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.
07 Nov 2013
Madama Butterfly, Chicago
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current new production of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, an effort shared with Houston Grand Opera and the Grand Théâtre de Genève, tends to emphasize emotional involvements against a backdrop of spare sets.
This exposure of the individual characters, their hopes
and conflicts, requires that the performers communicate musically in the midst
of shifting narrative turns and a gamut of anguished feelings. The original
production was directed by Michael Grandage with sets and costumes by
Christopher Oram; for Chicago the production is directed by Louisa Muller.
Cio-Cio-San / Butterfly and Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton are sung by Amanda
Echalaz and James Valenti, both making house debuts. Butterfly’s attendant
Suzuki is performed by Maryann McCormick and the American Consul Sharpless by
Christopher Purves, the latter also appearing here for the first time. The
Lyric Opera Orchestra is led by Marco Armiliato, who makes his Chicago Lyric
conducting debut with these performances.
At the start of Act One the Japanese marriage broker Goro, sung by David
Cangelosi, and Pinkerton discuss business matters relating to the house which
the protagonist has rented for his current relationship with Cio-Cio-San. When
describing both the household members in the service of the bride, and guests
who will attend the ceremony with Pinkerton, Cangelosi’s Goro is masterfully
acted and sung with obsequious gestures and with a good sense of idiomatic
delivery. Mr. Valenti’s Pinkerton seems appropriately distracted when hearing
Goro’s recitation of domestic details. Valenti’s facial expression remained
unchanged during this scene and the following exchange with Sharpless who
enters in a breathless rush to witness on site Pinkerton’s plans. Valenti’s
lyrical spirit emerges when he sings “Dovunque al mondo’ (“Everywhere in
the world”) in his soliloquy to Sharpless on the wandering and risk-taking
Yankee sailor. It is surely this attempt to stay in character, seeking pleasure
until he settles someday with a proper “sposa americana,” that explains
Valenti’s grinning stage demeanor and understated vocal line. At times both
he and Purves’s Sharpless were unfortunately challenged in their vocal
projection by overly vigorous orchestral volume.
As Cio-Cio-San enters with her companions, the excitedness of the young
women is appreciated by their host. Despite her own demure behavior vis-à-vis
Pinkerton this Butterfly is skilled at giving orders to her retinue of serving
companions. Ms. Echalaz sings with secure pitch, at first investing her line
with a noticeable amount of vibrato as a means to expressing her mix
of ardor and nervous expectation. Once her character feels more comfortable in
this conjugal setting, to which she assigns blind faith, Echalaz varies the
expression of vocal color. She describes her few treasured possessions with a
nonchalant tone for the pot of rouge, yet her description of the “cosa
sacra” (“sacred possession”) — the knife of her father’s suicide —
is pronounced with pure, unwavering focus. Once the Bonze, uncle of Cio-Cio-San
and a Buddhist priest, enters and curses her resolve, the ultimate societal and
personal isolation of the young woman has begun. As the Bonze, David Govertsen
delivered an appropriately menacing and lyrically convincing impression, while
also competing with an unyielding orchestral force. The departure of
authorities and extended family leave the protagonists alone for perhaps their
most celebrated expressive music in Puccini’s score. Valenti and Echalaz sang
this duet touchingly from his rising vocal line on “Viene la sera” (“The
night approaches”) to Butterfly’s naïve pronouncements “Ah dolce notte!
quante stelle!” (“Oh, beautiful night! So many stars!”). At times during
this first and the following acts the voices seemed muffled as though the set,
constructed of graduated panels, were absorbing some of the performers’ vocal
Amanda Echalaz as Butterfly and James Valenti as Pinkerton
Act Two of Madama Butterfly begins as an extended duet for
Cio-Cio-San and Suzuki, the latter despairing over the failure of Pinkerton to
return within three years. Ms. McCormick’s Suzuki featured some of the most
expressive dramatic singing of this performance, as she released rich, dark
pitches in her warnings of their precarious financial household. In reply
Cio-Cio-San’s famous aria “Un bel di” (“One fine day”), assuring her
faith in Pinkerton’s return, was sung with careful attention to top notes
alternating with lines sung piano for their introspective emphasis.
Sharpless interrupts this intimate scene and tries repeatedly to communicate
the contents of Pinkerton’s letter. Purves’s Counsul showed the ideal mix
of anguish and frustration in both acting and singing as he tries to broach the
topic with Butterfly. Once the cannon-shot is sounded, Butterfly is again lost
in her world of determined faith: she and her child, with Suzuki joining in
support, scatter flower petals to signal their welcome of Pinkerton.
The “Humming Chorus” performed between Acts Two and Three was subtly
audible as the central structure of the stage revolved. In the final scenes
Echalaz’s descent into renunciation of her life and child was as complete as
her earlier trajectory of hope. Pinkerton’s brief appearance and aria,
“Addio, fiorito asil,” (“Farewell, flowery refuge”) was here sung by
Valenti with the ability to integrate this vocal piece into the dramatic flow.
His brief lyrical outburst simply added in this production to the tragedy as
Madam Butterfly proceeds to the decision that she realizes is now inevitable.
Click here for cast and production information.