Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne

Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which was new in 2012, returned to Glyndebourne on 3 July 2016 revived by Ian Rutherford.

Cosi fan tutte at the Aix Festival

Said and done the audience roared its enjoyment of the performance, reserving even greater enthusiasm to greet stage director Christophe Honoré with applauding boos and whistles that bespoke enormous pleasure, complicity and befuddlement.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from <em>Elena</em> [Photo by Pascal Victor]
23 Jul 2013

Elena and The House Taken Over

That’s Helen (of Troy) by Cavalli, so maybe you are interested after all, though the more engaging experience was The House Taken Over by Vasco Mendonça.

Elena and The House Taken Over at the Aix Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Scene from Elena [Photo by Pascal Victor]

 

In a festival dominated by Elektra directed by Patrice Cheréau, Don Giovanni directed by Dimitri Tcherniakov and Rigoletto directed by Robert Carson gratefully a place was found for a new opera. It was a commission by the Aix Festival through its Académie Européen de Musique to young (34 years old) Portuguese composer Vasco Mendonça (by comparison the Mozart of Don Giovanni was 31).

The Aix Festival gave the new opera a substantial production by the esteemed British director Katie Mitchell who last summer imagined a brilliant production of British composer George Benjamin’s Written on Skin for Aix (since seen at the Nederlandse Oper and at Covent Garden). Sig. Mendonça is in fact a student of George Benjamin who was a student of Britten and Messiaen.

The libretto was contrived by British dramaturge Sam (short for Samantha) Holcroft on a novella by Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar. Cortázar emigrated from Argentina to France in 1951 when he was 36 years old. His muses were surrealism, improvisation and stream-of-consciousness. He translated Edgar Allen Poe into Spanish.

You get the idea — traditional genres and dramatic attitudes are out the window though Aristotelian unities were zealously respected. A brother and sister clean then eat and read in a room of an old house. Mysterious noises frighten them, so they transfer the same activities to another room where the same thing occurs. They take these activities onto the front doorstep where the sister realizes she must use a bathroom. They leave the house to embark on new lives.

The libretto in this production did no more than provide composer Mendonça with a structure on which to expound infinite combinations of tones, colors and rhythms that sometimes directly applied to the story telling, but mostly just percolated along as what seemed to be notated improvisation, or rather invention.

THE-HOUSE-409.gifScene from The House Taken Over [Photo by Patrick Berger]

The Asko Schönberg Ensemble from the Netherlands was here comprised of two violins, two violas, one cello, one bass, one flute, two clarinets, two trumpets, one trombone plus a myriad of percussion choices presided over by one virtuoso player (Joey Marijs). Etienne Stiebens was the production’s chef d’orchestra. One musical delight followed another in an astonishing array of variation elaborated by these instruments.

Fortunately the grandstand seating at the outdoor Domaine du Grand St. Jean gave us full view into the pit where the evening’s excitement took place. Plenty of it. Cerise sur le gâteau: the trumpeters at the finale abandoned their horns in favor of Melodicas (plastic keyboard harmonicas).

Director Katie Mitchell with her scenographer, British theater designer Alex Eales, shied away from the surrealism of the novella opting to evoke a commentary on the insignificant and suffocating, narrow lives of the English petite bourgeoisie. The production did not take us into the attractive sonic world of Sig. Mendonça’s music nor into the subtle philosophic atmospheres felt by an Argentine intellectual based in mid twentieth century Paris.

The Aix Festival provided two quite able, young British singers, mezzo soprano Kitty Whately and baritone Oliver Dunn, both done up to try to look dull middle-aged. These fine young artists managed the undistinguished narrative style delivery of text with crystal clear English diction, and veered into the opera’s very occasional ariosos with vocal gusto. It is not an opera about voices.

This talented young composer may yet find his operatic way, after all Richard Strauss was 41 before he hit his operatic stride with the Salome libretto by Von Hofmannsthal. Perhaps Mr. Mendonça should look beyond British theatrical forces.

Elena aka The Abduction of Helen by Cavalli is of course not about Helen of Troy even though it says it is. It is really about racy attitudes towards sex and marriage in 17th century Venice. All of Venice had been excommunicated when Cavalli was four years old, not for its free and easy morality but rather because this rich city had the confidence to ignore playing by rules imposed by others. Elena, the thirty-second of his forty one or so operas, is also about playing harmlessly outside the rules, those of restraint or civilized conduct in particular.

The operas that have made Cavalli famous these days — L’Ormindo, La Calisto and L’Erismena — are all earlier in the Cavalli oeuvre and exemplify the easy charm of stories about deities falling in and out of love with doses of sincerity here and there. Cavalli turned out Elena at age 57 when he was at the height of his fame (the next year Louis XIV lured him to Paris with a special, high tech theater built just for his Ercole Amante). At this point it was easy, too easy for Cavalli to make an opera. Elena seems far too contrived, and perhaps it is an opera best forgotten.

ELENA-109.gifScene from Elena [Photo by Patrick Berger]

Like all Cavalli operas Elena has a big cast of characters, all with lots to do. Casting is sophisticated at the Aix Festival, and with rare exception true to character and voice and with rare exception indifferent to fame. At the same time the Aix Festival knows the virtues and financial rewards of encouraging young artists. Thus the large cast was comprised of talented young singers all of whom were well nurtured indeed by the opera world’s elaborate and extensive apprentice system.

There was therefore a uniformity of relatively high level talent and technical ability. This was the limitation of the cast. Cavalli’s characters were created by generic, well trained young singers rather than by mature or finished artists with specific traits that qualify them to bring artistic life to human character. Those few with hints of greater artistry fell victim to a generic apprentice atmosphere of promise rather than accomplishment.

The production was in the Festival’s tiny Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, a relic in the Italian horseshoe style that is perfect for Baroque opera. It was staged by Jean-Yves Ruf, a young French theater pedagogue with acting credentials as well, in a stage space that resembled a bull ring in the first half and a macramé fantasy in the second. The scenery and costumes were fashionable, generic theatre designs that probed “look” rather than depth. It was a long, very long evening.

Ten members of Ambronay’s (a town between Lyon and Geneva) early music ensemble Capella Mediterranea plucked, sawed and tooted in finest, informed period style, led by its founder of Argentine origin and Swiss training, Leonardo Garciá Alarcón.

With the cost of tickets at one half that for major productions at the Aix Festival, productions like Elena and The House Over Taken open the festival to a larger public, those unable or unwilling to bear the $300 plus cost of a ticket for Don Giovanni or Elektra.

Michael Milenski


Casts and Production:

The House Taken Over

Brother: Oliver Dunn; Sister: Kitty Whately. Asko | Schönberg Ensemble conducted by Etienne Siebens. Mise en scène: Katie Mitchell; Scenery: Alex Eales; Lighting: James Farncombe. Domaine du Grand St. Jean, July 11, 2013.

Elena

Elena/Venere: Emöke Barath; Menelao: Valer Barna-Sabadus; Teseo: Fernando Guimaraes; Ippolita/Pallade: Solenn' Lavanant Linke; Peritoo: Rodrigo Ferreira; Iro: Emiliano Gonzalez Toro; Menesto/La Pace: Anna Reinhold; Tindaro/Nettuno: Scott Conner; Erginda/Giunone/Castore: Mariana Flores; Eurite/La Verita: Majdouline Zerari; Diomede/Creonte: Brendan Tuohy; Euripilo/La Discordia/Polluce: Christopher Lowrey; Antiloco: Job Tomé. Cappella Mediterranea conducted by Leonardo García Alarcón. Mise en scène: Jean-Yves Ruf; Scenery: Laure Pichat; Costumes : Claudia Jenatsch; Lighting: Christian Dubet. Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, July 17, 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):