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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers: A Tribute to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson
It must be both a privilege and a
daunting prospect to be asked to participate in a tribute concert to the
singer, who died from breast cancer in 2006; here three mezzo-sopranos stepped
up to the honour and the challenge, joining the Orchestra of the Age of
Enlightenment - with whom Hunt Lieberson collaborated closely at Glyndebourne
and on CD - celebrating three contrasting, full-blooded female roles from
Karine Deshayes (a late replacement for the indisposed Stéphanie
D’Oustrac) began and ended the evening with Sesto’s arias, ‘L’angue
offeso mai riposa’ (The offended serpent will not rest) and ‘Svegliatevi
nel core’ from Giulio Cesare respectively. Deshayes has a vibrant
voice, particularly at the top, and she nimbly negotiated the passage work.
But, while there was undoubted rage and impassioned purpose, she didn’t quite
capture the emotional depth and range of these arias, as Sesto vows vengeance
against Ptolemy for the assassination of his father.
Thus in Sesto’s first number in the opera, there was much bite in the
repetitions of ‘Svegliatevi’ (awaken) as Sesto determines to muster the
fury in his soul. Yet, in the central section of the da capo form, as Sesto’s
thoughts turn to the father he has lost only moments before, the heaviness in
his heart outweighs his impotent anger; there is vengeance but also grief.
William Christie drew a fittingly spare timbre from the accompanying OAE, but
Deshayes did not quite match the players’ melancholy, sombre weight.
‘Figlio’ (son) needs rather more plangent emphasis, as Sesto both implores
his father and imagines his paternal words of counsel and support.
In Glyndebourne’s 2006 production of Theodora, Hunt Lieberson
took the part of Irene, the protagonist’s devoted supporter. Irene’s arias
are intense, heartfelt statements of faith as her beloved friend, Theodora, an
early Christian, is persecuted and condemned by the Romans. Reviewing the live
recording of Peter Sellars’ acclaimed production, Rupert Christiansen
commented, ‘it is impossible to conceive of this character’s arias being
sung with more grave beauty or emotional commitment than [Hunt Lieberson]
brings to them’.
Quite a tall order, then, for Anna Stéphany, performing ‘Ah! Whither
should we fly’ and ‘Lord to Thee each night and day’. Stéphany combined
vocal beauty with convincing characterisation, Christie shaping the contrasting
tempos and textures with style but without undue mannerism. A gentle firmness
characterised the voice in ‘As with rosy steps’; Stéphany’s lower
register was rich and sonorous, and she dared to adopt a whispering
pianissimo to moving effect. In ‘Lord to thee’ Stéphany
introduced a startling change of character in the second part of the aria,
‘Though convulsive rocks the ground’, which served to make the profound
devotion of the da capo repeat yet more affecting.
‘Where Shall I Fly?’ from Hercules is a tour de force
of theatrical and histrionic drama and Renata Pokupić was almost equal to its
vocal demands. As Hercules’ jealous, fiery wife, she delivered Dejanira’s
desperate self-reproaches with an impressive combination of spontaneity and
control, but her lower range sometimes lacked power and penetration, and she
didn’t quite pierce the depths of Dejanira’s subconscious mind. Pokupić
encompassed the extensive melodic range of the virtuosic ‘Dopo Notte’
(After night), from Ariodante with skill, the registers more even
here, although the syncopated rhythms which drive the music forward sometimes
lacked precision. It was, however, a fine showcase for her communicative
panache; Ariodante’s exuberant joy at being reunited with his beloved Ginevra
was compellingly and upliftingly conveyed.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provided an animated, responsive
accompaniment to all three soloists, William Christie finding a perfect balance
of grace and power. The emphatic playing by the celli and double basses in the
overture to Giulio Cesare - perhaps encouraged by the explosive
stamp with which Christie commenced some of the instrumental numbers! - was
complemented by more reflective bass meanderings in the overture to
Theodora. In the two concerti grossi there was considerable variety of
both texture and mood, and the playing of the three soloists was crisp and
rhythmically exciting. The relationship between soloists and ripieno
was one based upon sharing and exchange, the flow seamless, the tempi
invigorating. As a closing tribute to Hunt Lieberson, Christie announced an
encore; the diverse sentiments of the ‘Musette’ from Concerto Grosso Op.6
No.6 were a perfect homage to the singer’s artistry and integrity.
Giulio Cesare - Overture; ‘L’angue offeso mai
riposa’; Theodora - ‘Ah! Whither should we fly As with rosy
steps the morn’; Concerto Grosso in B minor, Op.6 No.12; Hercules
- ‘Whither shall I fly?’; Theodora - Overture; Lord, to
‘Thee each night and day’; Ariodante - ‘Dopo notte’;
Concerto Grosso in B flat, Op.3 No.2; Giulio Cesare - Svegliatevi
nel core. Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, Monday 3rd