Recently in Performances
Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.
On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
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.