Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
19 Nov 2013
Arizona Opera Presents a Fine Flying Dutchman
Richard Wagner wrote: "The voyage through the Norwegian reefs made a wonderful impression on my imagination; the legend of the Flying Dutchman, which the sailors verified, took on a distinctive, strange coloring that only my sea adventures could have given it.”
On November 15, 2013, Arizona Opera celebrated Richard Wagner’s two hundredth birthday with a new production of his first success, The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Holländer). Wagner was inspired to write this opera after he fled from Riga where his creditors were hot on his trail. While conducting at the court theater there, he and his first wife, Minna, had run up huge debts. When he lost the job, there was no way he could pay. The court confiscated their passports but they escaped the debt collectors by illegally crossing the border into Prussia. There they boarded a ship for an eight-day passage to London. They encountered terrible storms and high winds which forced their sailing ship to endure a three-week rollercoaster ride as its captain sought shelter along the coast of Norway. The stormy seas made the composer think of Nordic legends, one of which was the story of the Dutchman who could only return to land once in seven years.
Later he wrote: "The voyage through the Norwegian reefs made a wonderful impression on my imagination; the legend of The Flying Dutchman, which the sailors verified, took on a distinctive, strange coloring that only my sea adventures could have given it.” Several of Wagner’s protagonists were men who lived outside of society. Not only does the Dutchman materialize out of the ether, so does Lohengrin. The Dutchman is a wanderer and so are Siegmund, Tannhäuser, and Wotan. The Flying Dutchman was a seminal opera for him.
This opera requires a large orchestra that would not fit in the Phoenix Symphony Hall pit. Since Arizona Opera wanted to use the full complement of musicians, the players were at the back of the stage and the action was mounted on flooring built over the orchestra pit. It brought the singers much closer to the audience and all the overtones and colors in their voices were easily heard. Director Bernard Uzan gave us a realistic interpretation of the story while Peter Dean Beck’s platforms and props made it come to life with the help of this most capable cast. Most of the scenery consisted of Douglas Provost’s visually piquant projections, which included nautical images by Gustave Doré, one of Wagner’s favorite artists. The projection seen upon entry contained portraits of Wagner and Doré.
With the stage in this arrangement, there could be no curtain, so after the overture, Daland, Raymond Aceto, strode onstage from the wings to ask the Steersman to take the next watch. Aceto has a magnificent bass sound and it was all the more evident with him in front of the orchestra. For the Steersman, Christian Reinert, it was not a good thing. He had trouble reaching his high notes and there was no orchestral cover to hide any of it.
Baritone Mark Delavan was a passionate Dutchman whose cavernous voice surged out over the audience with tonal opulence. A powerful Senta, Lori Phillips’ bright sound energized the text and made her rendition exciting. She is just beginning to emerge as a true dramatic soprano but she is already singing with a distinctively colored sound. It has been many years since a soprano brought as much exhilaration to this role as Phillips did on Saturday night.
Corey Bix was a credible Eric who would have made Senta a good husband had she not been infatuated with the Dutchman and his legend. Young artist program member, Beth Lytwynec showed her ability as a character actress with her portrayal of Senta's work supervisor, Mary, as an old woman. Her singing showed her sonorous, youthful voice, however. Henri Venanzi’s chorus was relegated to a slightly raised area behind the orchestra so they could not move about freely. Although they did perform some dance movements, they made their part clear with robust singing. Conductor Joseph Resigno's lyrical interpretation of this early Wagner score brought out its relationship to the nineteenth century operas that preceded it. His players responded with an exciting rendition that helped make this one of the best performances heard recently at Arizona Opera.
Cast and production information:
The Dutchman, Mark Delavan; Daland, Ramond Aceto; Senta, Lori Phillips; Erik, Corey BIx; Steersman, Christian Reinert; Mary, Beth Lytwynec; Director, Bernard Uzan; Conductor, Joseph Resigno; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Lighting and Projection Design, Douglas Provost; Scenery and Props, Peter Dean Beck.