Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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?
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.
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.
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.
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]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
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.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
18 Jun 2013
The Importance of Being Earnest, Covent Garden
The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
This production marks the first London staging, though the honour of the first
staging went to Nancy’s Opéra national de Lorraine. It may be considered a
resounding success, perhaps all the more surprising given the paucity of
worthwhile comic operas. (The inability of stage directors to distinguish
between the comic and comedy as a form is one of the greatest banes of an
opera-goer’s life, but let us leave that on one side for the moment.)
Barry may have studied with Stockhausen but it is his study with Mauricio
Kagel that comes to mind here, in the work’s anarchic — though, in its
compositional control decidedly not anarchistic — irreverence. An almost
Dadaistic sensibility perhaps also brings to mind the Ligeti of Aventures
and Nouvelles aventures; smashing of plates, forty of them, must
surely offer a reference, perhaps even an hommage. Humour arises not
just from Wilde’s play and what Barry does with or to it, but also from the
interaction of ‘action’ and music, seemingly autonomous, until one has
decided that it is definitely is, at which point it tempts one to think that it
might have something in common with the text after all. Parody, for instance of
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, whether its opening or the ‘Ode to Joy’, and
of Auld Lang Syne, almost inevitably recalls Peter Maxwell Davies, but
I am not sure that the method is actually so very similar. For one thing, it
seems more to be the tunes themselves that in some strange sense are forming
the drama; words at times follow Auld Lang Syne rather than vice
versa, resulting in a cyclical process one might — or might not —
consider to be a parody of serialism. (I did, but I have no idea whether that
were intended.) Stravinskian motor-rhythms power the music along, until it
stops — or are they still doing so? And just occasionally, the poster-paint
aggression — or is it an affectionate parody thereof? — seems to melt into
something more tender. But is that merely wish-fulfilment on the spectator’s
part? Is the joke on the audience?
Ramin Gray’s production seems to operate in a similar or at least parallel
fashion. There are interactions, for instance when the loudspeaker music plays
from Algernon’s iPhone. And the action is cut, stopped, made to continue
according to some ticking imperative. Moments impress, stick in the memory, for
instance the case of co-ordinated tea-drinking. One begins to ask what they
‘mean’, but already knows or at least fears that one is asking the wrong
question. Surrealism, or something like it, becomes genuinely funny. Or is it
that the funny becomes genuinely surreal? Modern dress works well, banishing
any thought that period ‘absurdity’ might heighten the farce, if that be
what it is. For disjuncture, by its very nature, continues to bring us up
short. Alienation, in work and in staging, both distances and yet brings us
tantalisingly close. For, despite or even on account of the artificiality, one
senses a deep humanity lying somewhere beneath. (Perhaps like Wilde; perhaps
The Britten Sinfonia under Tim Murray proves at least an equal partner to
the madness. Brashly rhythmic, lovingly precise, this is an estimable
performance throughout from an ensemble whose versatility seems yet to extend
itself with every year. That the players are called upon to shout and to stamp
their feet almost seems expected. Paul Curievici impresses with great
musicality as Jack Worthing, or whatever we want to call him, Benedict Nelson a
bluff foil as Algie. Hilary Summers, surely as versatile an artist as the
Britten Sinfonia, makes excellent use of her contralto range and tone as Miss
Prism, with a splendidly complementary stage gawkiness. Stephanie Marshall’s
Gwendolen and Ida Falk Winland’s Cecily shine on the mezzo and soprano
fronts, the former often warmly lyrical, the latter seemingly effortless in the
aggressively higher reaches of her range. Simon Wilding’s Lane and Merriman
offer a nice hint of rebellion, nevertheless handsomely despatched. Meanwhile,
Lady Bracknell is played by a bass, not in drag but in a suitably ghastly
barrister pinstripe; Alan Ewing rises to the occasion, and somehow seems more
real than much of the chaos around him. The cast, as the cliché has it, proves
more than the sum of its parts, as is the performance as a whole, however
awkward that fitting together or clashing of those parts may be.
Cast and production information:
John Worthing: Paul Curievici; Revd Canon Chasuble: Geoffrey Dolton;
Lady Brachnell: Alan Ewing; Gwendolen Fairfax: Stephanie Marshall; Algernon
Moncrieff: Benedict Nelson; Miss Prism: Hilary Summers; Lane/Merriman: Simon
Wilding; Cecily: Ida Falk WInland. Director: Ramin Gray; Associate Designer:
Ben Clark (after an idea by Johannes Schütz); Lighting: Franz Peter David;
Costumes: Christina Cunningham. Britten Sinfonia/Tim Murray. Linbury Studio
Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Monday 17 June 2013.