Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

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.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

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.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

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.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

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.

Tosca in Marseille

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.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

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.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

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.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

David Pittsinger as King Arthur and Andriana Chuchman as Guenevere  [Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival]
19 Jul 2013

Glimmerglass premiere of ‘Camelot’ chivalrous, but hardly a knight to remember

David Pittsinger, as King Arthur, provided most of the magic in this pleasant but unspectacular production of the Lerner and Loewe musical

Glimmerglass premiere of ‘Camelot’ chivalrous, but hardly a knight to remember

A review by David Abrams

Above: David Pittsinger as King Arthur and Andriana Chuchman as Guenevere

Photos by Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

 

Francesca Zambello’s courageous marketing decision to produce a blockbuster Broadway musical each season is not without its challenges.  Unlike opera, where audiences hope to be artistically engaged, Broadway musicals draw crowds expecting to be entertained.  As such, the pressure is on for the Glimmerglass Festival Artistic Director to provide musicals that keep pace with — or exceed — the entertainment appeal of the Festival’s prior efforts.  

Judged by the yardstick of its past successes, Glimmerglass’s latest venture has come up short.  Its current production of Camelot, though enjoyable, pales in comparison both to last season’s stunning production of The Music Man and the prior year’s Annie Get Your Gun.  

The finger pointing rightly begins with Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe — whose 1960 collaboration can hardly be considered the pair’s best effort.  Camelot lacks both the depth of story and the number of memorable tunes of My Fair Lady, produced some four years earlier.  Still, it was Glimmerglass’s new production, not the story and the music, that ultimately underwhelmed those in the crowd who, like I, left the theater unfulfilled.  

The story, adapted from T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, centers on a medieval love triangle involving the enlightened King Arthur, his handsome wife Guenevere and the love-smitten knight, Sir Lancelot.  Themes of chivalry, romance, adultery, battle and ultimately forgiveness run through the nearly three-hour show.  Baby boomers no doubt will remember Camelot as all but having defined the Kennedy presidency.  According to Jackie Kennedy, JFK’s favorite line came at the end: Don't let it be forgot/ That once there was a spot/ For one brief shining moment that was known/ As Camelot.

The “one brief shining moment” in this production is David Pittsinger, whose stunning singing and acting throughout the performance as King Arthur is alone worth the price of admission.

Pittsinger, who from my seat in the theater looked curiously like political humorist Bill Maher, sang beautifully and carried himself well onstage — capturing the attention of the listener at all times.  His crisp speaking voice spread his lines across the theater with ease and grace, while his clean diction obviated the need for supertitles (which in this production accompanied the singing but not the dialogue).  

Pittsinger’s full-strength bass-baritone and strong delivery, which at times overshadowed the other singers, was apparent from his opening number, I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight, and his signature tune, Camelot.  Even his whistling (during the charming duo with the Queen, What Do the Simple Folk Do?) projected well.  The tender side of King Arthur’s character came out, loud and clear, in Pittsinger’s earnest and sensitive delivery of How to Handle a Woman, as the confused King seeks guidance and wisdom in dealing with his beloved Guenevere.

As an actor, Pittsinger captured the essence of Arthur as a well-meaning King seeking to make sense of the world and trying to do the right thing at any cost — even if that means watching Guenevere slowly slip away into the arms of Lancelot.  He forged a character whose ultimate decision to forgive the two greatest loves in his life (Guenevere and Lancelot) we may respect or reject.  Either way, Pittsinger’s Arthur is a flesh-and-blood character with whom we can empathize.

As Guenevere, Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman has the looks to sustain the love triangle drama throughout the lengthy production, and her handsome voice — while by no means large — made for a pleasant listening experience during her principal numbers. 

Chuchman’s opening song, The Simple Joys of Maidenhood, set the bar high for those that followed — culminating in what I thought her best effort of the show: the sweetly expressive Before I Gaze at You Again at the end of Act 1.  Unlike Pittsinger, however, Chuchman could never quite abandon her trained operatic voice for something better suited to musical theater.  And the mellowness of her speaking voice made me wish that supertitles had been used for more than just the singing.

Next to Pittsinger, the most commanding performance of the evening came from Jack Noseworthy — a first-rate actor whose suave and calculating presence as Arthur’s nefarious illegitimate son, Mordred, was unforgettable.

KarliCadel-CamelotGen-2540.pngL to R: David Pittsinger as King Arthur, Andriana Chuchman as Guenevere, Wynn Harmon as Pellinore, Clay Hilley as Dinaden, Wayne Hu as Sir Sagramore, Nathan Gunn as Sir Lancelot and Noel Bouley as Sir Lionel

Noseworthy’s high-pitched tenor projected exceptionally well, and his diction was beyond reproach.  (He sounded the most “British” of the cast.)  Like Roddy McDowall in the original Broadway production, Noseworthy spoke his melodic lines during The Seen Deadly Virtues, shifting to pitches when singing along with the knights in Fie on Goodness.  But whether singing or speaking, Noseworthy maintained an imposing presence befitting his role as the show’s only true villain — staying in character even as the audience began hissing him, if only affectionately, at the curtain calls.

Nathan Gunn started off with a bang, using his handsome baritone to capture the moment in his opening song, C’est Moi, where he defines his character as the cocky, self-centered would-be knight to Arthur’s newly created Round Table.  But Gunn never again sounded this good during the remainder of the show, and his signature song, If Ever I Would Leave You, sounded shaky and rushed, as well as lacking in any meaningful degree of expression.

Glimmerglass Young Artists Clay Hilley (Sir Dinahan), Wayne Hu (Sir Sagramore) and Noel Bouley (Sir Lionel) deported themselves well as the triumvirate of knights and interacted playfully with Chuchman in Then You May Take Me to the Fair.  I especially enjoyed the boys’ horsing around with Mordred in the Act 2 Fie on Goodness — which I thought was going to end as a Bud Light commercial.  

Wynn Harmon, in the non-singing dual roles as Arthur’s mentor, Merlyn, and the eccentric old knight, Pellinore, projected his lines well but sounded rather hoarse — making it difficult at times to hear his every word.  Young Richard Pittsinger, the real-life son of David cast as the young and impressionable Tom of Warwick, was a fitting choice to carry on the dream of his hero King Arthur, as the latter heads to France to battle Lancelot’s armies.

Director Richard Longbottom deserves praise for his charming staging of the joyous Then You May Take Me to the Fair — a delightful number in which Guenevere coyly coaxes the three knights to thrash newly arrived Lancelot in the upcoming jousting match, promising whoever succeeds a good time in her company at the Fair.  Longbottom nevertheless wasted several opportunities to enhance the action of this mostly static production.  

The second-act dueling scene between the knights and Lancelot, performed in slow motion, was utterly lacking in tension and anima.  The lightly choreographed dance scenes by Alex Sanchez, while visually appealing, had none of the pizzazz that ignited the stage in last season’s unforgettable production of The Music Man.  Lancelot’s miraculous healing of the fallen Lionel, which could have been milked for all it’s worth as a dramatically vibrant moment, was reduced to a simple touch of the wounded man’s chest — as if an abbreviated medieval version of CPR.  Longbottom’s decision to begin Gunn’s delivery of If Ever I Would Leave You from the very back of the stage was ill-advised, since the baritone could barely be heard until making his way to the front.

Kevin Depinet’s abstract minimalist sets don’t do much to enhance the drama, either.  An imposing structure in the shape of a right triangle anchors the set, with a Disney-like mural of a seemingly far-off castle resting below the top of the hypotenuse.  Standing at the base of the triangle is an oddity sprouting what appears to be a stack of giant linguini.  When King Arthur is seen hiding within the strands of linguini, we realize this is actually a tree.  Cooked al dente.

Depinet is less abstract in his design of the King’s chambers.  A pair of thrones sits on a lengthy tapestry, over which a large chandelier of candles, suspended by chains, hangs overhead.  In the final scene this chandelier will fall to the ground, if only slowly and deliberately, ostensibly to signal the demise of Arthur’s vision of the perfect Camelot.  (I much prefer the scene from Phantom of the Opera.)  Paul Tazewell’s colorful costumes, while easy on the eyes, more closely resemble early Renaissance than the story’s sixth-century medieval period dress.

The 42-piece orchestra, directed by James Lowe, had a rough time fighting pitch problems during the instrumental ensemble sections.  There were also a few sloppy ensemble moments during the transitions into new tempos during the Overture and Entr’acte to Act 2, which I expect will disappear after another performance or two.

Audience reaction at the curtain calls sounded genuinely excited, particularly with respect to the three lead roles.  But it wasn’t until Pittsinger (the elder) came onstage that the crowd took to its feet in tandem — and justly so.  He was the knight in shining armor who almost single-handedly brought this production out of, well, the Dark Ages.

David Abrams

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

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):