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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
10 Sep 2013
Wigmore Hall Opening Gala, Terfel and Keenlyside
The Wigmore Hall 2013/14 season started in exuberant style. Simon Keenlyside, Bryn Terfel and Malcolm Martineau devised a programme that was festive and fun. And, this being the Wigmore Hall, the recital was as erudite as it was popular
The two singers were enjoying themselves, teasing and challenging each other. Seldom do concerts, especially Gala Recitals, feel as natural as private performance.
The programme was extremely well chosen, for it showcased narrative song, a sub-genre of Lieder. It was ideally suited to the occasion, and to Terfel and Keenlyside, whose opera backgrounds mean they can sing stories with vivid élan.
Keenlyside wasn't well, and needed copious liquid succour - he finished a jug of water - but being a true trouper, he turned his difficulty to advantage in his performance. "Durst,Wassersheu, ungleich Geblüt!", he growled in Hugo Wolf's Zur Warnung. So we laughed with him, not at him, as he depicted the poet's Muse's "schmöden Bafel", the lines lurching as though through a drunken haze. That's the sign of a real professional, whose artistry overcomes all.
Terfel sang Robert Schumann Belsazar op 57 (1840). More drunkenness! This time the mighty King of Babylon blasphemes and is brought down by Jehovah. Heine's version of Belshazzar's Feast is pithy, and the drama unfolds in the space of a few minutes. It's dramatic stuff. Terfel, being a natural stage animal, intones the text with slow deliberation, each syllable kept distinct. "Buchstaben von feuer, und Schreib, und schwand". You can almost see the mysterious hand writing slowly on the palace wall. He sings the lines about the soothsayers with casual tenderness, so when he sings of Belsazar's murder, the syllables sound even more ominous.
Terfel and Keenlyside foxed the audience, too, changing the programme and keeping us alert. Schumann's Die beiden Grenadier (op 49/1 1840) popped up unexpectedly, but it's a great song that fitted perfectly into this programme of Lieder as mini-drama. The ironic quote from the Marseillaise worked especially well after the Muse's wonky nightingale song in Zur Warnung. Die beiden Grenadier is witty but the humour is grim. Heine is satirizing fanatics who follow leaders unto death.
Also in place of the scheduled programme, Jacques Ibert's Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte (1932) substituted for Poulenc's Chansons villageoises (1942). An inspired choice, which showed the singer's grasp of repertoire. Ibert's four Don Quixote songs are even more colourful than Ravel's three songs Don Quichotte à Dulcinée which were sung by Feodor Chaliapin in the 1932 G W Pabst film Don Quixote. Ibert wrote the rest of the music for the film, so his songs area deliciously ironic. Terfel must have relished doing a riposte to Chaliapin. Ibert's songs veer (or should I say "tilt" wildly from mock heroic to mock sentimental to mock elegaic. Ideal opportunities for Terfel to camp up the humour and characterizations.
Both Terfel and Keenlyside live in Wales, though Terfel is of course a native. So Terfel sang Y Cymru (The Welshman) in what we must assume is perfect Welsh. The song, by Meirion Williams, sounds lovely in Welsh but it's just as well -- translated into English, the text is maudlin. But it's a good song and should be a star turn. Keenlyside decided that discretion was the better part of valour and declined to sing the third Williams song in Welsh.
Instead, Keenlyside sang Peter Warlock, an Englishman who lived in Wales and was rather fond of beer and song. Keenlyside's voice filled out beautifully in Cradle Song (1927). Warlock's My Own Country (1927), to a poem by Hilaire Belloc, is exquisite, one of his best and most mellifluous. Belloc was writing about an imaginary country, based vaguely on Sussex, but Keenlyside made it feel as if we all belonged there.
Since this concert celebrated the beginning of a new season at the Wigmore Hall, the holidy mood continued with a selection of show tunes. Here, Keenlyside was in his element. When he sang the Soliloquy ("My boy Bill") from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, he could sit on a bar stool clutching a glass (of water) and be in perfect character. Keenlyside does lounge lizard well, so I liked his Ain't misbehaving though he sounds nothing like Fats Waller. He also did a wry take on Fiddler on the Roof . His skills in the opera house stand him in good stead. Keenlyside and Terfel duetted in Cole Porter's Night and Day, coyly switching the words. They'd like to spend their days and nights "being friends".
Terfel resented more party tricks. He sang songs from the repertoire of John Charles Thomas (1891-1960), an American of Welsh descent who sang opera, operetta and popular tunes. "He sang with Chaliapin", said Terfel. Another hidden connection in this remarkably erudite programme. Terfel sang the comic The Green-Eyed Dragon (Wolseley Charles, published 1926 Boosey), first recorded in 1927 by an opera singer called Reinald Werrenrath. Crossover is nothing new.
Terfel also sang two rather better songs, Trees to the poem by Joyce Kilmer set by Oscar Rasbach in 1922, and Tally-ho !, a song about fox hunting where a foxy peasant out-foxes fox hunters and lets the fox escape. The peasant acts dumb when the fox hunters ask him where the fox has gone. The song was written by Franco Leoni (1864-1949) and was recorded by Arthur Reckless, an English baritone who later taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where Terfel learned his trade.