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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).
There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.
Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.
05 May 2013
Superlative singing: Don Carlo, Royal Opera House
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
Act One started a little tentatively. Perhaps it takes time for the drama to unfold and Kaufmann knew how much was yet to come. His pacing was deft : when he needed to stun, his voice rang out with ferocious colour. This was a Don Carlo one could imagine defying the Spanish Empire, its violence and tyranny. His vocal authority was matched by physical energy. Kaufmann embodies the part perfectly. His interactions were outstanding. His voice balances well with Anja Harteros (Elisabetta) and Marius Kwiecien (Rodrigo), and he allowed the duets and trios to work seamlessly. There was no big name ego dominance, Kaufmann placing his art above all.
Verdi prepares us from the start for the turbulence turbulence that will meet Elizabeth of Valois. Even before she leaves home, Elisabetta experiences extreme changes of mood within a compressed period of time. Anja Harteros delineates these intense feelings deftly, without exaggeration, so they arise naturally from her singing. When she bids goodbye to the Countess of Aremberg (Elizabeth Woods), Harteros sings as though she were bidding farewell to life itself. Indeed she is, for Elisabetta is now alone, trapped in an alien world. Harteros creates Elisabetta with such conviction that she dominates the drama even when she is silent. Her presence is felt even when others are singing about her. When Harteros sings "Tu che le vanità", we feel that Elisabetta has reached valediction, after a long and tortured journey. She sings of Fontainebleau and her brief day of happiness so tenderly that the agony of "Addio, addio, bei sogni d'or, illusion perduta!" becomes truly overwhelming. Harteros and Kaufmann have taken these roles before together. Here, in London, they achieved transcendence.
Ferruccio Furlanetto was equally outstanding. His years of experience in the part give him authority. Verdi writes the part to reflect the personal austerity for which the historic Philip II was known. A solo cello introduces his big aria "Ella giammai m'amò", emphasizing the King's loneliness., despite the trappings of wealth and power around him. Later, violas and basses extend the mood of melancholy. Furlanetto sings with force, but with colour and tenderness. Because he makes us feel the man beneath the public persona, we realize that the tragedy involves Philip as well as his wife and son. Furlanetto makes us realize that the king is just as much trapped by the system as they are. "Beware the Grand Inqusitor !" he cries, for the Grand Inquisitor is perhaps the only truly evil character in this opera.
Verdi introduces the Grand Inquisitor with music that exudes menace. Slow, low rumbling sounds, suggesting a snake slithering, oozing poisonous slime. Eric Halfvarson was indisposed with a cold, but this didn't affect his singing. The Grand Inquisitor is supposed to sound diseased. "Did God not give his only Son to save the world ?". Theology is twisted for evil purposes.
Mariusz Kwiecień was a clean voiced, muscular Rodrigo, and a perfect complement to Kaufmann's Don Carlo. The dynamic between them is very good : they're both relatively youthful and fresh. This similarity is important, for it reinforces the tragedy, and the theme of sacrifice. When Kwiecień sings Rodrigo's last aria, "Per me giunto è il di supreme", he infuses it with warmth and love, so it connects with Elisabetta's farewell to life.
One of Béatrice Uria-Monzon's signature roles is Carmen, so when she sang the Pricess of Eboli, she brought a Carmen-like sharpness to the role, which was entirely in order. Her Veil Song was a showpiece, but the song is a mask, since the princess's true feelings are also hidden behind a veil. When she realizes her mistakes, her personality disintegrates. When Uria-Monzon sings of the convent, she suggests the horoor of living death.
Dusica Bijelic sang a sprightly Tebaldo. Even the Flemish Deputies made an impact greater than the size oif their parts : extremely tight ensemble, yet individually characterized. Robert Lloyd sang Carlo V credibly. The Royal Opera House Orchestra and chorus, always excellent, were on even better form than usual. Verdi is Antomio Pappano's great strength. He's inspired towards an highly individual but vivid reading which emphasizes dramatic detail. He's also a singer's conductor, who lets voices breath, as we heard so admirably.
This would have been an almost perfect Verdi Don Carlo, but is lamentably let down by the production. Originally directed by Nicholas Hytner and revived this time by Paul Higgins, it was first seen at the Royal Opera House in 2008. The designs (by Bob Crowley) feel outdated, serving little dramatic purpose. Huge expanses of space are filled with grids of holes. Perhaps these represent windows, walls or even the spying eyes that are ever present in tyrannical regimes. If the image had been developed well, it might have enhanced the paranoia that runs through this opera. Instead, the image lies inert, like a weak joke endlessly repeated. In the scene where the ladies of the court listen to the Veil Song, there's a wall of red plastic cubes which look like they've descended from Legoland for no obvious reason.
The greatest weakness of this Don Carlo was that the staging missed the deeper, more challenging levels of the opera. The monastery of Yuste is depicted by the tomb of Charles V with the name "Carlos" engraved in huge letters so they can't possibly be missed. Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor renounced his power and retreated into the monastery where he died ten years before the Revolt of the Netherlands.
Opera isn't history. But when a composer like Verdi adapts history for art, there is a reason. In this production, the political aspects of the story are downplayed. Even the asceticism of Charles V and Philip II is sacrificed to decorative imperative, although the words "addio, bei sogni d'or, illusion perduta!" pertain to more than Elisabetta. This is the kind of production that gives modern staging a bad reputation. Yet because it's comic book cute, it's probably popular. Staging is much more than decor. Like every other element in a production, it should contribute to meaning and drama, rather than distract. A cast of this exceptional quality deserved better.