Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
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.
29 Jun 2013
Thomas Hampson Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera House London
Thomas Hampson's first Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House makes this revival of Verdi's great opera worthwhile. It's a role which suits a singer of Hampson's intelligence.
Boccanegra has been Doge of Genoa for many years. Boccanegra has survived because he thinks before he acts, and hides his feelings. Verdi doesn't write the part with florid, crowd-pleasing arias : it's not Boccanegra's style. He’s a shrewd politician who lives on constant alert, surrounded by danger. Hence the austere vocal colour, cold steel and granite. Boccanegra reveals himself in declamation, not decoration, and in ensemble where he’s not exposed..Despite his power and wealth, Boccanegra is isolated. Hampson's Boccanegra is a strong personality. He sings with dignified reserve, suggesting a man weary of the world and its intrigues. ”When he finds Amelia, the voice suddenly warms. "Figlia!" sings Hampson with genuine tenderness. You can hear the years falling away, and imagine Boccanegra as a young corsair, throwing caution aside for love. His monologue “Ah! ch’io respiri l’aura beata del libero cielo!” is created with such feeling that we realize that power has brought Boccanegra no peace. Thus he can hand the future to Amelia and Adorno without regret.
Three years ago, Plácido Domingo shrewdly chose the role as his debut as baritone because the technical demands are not great. The challenge is in the acting. Hampson doesn't have to worry about the fach, which fits him naturally. He creates the part with sensitivity, showing the Doge as man and father behind the stoic exterior.
When Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto sing together, the balance is superb, better than when Furlanetto sang the part with Domingo. Furlanetto sounds less youthful than he did before, which is more in keeping with the role, but remains forceful. The relationship between Boccanegra and Fiesco is perhaps even more significant than that between father and daughter. The two men have been struggling for decades. One is patrician, the other plebeian. Old authority is pitted against a new order. The power struggle gives the opera dramatic tension. Thus when Boccanegra and Fiesco are finally reconciled and sing together, the impact is profound. Hampson and Furlanetto are two titans, confronting one another and finding equilibrium.
Russell Thomas was an impressive Gabriele Adorno. Adorno is young and hot headed, as Boccanegra once was. Verdi gives him several showpiece arias, and Thomas rose to the occasion, and was heartily applauded. The audience seemed almost entirely comprised of first-time opera goers, which is heartening. He was last heard in London in March in John Adams' The Gospel according to the other Mary and in Donizetti's Belisario last October. He's no match for Joseph Calleja who sang Adorno with Domingo in 2010, but he's still young and promising.
Hibla Gerzmava made a pleasant role debut as Amelia, her voice particularly effective as the more mature Amelia in Acts II and III. Dimitri Platanias was a good Paolo Albiani, more relaxed and spontaneous than when he sang Rigoletto in 2012. Jihoon Kim made Pietro feel more than a minor character.
Although the orchestra seemed somewhat restrained at the beginning of the Prologue, it ignited, perhaps appropriately, when the citizens of Genoa proclaimed Boccanegra as Doge. Antonio Pappano is particularly good in this repertoire, capturing the fiery crowd scenes with great gusto. His command of subtle detail was even more perceptive. When Amelia sings the cavatina "come in quest'ora bruna" the childlike nature of her song is contradicted by the turbulence in the orchestra, as if Verdi is hinting of hard times ahead. When Boccanegra sings “Oh refrigerio!... la marina brezza!”, the strings oscillate eerily. Boccanegra remembers his youth, but this breeze is sinister, foretelling death. Pappano’s feel for the hidden depths in this opera manifested itself in the way he brought out the strange, wavering textures in the orchestration. Tragedy hangs on this opera like a shroud. Boccanegra's brief period of happiness with his daughter precipitates his death. Yet Verdi writes with cool-headed stoicism. Sparse textures, solo melodies, intense restraint, as strong -minded and unsentimental as the Doge himself. In Act III, the juxtaposition of wedding chorus and execution march is strikingly destabilizing. Happiness is a brief illusion, inevitably doomed.
Since this production has been revived over 100 times, it’s almost superfluous to comment, but theatre is as much part of an opera as singing. Otherwise we’d stick to concert performances. The sets, designed by Michael Yeargan are beautiful, but also astute. The marble floor resembles a chessboard. Marble is cold and unyielding, like fate, and power politics in a troubled city state is a game of strategy. Immense doors and marble columns loom over the protagonists. Special mention should be made of the lighting design, by John Harrison, where the same set can be transformed to create different scenes and moods.
This is a very painterly production, inspired by Renaissance painting and architecture. Written words appear on upright surfaces : sometimes in gold and fresco-like in Latin, sometimes roughly scrawled graffiti in Italian. Literally, “The writing is on the wall”.Yet beauty alone isn’t enough, as Verdi himself was to say of this opera. Fundamentally this isn’t a decorative opera, but an opera about extreme but repressed emotion.. The weakness lies in the direction. Physical action seems oddly lethargic and stilted. as if the parts are stepping out from a painting. It works, if you think of the production as a scene in a frame on a wall in a marble hall. When Amelia and Boccanegra recognize who they are to each other, the orchestra wells up, but the encounter is suprisingly matter of fact. Fortunately, the cast is so experienced that they can create their roles almost by instinct.