23 Jul 2013
Glimmerglass’s rarely done ‘King for a Day’ a rare treat, well done
This zany production of Verdi’s only comic opera before ‘Falstaff’ keeps the singers in chaos and the audience in stitches
“Hi! 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.
This zany production of Verdi’s only comic opera before ‘Falstaff’ keeps the singers in chaos and the audience in stitches
The heroes of the Glimmerglass production of Verdi’s rare — really rare — second opera, Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day), are director Christian Rath, choreographer Eric Sean Fogel, and set and costume designer Court Watson. This trio has taken a work with a threadbare, unfunny plot, and only intermittingly inspired music, and transformed it into an afternoon of zaniness that delighted the audience in the Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown.
Verdi wrote this work in 1840 when he was 27. It is his only comic opera until Falstaff, the final masterwork of his old age. Un Giorno was booed by the audience in Milan, in part because of poor singing, and it received but a single performance.
Verdi bounced back from this disappointment with his third opera, Nabucco, which is about as far in spirit from Un Giorno as one could get. He was clearly not looking in the rear-view mirror. Just as he abandoned the comic path, so has the work been abandoned by opera houses in the last 173 years, although Europe has seen a few mountings.
The Rath team put the six principal singers and the chorus through all sorts of physical activity — climbing, jumping, boxing, kissing, dancing, and swinging chairs at each other in a chaotic closing scene to Act 1 that is reminiscent of The Barber of Seville and The Italian Girl in Algiers, both by Rossini, whose presence hovers over Verdi in this creation. The site gags come so thick and fast and are so ingenious that the audience forgets this soufflé could collapse at any minute if the temperature is not kept at a high heat.
Ginger Costa-Jackson as Marchesa
Rath signaled to the audience that a circus was about to start by projecting clown-costume circles of color on a white curtain during the toe-tapping overture. Then, in the English titling (for a production sung in English), the audience was invited to attend a double wedding and to allow four hours “to clear security.” Similar 21st century touches were interpolated in the text by Kelley Rourke, who did all she could to make this creaky story of young love thwarted (and then triumphant) relevant.
The stage business was so intricate, and non-stop, it was a wonder that the first performance went so smoothly. I expected the cast to fall off the steeply raked set at any moment and tumble into the orchestra pit, but no one did. Indeed, if anyone was ever out of place it wasn’t evident to the audience. The physical comedy delivered by the young cast assured a success.
Had Verdi not been the one to write this, however, no one would stage it today. So, is the great master present at all in the music? Here and there, yes. A few phrases from mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson (as the Marchesa) find their way into Gilda’s music in Act 1 of Rigoletto. Some of the choral work prefigures Ernani.
What is more instructive, however, is how Verdi assimilated Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini in this work, which is only to be expected given how wet behind the ears he was. The basso buffo singing of Doctor Dulcamara (The Elixir of Love) and Don Pasqualeare not far from the surface in the music for bass Jason Hardy as the Baron Kelbar, and baritones Andrew Wilkowske (as La Rocca) and Young Artist Alex Lawrence as the King of the title. One extended passage for the King and chorus in Act 1 is a close parallel to music from Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims. A promising duet for tenor and baritone in Act 1 could be plopped into Bellini’s I Puritani without much alteration.
And so it goes for about two hours of music — little Verdi, but lots of early 19th century Italian opera by other masters. What he did demonstrate at 27 was his ability to write for the voice. The tenor part (the love-sick Edoardo, sung by Young Artist Patrick O’Halloran) is particularly fine.
As the Marchesa, Costa-Jackson was the only “name” singer in the cast. Dolled up in a red sheath and a blond beehive wig, she vamped around the stage, often holding a twinkly gray toy poodle that adamantly refused to move at one point in the first act. Her part lies high for a mezzo, and Costa-Jackson had some problems at the top of the range. But given she was in a track meet of a production that must have sorely taxed her lung power, it’s surprising she sang as well as she did.
Clockwise from top: Jason Hardy as Baron Kelbar, Patrick O'Halloran as Edoardo, Jacqueline Echols as Giulietta and Andrew Wilkowske as La Rocca
None of the three low-lying males — Hardy, Lawrence, and Wilkowske — has the cavernous bass or baritone voice, or the agility in articulation, to do justice to the patter. Nor do they have the blustering style of a Doctor Bartolo. All were too light for their roles, but they threw themselves into the proceedings with gusto, particularly Hardy. His impersonation of a boxer alone is worth the price of admission.
The best singing came from the young couple (who would become Nannetta and Fenton in Falstaff in another 53 years). Young Artist Jacqueline Echols was a prim Giuletta in her modest patterned dress. She has a melting soprano voice and terrific stage presence, even when singing from under the raked stage. As her true love Edoardo, O’Halloran looked like Clark Kent in an argyle sweater, matching socks, shorts and black-frame glasses. He doesn’t yet sing like Superman, but he has much potential. His voice seems agile enough for Rossini, but also with sufficient heft for Donizetti and Bellini. For me he was the most rewarding singer on stage.
The two smaller parts of Delmonte and Count Ivrea (who totters around on a walker) were assumed by two more Young Artists, Andrew Penning and Joe Shadday.
The performance was conducted by Joseph Colaneri, the new music director of the Festival. He miraculously led a crisp, tidy performance in which everyone stayed together even as they were rocketing around the stage. I don’t know how this was achieved, but it was. The orchestra played very well for its new boss.
Un Giorno can be heard on CD in a luxury cast that includes José Carreras, Jessye Norman, Fiorenza Cossotto and Ingvar Wixell on Decca, under conductor Lamberto Gardelli. The score holds up in repeated listening, particularly with the manic images from Glimmerglass in one’s head. Even though Rath’s production book must be 5,000 pages long, other companies might want to take a look at this rarity — if the cast is young and fit.
This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.