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 Sep 2013
Lyric Opera of Chicago Introduces its Season
In its annual concert presented to the city at Millennium Park, Lyric Opera of Chicago introduced its 2013-14 season on a recent weekend evening with a program of selections featuring several present, past, and future stars of the company.
In this year’s concert the Lyric Opera Chorus was featured in a
variety of pieces under the direction of its new permanent chorus master,
Michael Black. After a prefatory address delivered by the company’s General
Manager Anthony Freud the evening’s performance was conducted by Ward Stare.
As a start to the program Mr. Stare led the Lyric Opera Orchestra in a
spirited performance of the overture to Béatrice et Bénédict by
Hector Berlioz. Tempos were appropriately brisk in the opening section, while
Mr. Stare showed a nice attention to legato playing in the subsequent,
slower section. Flute and horn passages were especially well controlled in
passages that led the orchestra back to its opening tempos and to an energetic
and effective conclusion.
The remainder of the first part of the concert was devoted to excerpts from
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, which will be featured with two casts in
the upcoming season at Lyric Opera. Ana María Martínez and James Valenti sang
the parts of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton. As the geisha Cio-Cio-San muses while
alone on the anticipated return of her beloved Pinkerton, she imagines first
the sight of his ship on the horizon. As Ms. Martínez intoned the start of her
aria “Un bel dì” (“One fine day”) expectation built noticeably on a
rising vocal line until she declared “romba il suo salute” (“will thunder
its salute”) with an impressive forte pitch. Martínez expressed
Cio-Cio-San’s determination with her middle range focused on “non mi
pesa” (“will not weary me”), until she envisioned the approach of
Pinkerton from afar, starting as “un picciol punto” (“a tiny speck”) in
an appropriately piano vision. Hints of later tragedy were expressed
with touching innocence, as the words “celia” and “morire” (“to
“to die”) were interwoven vocally. As she identified with her
character’s unflagging faith, Martínez concluded this committed performance
with a valiant top note on “l’aspetto” (“I shall await him”). Mr.
Valenti’s aria from the final act of the opera, “Addio fiorito asil”
(“Farewell, flowery refuge”), was performed with good attention to line, a
technique which emphasized the haunting memories that would continue to plague
him. Valenti’s lower register was somewhat underused yet his high notes in
the conclusion of this brief scene (“ah, son vil” [“Oh, I am
despicable!”]) were exemplary.
The Lyric Opera Chorus performed the “Humming Chorus” from Act III of
Madama Butterfly as a fitting contribution to this first part of the
concert. The final piece from Puccini’s opera featured Martínez and Valenti
in the extended love scene from the conclusion of Act I (‘Bimba, bimba, non
piangere” [“My child, do not cry”]). Laura Wilde sang the role of Suzuki,
Cio-Cio-San’s confidante, in the opening of the scene. Once the couple is
left alone by Suzuki, the lovers’ passion seems to bloom. Perhaps because of
the distance implied in the initially shy or awkward dialogue of the
characters, the soloists here sang a convincingly emotional line toward the
close of their duet. With Valenti proclaiming at the close “Ah! Vien, sei
mia!” [“Ah, come you are mine!”]), there was no doubt that love had
indeed been awakened.
In the second part of the concert the Lyric Opera Chorus and Orchestra
performed highlights from Lohengrin, Verdi’s Otello, and
Il Trovatore. Mr. Black has clearly worked with his forces to achieve
a well-prepared ensemble. The varying ranges and effects in the Act III Prelude
and Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin were distinct yet well integrated.
Tempos were restrained in the Verdian choruses with attention to specific
orchestral details magnifying the overall impression.
The final excerpt presented was Act III, Scene 2 of Donizetti’s Lucia
di Lammermoor. Again the chorus was given the opportunity to set the tone
of ephemeral happiness, here as the guests celebrated with vocal delights the
wedding of Lucia. At the height of this joy Raimondo interrupts the
ospiti to reveal the tragedy of the bridal chamber: Lucia has stabbed
the husband she was forced to marry and lost her reason. Albina Shagimuratova
shared the stage with Evan Boyer as Lucia and Raimondo, tutor of the young
woman, with Anthony Clark Evans performing the role of Enrico, Lucia’s
brother. Mr. Boyer made a strong impression as the initial soloist. He drew on
a fully developed palette of vocal colors in order to express the conflicting
emotions in Raimondo’s mix of horror and sympathy over Lucia’s actions.
“Dalle stanze” (“From the apartments”) showed a smooth lyrical delivery
with judicious application of vibrato. Boyer’s chilling enunciation of
“insanguinato” (“blood-stained”) made of his voice a convincing witness
to the aftermath of the murderous deed. Boyer’s sense of decoration was
evident on telling lines, e.g., rising pitches on “l’ira no chiami su noi
del ciel” (“may it not call down upon us the wrath of heaven”). At
Lucia’s entrance Shagimuratova communicated immediately the sense of a woman
unhinged. Notes sung piano and diminuendo as a means to
delineate character were in evidence from the start , as she recalled hearing
the voice of her true beloved Edgardo (“nel cor discesa!” [“won my
heart!”]). Seeming happiness was declaimed on “lieto giorno” (“happy
day”), just as Shagimuratova indulged in melismatic richness on the line “A
me ti dona un dio” (“God has given you to me”). As she descended further
into a mad reverie, Shagimuratova became more ambitious in the insertion of
trills and well-chosen decoration. The conclusion was an exciting cap to the
evening with a season of vocal drama still awaiting.