled baritone that boasted a solid technique wedded to a (not overly) warm tone that had substantial presence. If the very top money notes pushed him to the limit, Mr. Deleuil nevertheless had the full arsenal of gifts necessary to score a considerable success as he anchored the production. Laurent is possessed of an easy, unaffected stage deportment and has very clear diction. If ultimately he didn’t yet quite feel the character’s convictions deep in his gut (especially at the start), this was nonetheless a memorable role assumption.

The towering Sévag Tachdjian gave much pleasure in his commanding turn as schoolmaster Coyle. Mr. Tachdjian’s orotund bass-baritone was passionately deployed and was evenly produced throughout the rangy part. But he needs a little more coaching on his pronunciation, since his somewhat odd-sounding vowels and soft consonants made me wonder at first if he was singing, in English. Handsome Jérémy Duffau was a lanky, coltish Lechmere, and his buzzy lyric tenor was engaged, solid, and fluid. He might check his tendency to appear too balletic in his movements in his embodiment of the young soldier.

Mélanie Moussay proved to be an imperious Miss Wingrave, with a distinguished vocal instrument of unanticipated maturity, resonance and power for one so young. Kristina Bitene combined excellent elocution and a wiry, committed demeanor to make Mrs. Julia a riveting personage in the unfolding drama. She also proved to have a reliable, wide-ranging soprano of pleasant bite and with a rock solid technique. Mmes. Moussay, Bitene, and the evening’s “Kate” made their extended trio “(“He will listen to the house”) a real musical highlight.

And speaking of Kate, Marie Cubaynes had much to offer with her dark-hued mezzo including a consistency and pulsing forward motion that served the opinionated, head-strong lass well. Her final duet with Owen was another highly affecting emotional landmark. Guillaume François proved a real “triple threat” as he took on the three roles of Sir Philip, Narrator, and the Phantom. His promising tenor sported a pleasant, steady tone, even if it had a moment or two in legato passages that were a little rough around the edges. Still, his rendition of the unaccompanied “folk song” was hauntingly beautiful, and very well controlled, especially at opera’s close.

Conductor David Syrus had a remarkable night in the pit, wringing every last variation of color from his talented, small band of musicians. That Maestro Syrus is a noted Britten specialist was self-evident based on the exceptional aural results of this performance. Just listen to the nuanced interweaving of text and orchestra, the gossamer sheen of the signature repeated chords, the rhythmic storm of effects he churns up, the inevitable unfolding of the conversational phrases, the effortless deliberation and weight of the ensembles. This was a wholly mesmerizing night of persuasive music-making.

Stage director Christophe Gayral, in tandem with set and lighting designer Eric Soyer were admirable models of restraint, and their modus operandi of “less is more” paid huge dividends. The set was all black legs, sliding doors, levels, and carefully chosen set pieces. On occasion, it suggested an Advent-calendar approach with insets (and characters) revealed, but only as long as they were pertinent.

The evening opened with a dumb-show, first revealing the boy dropping dead to the floor then effectively blending into a foreshadowing of Owen’s funeral. Especially telling was Kate’s fainting with guilt as she goes to place a rose in the blood red funeral spray (in the form of a cross). Of course, we don’t know any of these characters yet, but the scene cleverly gets us to speculate and anticipate the mysteries to come. Renaud Rubiamo has devised a number of gorgeous still projections and video effects, the most stunning being the requisite hall of portraits that at one point come eerily to life.

The only downside of the night was that the seats were only half-filled for this significant musical-dramatic achievement. But there is another chance to partake of its glories. Owen Wingrave will play two more performances this summer in Strasbourg (4 and 6 July). It would be worth the trip.

James Sohre



Cast and production information:

Owen Wingrave: Laurent Deleuil; Spencer Coyle: Sévag Tachdjian; Lechmere: Jérémy Duffau; Miss Wingrave: Mélanie Moussay; Mrs. Julian: Kristina Bitene; Kate: Marie Cubaynes; Sir Philip, Narrator, Phantom: Guillaume François; Boy Ghost: Victor Collin; Conductor: David Syrus; Stage Director: Christophe Gayral; Set and Lighting Design: Eric Soyer; Costume Design: Cidalia Da Costa; Video Design: Renaud Rubiamo

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):