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),
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
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