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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Zerlina and Masetto at Hidden Valley [Photo by Tiffany Velasquez-Walker]
26 Sep 2013

Opera Theater Around San Francisco

Opera in San Francisco is what occurs at the War Memorial Opera House. Every so often though you can think outside the box and find some interesting performances nearby.

Opera Theater Around San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above:Zerlina and Masetto at Hidden Valley [Photo by Tiffany Velasquez-Walker]

 

This past weekend West Edge Opera formerly known known as Berkeley Opera took a bold step, moving off the stage of a suburban East Bay high-school onto the 400 seat, Berkeley Repertory Theatre Thrust Stage for two semi-staged performances of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. Berkeley Rep is a prestigious address, after all its productions sit at the forefront of American regional theater. The spectacular new East Span of the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge somehow adds a panache to Berkeley that the funky, dangerous old Bay Bridge excluded. Expectations were high, promise was and is in the air.

This past weekend as well saw the last of six performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the 250-seat black box theater of Hidden Valley, an institute for the performing arts in Carmel Valley (2 1/2 hours south of San Francisco) that has come back to producing opera now that a degree of prosperity has returned to the Monterey Peninsula. Its Opera Ensemble founded in 1974 offers young singers an opportunity to take initial steps into professional producing circumstances. Overseeing this current Don Giovanni were conductor Stewart Robertson, Music Director Emeritus of Glimmerglass Opera and veteran stage director/designer Robert Darling.

The common artistic ground held by the two productions was opera as theater, not opera as opera.

On Berkeley Rep’s blackened Thrust Stage a 30 piece orchestra sat upstage, two chairs and a table were downstage and the singers performed within a few inches of the three-quarters surround audience. The conductor was visible to the singers only by television monitor. At Hidden Valley it was opera in the round, a 9 piece ensemble (including harpsichord) sat off in a corner, TV monitors offered the conductor’s beat, the stage itself was a small asymmetrical platform in the center of the space surrounded by audience.

Common also were the much, much reduced orchestrations. While the brass and woodwind complement of Vanessa was somewhat intact the strings were limited to twelve players total (there were forty five or so at the opera’s premiere). The Don Giovanni orchestra became a string quintet, plus a flute, oboe, and bassoon (the three woodwinds total were reduced from the fifteen brass and woodwind instruments of Mozart’s score).

Not exactly Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk, and it really did not matter as the immediacy of voice, the urgency of action, the physical presence of character created a powerful dimension of theater — a dimension that is so often and so easily overwhelmed by opera’s complexities.

Vanessa_BerkeleyOT.pngNikola Printz as Erika, Marie Plette as Vanessa, Jonathan Boyd as Anatol [Photo by Lucas Krech]

The theatrical dimension was very present in Berkeley. Vanessa was about aging soprano Marie Plette and her shallow young tenor lover Anatol, Jonathan Boyd. Innocent if weird young Erika, San Francisco Conservatory graduate soprano Nikola Printz simply wanted real love whatever that is, and dumbly wise bass Phillip Skinner was the Doctor who even knew how vapid he was. Not to forget the grandmotherly Baroness, Malin Fritz who sang very little but looked very stern. Very believable characters indeed, who were also quite real singers and very good artists. Even the staging was their own (there was no stage director), and seemed completely true to character — how could it have been otherwise.

Barber’s Vanessa itself sat very comfortably in the chamber format. The coy libretto by Barber’s life partner Gian Carlo Menotti is like a short story that resolves into a clever play on words much more so than it is a complex human situation that might end in tragedy. The chamber format imposed by the small theater responded to the wit and fun that permeates Barber’s music, and revealed his brilliance as a composer of mid-century complexities — like the splendid quintet that winds up Vanessa. And as a composer of occasional pieces, like the well known arias and duets that embellish the action.

In this reduced orchestral and sceneless format the specific colors and tones of Barber’s quite pictorial music and the atmospheres inherent to Menotti’s little twilight zone story are sacrificed. But the chamber format did ring true as the perfect place to bare the soul of this wonderful artifact of mid-twentieth century American music. The proceedings were held together by West Edge Opera music director Jonathan Khuner.

Hidden Valley has had much practice staging in the round, achieving in this Don Giovanni a degree of perfection. The irregular shape of the small center platform provided places to step, to sit and to hide, and it was turned from time to time by three very, that is very shapely damsels in black vinyl body stockings to indicate a change of scene, or rotated sometimes to make a posed stage picture visible to the entire audience. The entrance/exit aisle bisecting the theater was used for staging, the intersecting aisle axis led to platforms high against the side walls where Elvira appeared on her balcony and later the Commendatore’s statue loomed.

And there was production — minimalist lighting by designer Matthew Antaky sketched a few atmospheres, plus when those sexy stagehands threw a red rope net over the Don and drew him into hell a bit of smoke billowed from under the central platform. All this while the eight players in the pit gave it there all. And it was absolutely enough for the circumstances, probably because we were right in the middle of it.

Giovanni2_CarmelOT.pngGregory Gerbrandt as Don Giovanni, Anna Noggle as Donna Elvira, Igor Vieira as Leporello [Photo by Tiffany Velasquez-Walker]

Sitting in such close proximity to six fine young singers showing their stuff was a very great pleasure. While Don Giovanni himself seems to have the least to sing in the opera he must create a powerful presence to give reason for everyone else to sing a lot. Baritone Gregory Gerbrandt had the voice, charisma and physical stature to set off the vocal fireworks blazingly exhibited by Donna Anna sung by soprano Jennifer Jakob, Donna Elvira sung by soprano Anna Noggle, and particularly Don Ottavio sung by tenor Zachary Engle. Mezzo soprano Nora Graham-Smith as Zerlina has a vocally warm presence that was appreciated in the ensembles, and baritone Ryan Bradford brought touching boyish naiveté to Masetto. Brazilian baritone Igor Vieira had the hint of accent and the bad-boy instinct (he often ignored the beat) to make him a truly believable Leporello. Veteran (i.e. old) bass Art Schuller was a very intimidating Commendatore.

This young cast could not plumb the depths of Don Giovanni, after all the Don himself needs a bit of age to have created the catalog that Leporello thumbed through on his iPad. Stage director Robert Darling therefore took the libretto and music at face value, embellishing the story just enough to provide some staging interest, like for example the Commendatore exchanging pistol shots with Don Giovanni, wounding the Don. It was enough that the staging was a vehicle for young singers to explore their voices and hone their acting skills.

Conductor Stewart Robertson presided from afar, providing a reasonable musical basis on which these young artists could build commanding performances of some of opera’s most known and beloved music. This maestro made the singers shine at the expense of exploiting the orchestral dramas of the Mozart score — after all he had but a flute, oboe and bassoon, plus the string quintet who surely found new meaning for the word exhaustion.

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Vanessa: Marie Plette; Erika: Nikola Printz; Baroness: Malin Fritz; Anatol: Jonathan Boyd; Doctor: Phillip Skinner; Majordomo: Timothy Beck; Footman: Calvin Wall. The West Edge Opera Orchestra. Conductor: Jonathan Khuner. The Thrust Stage of Berkeley Repertory Theater. September 21, 2013

Don Giovanni: Gregory Gerbrandt; Donna Anna: Jennifer Jakob; Donna Elvira: Anna Noggle; Leporello: Igor Vieira; Don Ottavio: Zachary Engle; Masetto: Ryan Bradford; Zerlina: Nora Grahamm-Smith; Commendatore: Art Schuller. Hidden Valley Opera Ensemble Orchestra and Chorus. Conductor Stewart Robertson. Stage Director: Robert Darling; Lighting Designer: Matthew Antaky; Costumer: Katy Simola. Hidden Valley Theatre. September 22, 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):