Recently in Performances
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with
its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples
venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and
moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more
positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy
of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such
illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara
Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors
Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark
streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It
is that exclusive—you can’t even find the
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.
A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic
concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.
Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the
composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who
has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman
composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
15 Oct 2013
Fun Loving H.M.S. Pinafore Opens Arizona Opera
The star of the show was the agile Robert Orth as Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. A fine operatic baritone, Orth’s patter was machine gun fast, crisp, and completely understandable.
Of the fourteen works that librettist William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) wrote together, H.M.S. Pinafore is one of the most popular. Its premiere took place on May 25, 1878, at the Opera Comique in Paris before a receptive audience. Although a summer heat wave dampened ticket sales, by September the show was playing to full houses. That same year the first unauthorized version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pinafore premiered in the United States and "Pinafore-Mania" began to sweep the nation. Dolls and other items based on its characters flew off store shelves while media of the time referred to lines from the show.
Approximately one hundred fifty unauthorized productions of Pinafore could be seen in the United States in 1878 and 1879, and not one of their producers paid a cent to the work’s creators. That is why the librettist and the composer boarded a steamship for New York hoping to set matters straight. When they arrived on November 6, 1879, a reporter from the New York Herald interviewed them, and one hundred and thirty-four years later, that interview is online here.
For many years afterwards Gilbert and Sullivan sued various entities in the U.S. in an attempt to establish control over their work and claim the royalties due them. They never succeeded. Pinafore opened in New York at the Fifth Avenue Theater on December 1, 1879. Unfortunately, the authorized version of the show only ran one month because most New Yorkers had already seen local productions.
Robert Orth as Sir Joseph Porter, Curt Olds as Captain Corcoran, and the Arizona Opera Chorus
On October 11, Arizona Opera open its 2013-1014 season in Phoenix with Tara Faircloth’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pinafore. As the main feature of his scenic design, Douglas Provost used a set from Tri Cities Opera of Binghamton, NY, which had various levels and compartments that allowed room for the performance of all the shenanigans a comic opera could call for. Colorful, detailed costumes from AT Jones and Sons of Baltimore set the time firmly in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The ladies wore intricate bustles, the sailors sported natty looking uniforms, and the ship’s officers were decked out with tons of gold braid. Director Tara Faircloth devised various types of comic antics for the cast but they never interfered with the singing. Every cast member had good timing and the highest ranks took the steepest pratfalls. There were titles for the sung numbers, but some of the spoken dialogue was rather fast and a bit hard to catch.
As Ralph Rackstraw, David Portillo moved well and his crème caramel lyric tenor voice rang out with passion for Josephine, his true love. Sara Gartland looked enchanting as Josephine and sang with an expanse of surging sound. Her voice was not as sweet as Portillo’s but their tones blended when they sang together. The star of the show was the agile Robert Orth as Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty, whom Josephine’s father wanted her to marry. A fine operatic baritone, Orth’s patter was machine gun fast, crisp, and completely understandable.
Mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely created a fascinating character as the lady whom Sir Joseph describes as “plump and pleasing Little Buttercup”. An excellent comedienne with an hourglass figure, she sang her part with an English contralto sound. Baritone Curt Olds has a long history of appearances in musical comedy which he put to good use in Pinafore. As the Captain, he officiated over hi-jinks galore.
Andrew Gray provided a bit of serious respite as the grumbling Dick Deadeye while the talents of two members of Arizona Opera’s young artist program, Beth Lytwynec and Calvin Griffin, added a great deal to the audience’s enjoyment. Henri Venanzi’s small chorus sang with impeccable harmonies and conductor Rob Fisher’s fast, light approach to the score elicited taught, springy rhythms from the ensemble. Arizona Opera gave its Phoenix audience a thoroughly joyous rendition of this lighthearted work.
Cast and production information:
Sir Joseph Porter, Robert Orth; Captain Corcoran, Curt Olds; Ralph Rackstraw, David Portillo; Josephine, Sara Gartland; Little Buttercup, Susan Nicely; Dick Deadeye, Andrew Gray; The Boatswain, Chris Carr; Cousin Hebe, Beth Lytwynec; The Mate, Calvin Griffin; Conductor, Rob Fisher; Director, Tara Faircloth; Chorus Master Henri Venanzi; Scenic Designer, Douglas Provost; Lighting Designer, Gary Eckhart; Costumes, AT Jones.