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.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
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.
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 Threshold”.
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 performance!
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.
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.