23 Oct 2013
Angel Blue, Wigmore Hall
Having impressed UK audiences in La Boheme (for ENO) and American Lulu (for the Opera Group/Scottish Opera),
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
Having impressed UK audiences in La Boheme (for ENO) and American Lulu (for the Opera Group/Scottish Opera),
Californian soprano Angel Blue made her much anticipated recital debut at the Wigmore Hall for Rosenblatt Recitals on Monday 21 October 2013. Accompanied by pianist Catherine Miller, Angel Blue sang a programme which opened with the Alleluia from Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, continued with songs by Richard Strauss and Sergei Rachmaninov, then moved into the opera arias by Gershwin, Chapi, Puccini, Wagner, Cilea, and Verdi.
Judging by her repertoire and recent roles (Musetta, Lulu, Lucia di Lammermoor, La Traviata ) I had assumed that Angel Blue would have a voice which was in the lyric/soubrette/coloratura range but not a bit. She has a bright, vibrant voice which is admirably even throughout the range including a fine upper extension and she combines easy facility and flexibility with remarkable power. This was a voice which, when she opened up, filled the Wigmore Hall. Her inclusion of Dich teure Halle from Wagner's Tannhäuser made complete sense in the context of her vocal capacity. And I certainly agree with those who have compared her to a young Leontyne Price.
I have to confess that I found it felt a bit odd, starting the programme with the final movement of Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate, that said Angel Blue sang it with a nice freedom and evenness in the passagework and some beautifully integrated acuti. It made me regret that she didn't give us the whole motet.
Next came a group of Richard Strauss songs. In Heimliche Aufforderung she sounded radiant, displaying a warm personality in the way she brought out the narrative character of the piece and rising to a vibrantly rapturous climax. Die Nacht received a nicely intent performance with beautifully floated top notes, all sung with poise. There was a naturalness to her delivery of Allerseelen which brought out the conversational nature of the song. Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten came over with great charm and delightful characterisation. The final song in the group, Befreit, she dedicated to the memory of her father. The gave the song an intense and serious performance with a nice melodic sweep.
In all the songs, Angel Blue's performance was highly characterised and she has great charm on stage, though sometimes when she allowed her voice to open up the songs veered as little towards the operatic. All were sung with a lovely surface beauty and gleaming tone, but I did find that said that her German sounded rather occluded.
Her final group of songs in the first half were all by Sergei Rachmaninov. Here the composer's rather more heart on sleeve style seemed to suit Angel Blue's generous performing style and she seemed really at home in these songs in a way that she hadn't in the Strauss. In Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne (Oh, do not sing, by beauty, to me) we had the haunting melancholy of the song offset by the beauty and rich vibrancy of her voice, with lovely hints of the exotic both in the melody and in Catherine Miller's accompaniment.
Rachmaninov's Vocalise showed the full beauty of Angel Blue's voice, combining a nice evenness of line with a fine upper register. Zdes’khorosho (How peaceful it is here) was a charming piece, with Angel Blue giving the song a strong narrative feel combined with some lovely high notes. Finally Vesenniye vodi (Spring Waters), again with a strong narrative sense, lovely vibrant, gleaming tones and rapture at the climaxes.
After the interval Angel Blue reappeared with a new dress, a new hairstyle and something of a new attitude; here her delivery relaxed as she clearly enjoyed the opportunities that these operatic arias gave her. Each aria was a little dramatic scena and Angel Blue's delight and charm radiated the performances.
Summertime from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was poised and perfect, the way she slid into the first note of the piece was a complete delight. This was a very affecting and captivating performance, full of personality. This sense of personality continued with Las Carceleras (The Prisoners' Song) from Ruperto Chapi's zarzuela Las hijas del Zebedeo (The Daughters of Zebedee). This was something of a tour de force, charming and sexy and brilliantly put over.
We changed pace somewhat with the next two items, both of which allowed us to hear the dramatic potential in Angel Blue's voice. In Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca she combined a strong feeling for the words with a lovely vibrant and full vocal line. The was a very involving performance, but beautifully controlled without any the bulges in the line. The climax was thrilling, with a finely controlled diminuendo and whilst you the role does not seem to feature on her cv, it does not sound too much of a stretch for her voice. She followed this with a thrilling and gleaming account of Dich teure Halle from Wagner's Tannhäuser. It is hopefully a few years yet before she sings this role on stage, but oh boy are we in for a treat. The combination of her vibrant toned voice, vivid characterisation and sense that she was enjoying herself made for a fine account of the aria, though here again her German was not ideal.
Io son l’umile ancella from act one of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur was just perfect, with a full vibrant line and singing which certainly brought a tingle to the spine. Angel Blue managed to both thrill and to make the aria touching, fining her voice down beautifully at the end. She closed with Violetta's Ah, fors’è lui Sempre libera from act one of Verdi's La Traviata. This was a very affecting performance, combining neat passagework with striking portamenti and some powerful climaxes.
Throughout the recital Angel Blue was supported by Catherine Miller's fine pianism. Their performance rightly drew a strong reaction from the capacity audience and we were treated to two encores, a gospel number King Jesus and I could have danced all night from The King and I.
Mozart: Alleluia — Exsultate Jubilate
Richard Strauss: Heimliche Aufforderung
Richard Strauss: Die Nacht
Richard Strauss: Allerseelen
Richard Strauss: Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten
Richard Strauss: Befreit
Sergei Rachmaninov: Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne
Sergei Rachmaninov: Vocalise
Sergei Rachmaninov: Zdes’khorosho
Sergei Rachmaninov: Vesenniye vodi
George Gershwin: Summertime — Porgy and Bess
Ruperto Chapi: Las Carceleras — Las hijas del Zebedeo
Giacomo Puccini: Vissi d'arte — Tosca
Richard Wagner: Dich teure Halle —Tannhäuser
Cilea: Io son l’umile ancella — Adriana Lecouvreur
Giuseppe Verdi: É strano!... Ah, fors’è lui Sempre libera — La traviata
Angel Blue (soprano); Catherine Miller (piano). Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall, London, 21 October 2013