Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.