Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rolando Villazón [Photo © Gabo / Deutsche Grammophon]
21 May 2013

Rolando Villazón: Verdi (International Opera Stars Series 2013)

It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.

Rolando Villazón: Verdi (International Opera Stars Series 2013)

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Rolando Villazón [Photo © Gabo / Deutsche Grammophon]

 

Add these two factors together and the result is a 15-day tour with the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Guerassim Voronkov, presenting a combination of lyric and dramatic numbers which largely eschews the ‘popular hits’ in favour of the less familiar Verdian territory.

The selection has been carefully chosen to avoid potential technical pitfalls and reveal Villazón’s diversity and dramatic assurance. Each aria or scena in this engaging performance was individualised and differentiated — in terms of both musical characterisation and dramatic tone; all were marked by intelligence, composure and much vocal beauty. Villazón may have lost some of the warm lustre and ease which characterised his voice prior to his pre-2009 operation, but he is still capable of producing some lovely shading of the top notes and spinning a wonderfully long line.

Following a well-shaped, deft performance of the overture to Nabucco, Villazón began with the relatively brief cavatina, ‘La mia letizia infondere’ from I Lombardi alla prima crociata. Despite its succinctness, Villazón left us in no doubt of the readiness and ease with which he can adopt a persona — like an actor slipping on a hat or coat to indicate a change of role — and, although the performance was fairly reserved and contained (we’d been pre-warned that he was suffering from a slight cold) the voice was agile and bright.

The Act 3 scena from Il Corsaro, ‘Eccomi prigioniero!’, afforded more space for vocal expansion and dramatic development, moving from an intense accompanied recitative as the imprisoned Corrado laments his lost dreams, to a lyrical outpouring of poignant disillusionment as he realises that his visions of freedom are simply dreams. Here, the pulsing orchestral motifs, echoed in the tenor’s voice which trembled with emotion, presented a complementary contrast to Karen Stephenson’s affecting cello solo. There was both lingering pain in Corrado’s recognition of his own “vane lusinghe!” (“flattering delusions”), and muscular assertion in his desire for the body to be granted a moment’s rest.

Verdi’s output is almost wholly operatic — even the Requiem is dramatic in essence and effect — but in both 1838 and 1845, the composer published sets of six songs for voice and piano, eight of which were later orchestrated by Luciano Berio. In ‘Il mistero’, which tells of a lover’s hidden passions, Villazón combined long-breathed lines with buoyancy and forward motion, although at times the rather dense orchestral textures and pedal points absorbed the voice in its middle to lower registers. The final phrase, “Chè alimento da sè stesso/ Prende amore in nobil cor” (“Because love feeds itself in a noble heart”) was heart-breakingly tender and sweet.

An urgent, nimble rendering of the overture from Luisa Miller — noteworthy for the clarity of the clarinet and flute solos, and for striking dynamic and textural contrasts — was followed by ‘Quando le sere al placido’ which Villazón infused with sustained burning emotion and drama, demonstrating confident breath control.

The ‘Preludio’ to Otello opened the second half, Voronkov drawing, as throughout the evening, a precise account from his players, one characterised by a diverse expressive range and well-crafted overall form. With ‘Ciel, che feci … Ciel pietoso’ from Oberto, Villazón began to relax, building Riccardo’s aria to a powerful climax in the central lines, “Ah no! l’ultimo lament/ è del misero che muor” (“Ah no! These are the last lamenting tones of the wretched man dying”), a full-hearted outpouring of anguished guilt and regret following the duel which kills the eponymous protagonist. After the tenor’s convincing and moving expression of genuine remorse, the legato celli arpeggiation brought some sense of ease as Riccardo prays for pardon for his murderous act.

The concluding number, the rarely heard ‘L’esule’, confirmed — if it were necessary — Villazón’s ability to build broad structures and sustain a firm line, losing nothing of the vibrancy and impact within the longer, substantial form.

Three encores, including a beer-swilling brindisi, allowed the effervescent tenor to indulge in some hyperactive acknowledgement of the audience’s adulation — Villazón leapt about like an irrepressible jack-in-a-box, roses were strewn far and wide, and a female violinist was waltzed from the stage! Jolly japes which seemed to go down well with the tenor’s affectionate fans.

So, having presented ‘The Genius Of Verdi’ on BBC television just five days previously, Villazón now offers us, ‘The Gifts of Villazón’: singer, actor, entertainer, communicator. His passionate belief in this music was evident from the start, and he communicated this conviction with unfailing directness and immediacy. Villazón has recently explained: ’for me the most important reason why he remains modern and popular is because he wanted to reach his audience. He did not want to impress his listeners; he did not try to gain the acceptance and praise of musicologists or critics. His goal was always to serve the drama, to give music to the feelings of his characters and above all, to move us.’ He might well have been describing himself.

Claire Seymour


Programme:

Overture, Nabucco; ‘La mia letizia infondere’ from I Lombardi; Prelude, I masnadieri; ‘Eccomi prigioniero!’ from Il corsaro; ‘Il mistero’ from 8 Romances for tenor and orchestra (orch. Berio); Overture, ‘Quando le sere al placido’ from Luisa Miller; Prelude, Otello; ‘Ciel, che feci!’ from Oberto; Baletti. ‘O figli, o figli miei!’, ‘Ah,la paterna mano’ from Macbeth; Overture, I vespri siciliani; ‘Deh, pietoso, oh Addolorata’, ‘L’esule’ from 8 Romances for tenor and orchestra (orch. Berio), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre London, Wednesday, 15th May 2013

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):