Recently in Performances
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.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
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.