Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
25 May 2013
Baltimore Premieres Camelot Requiem
In May of 2013, the Spire Series at the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, observed the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy by presenting a work dealing with the 1963 assassination.
Grief is the word that came to mind during the world premiere of composer Joshua Bornfield and librettist Caitlin Vincent’s original opera, Camelot Requiem. In May of 2013, the Spire Series at the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, observed the fiftieth anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy by presenting a work dealing with the 1963 assassination. The librettist is the Artistic Director of The Figaro Project, a group formed to promote local artists and affordable opera. The two-act work, which incorporates a Requiem Mass, was performed with a six-piece orchestra from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University School of Music was conducted by Blair Skinner. The cast, also from Peabody, included: Caitlin Vincent as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nathan Wyatt as Robert Kennedy, Alex Rosen as Lyndon Johnson, Lisa Perry as Lady Bird Johnson, Jeremy Hirsch as Dr. Burkley, Kate Jackman as Nurse Hutton, and Stephen Campbell as the Reverend Oscar L. Huber.
The opera depicted the horror of the time with a powerful musical performance punctuated with dissonance and silence. Taylor Boykins, a first year Peabody student who was at the performance, said, “The text is raw - kind of graphic.” The opening chords sent shivers down my spine when they combined with the ringing of bells and chanting. As Jacqueline Kennedy, Vincent was costumed in a bright pink suit, matching pillbox hat and bloodstained white gloves. With her dark hair and attractive demeanor, she resembled the first lady as her lush sound soared above the musical depiction of the events that took place at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Texas and the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Bornfield had unleashed his composition on a potent libretto.
Through the thunderous performances of Wyatt as Robert F. Kennedy and Rosen as L. B. J., the audience got a glimpse of the transfer of presidential power in the midst of the nation’s emotional shock following the assassination. Andrew Posner, 20, an undergraduate composition student of at Peabody said that Bornfield’s style was unique and his orchestration fantastic. Vincent drafted the libretto in October 2011 from three poems she had written from Mrs. Kennedy’s perspective on the day of her husband’s death. She developed one of them, entitled Rose, into a melancholy aria. To obtain her material, she researched oral interviews, Lady Bird’s personal diary and condolence letters sent to Mrs. Kennedy. When operagoers arrived at the church and they were handed programs and reproductions of sympathy notes sent to Mrs. Kennedy from around the world.
While the action moved on and off the church altar, the deliberate cacophony, bursting harmonies, and the magnificent baritone voice of Wyatt as RFK convinced the audience that a “New Frontier” was imminent. Perry as Lady Bird offered relief from the tension by infusing the opera with a warm and casual 1970’s song. Conductor Skinner, a DMA candidate at the Peabody, said that when you have a piece of music that no one has heard before and ten individual voices, each of which does something individualistic, the process is grueling but the hard work makes the effort extremely rewarding. Jackman as Nurse Patricia Hutton expressed emotional intensity with the weight of her soothing mezzo-soprano voice. As Mrs. Kennedy, Vincent sang that she would like to wake up from this nightmare. Her sorrow came across to the audience when she sang that she would rather die with her Jack than live without him. The final Lux Aeterna, sung by the cast from the balcony to Mrs. Kennedy who was standing below, left audience feeling comforted by angels.
Maureen L. Mitchell