23 Oct 2013
Verdi’s Otello at Lyric Opera of Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened the season with a revival of its 2001 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened the season with a revival of its 2001 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello.
The cast for the first performance included Johan Botha as Otello, Ana María Martínez as Desdemona, both Falk Struckmann and Todd Thomas singing the role of Iago, the former withdrawing because of indisposition after Act I. This performance also featured the American debut of tenor Antonio Poli as Cassio, John Irvin as Roderigo, Julie Anne Miller as Emilia, Evan Boyer as Lodovico, Anthony Clark Evans as Montano, and Richard Ollarsaba as a herald. The production was originally directed by Sir Peter Hall; the present revival is directed by Ashley Dean. Bertrand de Billy makes his Lyric Opera debut conducting these performances, and Michael Black is officially Chorus Master with the start of the current season.
Johan Botha as Otello and Falk Struckmann as Iago
From the energetic start of the first act the role of the chorus of Cypriots is emphasized. As the people shout in their enthusiastic pleas for Otello’s success, Iago’s voice of negation is clearly audible. Struckmann’s Iago intoned with chilling force his contrary wishes for Otello’s failure and even demise in the “alvo frenetico del mar” (“frenzied bed of the sea.”). When the hero alights triumphantly on shore, he declares to the jubilant Cypriots “Esultate!” (“Rejoice!”). From this exciting start it was clear that Mr. Botha inhabits a role truly suited to his voice. The high dramatic notes and outbursts, so characteristic of Otello’s volatile nature, are produced effortlessly and with accurate, direct focus of pitch in Botha’s convincingly emotional delivery. In the subsequent duet between Iago and Roderigo the motive for jealousy and ill-will is revealed. Iago resents the recent promotion of Cassio to the rank of captain since he wished to receive the distinction himself. In his plan to exact vengeance Iago confides in Roderigo and urges the latter’s infatuation with Desdemona. Struckmann as Iago and Mr. Irvin in the role of Roderigo both showed a distinguished sense of lyrical line in the verbalization and coalescence of their respective emotions and thoughts. The sacrifice in this ruse will of course be Cassio who is encouraged to drink until he loses control. In this American debut Mr. Poli made a strong impression as a singing actor. His use of legato phrasing and fluid rise to high pitches is seamless, at the same time released in a physically demonstrative display of Cassio’s inebriation. (It was at this point in the ensemble that Struckmann’s voice began to suggest the strain from treatment for allergies which occasioned his withdrawal at the close of Act I.) Once Otello and Desdemona are awakened by the brawl between a drunken Cassio and incensed Montano, the seeming chaos is interrupted. Botha’s voice of authority cut through the choral pandemonium as he ordered “Abbasso le spade!” (“Lower your swords!”). His demotion of Cassio and reestablishment of order was sung as an extension of these commands with precise, idiomatic intonation. Once they are left alone Desdemona and Otello sing their celebrated love duet as a conclusion to Act I. For both Ms. Martínez and Mr. Botha the range between dramatic excitedness and tender intimacy is bridged naturally so that the tensions in this relationship develop logically in response to the surrounding events. When Botha declares “Vien Venere splende” (“Come Venus is shining”) as they return to their chamber, the projected tranquility for Otello covers a persona already shown to waver between extremes.
In Act II Mr. Thomas assumed the role of Iago. The substitution proceeded as seamlessly as could be hoped, since Thomas enhanced the villainous character with his further, bleak emphases. His rendition of Iago’s “Credo” was appropriately declamatory with an expected internalization of lines that tend toward self-reflection. After musing on this destructive resolve, Iago’s influence on Otello grows perceptibly. Thomas’s subtle repetition to Otello of the sentiment “Vigilate” (“Keep watch”), when speaking of Desdemona’s fidelity, began to function as a growing germ in the husband’s mind. At the entrance of Desdemona surrounded by her adoring followers Martínez sang a rising pure line on “Splende il cielo” (“the sky is bright”). Otello’s mood reacts to this optimistic depiction of nature until her first appeal is tendered on behalf of Cassio. In the following quartet, in which the couple is joined by the pair of Iago and his wife Emilia, Martínez’s voice surged with touching high pitches on “Dammi la dolce e lieta parola del perdon” (“Give me your sweet and happy word of pardon”). Emilia retrieves the handkerchief that Desdemona dropped, but she cannot withhold it from Iago and his plan. From this point forward the “Testimon” (“witness”), of which Thomas swears the possession so chillingly, will have palpable force. In their final duet Iago encourages Otello to exact vengeance at which juncture Botha released forte his most emotionally convincing top notes of the evening.
Johan Botha as Otello and Ana Maria Martinez as Desdemona
The dramatic tensions of Act III followed inevitably from the preparatory scheming and doubt. Topics of the misplaced handkerchief and pardon for Cassio are interwoven musically in the duet for the two principals. Once Otello curses Desdemona while scorning her fidelity Martínez expresses the wife’s reaction of hurt with a piercing high note on “le prime lagrime” (“the first tears”). Otello’s public image is stained when he later casts Desdemona to the ground in the presence of all at court, including Lodovico the ambassador from Venice. In this role bass Evan Boyer’s announcement of the Doge’s letter was intoned with a resonance which he transformed with surprise upon witnessing Otello’s behavior. When everyone but Otello and Iago has left the pubic court at the close of the act, Thomas’s Iago proclaims triumphantly “Ecco il Leone!” (“Behold the Lion!”) as he places his foot on the prostrate conqueror.
Desdemona’s murder in Act IV by her husband Otello is preceded by a scene in which she remains together with Emilia and confides to her by means of “La canzon del Salice” (“the Willow Song”). Martínez’s diction and carefully shaped phrases made this aria not only a touchingly sung and memorable showpiece, but also a lyrical extension of Desdemona’s character elaborating on her persona within the entire opera. In addition to ever-increasing rising pitches on “Salice,” Martínez infused “cantiamo” (“Let us sing”) with a repeated piano delicacy. Her final, heartfelt cry of farewell to Emilia indicated a resignation to what must inevitably befall her. Indeed, after making his entrance Botha’s mix of tenderness and violence as he first looked at Desdemona sleeping, and then confronted her in excited dialogue summarized in mere moments the dramatic conflict of this entire tragedy. Iago’s triumph is ultimately exposed as treachery, yet the lyrical declarations and outbursts of love survive beyond the violent end for Desdemona and Otello.