17 Nov 2013
The Barber of Seville in San Francisco
San Francisco Opera wraps up its fall season of five operas with what it insists is a new production of Rossini’s comic masterpiece.
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.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
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 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.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments: “I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
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.
San Francisco Opera wraps up its fall season of five operas with what it insists is a new production of Rossini’s comic masterpiece.
It is the staging of Spanish stage director Emilio Sagi (pronounced saw-he) that has many of the ideas he first explored at Madrid’s Teatro Real in a big production that then traveled to Los Angeles, both cities likely harbors for its witty and affectionate quoting of classic hispanic flamenco postures. This San Francisco Barber is a slimmed down, re-elaborated version of the original Sagi conception that will soon be shared with the Lithuanian National Opera.
There was much to like on opening night, notably the polished performances of Count Almaviva and his future countess, characters also known as Lindoro sung by Mexican tenor Janvier Camarena and Rosina sung by American mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.
Mr. Camarena provided the high points of the evening, accompanying himself on the guitar for the serenade with virtuoso plucking technique, acting the music teacher with the skill of a sure comedian. To top it off he gave us the rare “Cessa di più risistere” later known and now better known as “Non piu mesta” from La cenerentola in a dazzling display of fioratura and high notes that brought the house down.
Mlle. Leonard, if not of pure hispanic origin (her mother was Argentine) even so matched Mr. Camarena’s latin excitement and brilliant singing with a presence that exuded refined fun and projected mature vocal and histrionic confidence — a poised Rosina who knew what she wanted and how to get it. Once a student at the Joffrey Ballet School she was well prepared to snap out flamenco poses that easily outclassed those of the official ballerinas.
There were moments of fine, idiomatic conducting. Italian conductor Giuseppe Finzi effectively captured the ephemeral Rossini ethos from time to time (the joy and blatant fun of singing difficult, florid music with aplomb), particularly in his support of the arias of these two singers. As well the maestro often caught the transparent rhythms of the big ensembles where three to six complex and sometimes more vocal lines compete with complete musical ease, conviction and wit.
The set, designed by Spaniard Llorenç Corbella, is quite different from the Madrid production. Here it is essentially a narrow, diagonally raked platform thrusting upstage, with an adjacent abstract black area (no scenery) accessible to various contraptions on wheels and lots of choristers. At best the set worked well, the rake providing a dynamic line on which the principals moved up and down, on and off, the black area serving as a space to stage business that elaborates the various musical numbers.
Besides the witty gloss of the flamenco poses, the Sagi production was embellished with lots of spoke wheel vehicles (bicycle like) that gave a sense of lightness and fleetness to the staging that flouted period (century or decade). The costumes as well were embellished with witty abstractions of Sevillian decorations that had little to do with period and everything to do taking costumes onto an abstract musical level.
Various human bodies and objects crawled out from under the raked platform and props flew down from above from time to time to further negate any sense of real time or real space. Barber’s various numbers were arbitrarily placed on the ramp or in the black space and finally everything more or less disappeared anyway to reveal a night sky filled with fireworks (projected). In short director Sagi and his designer Corbella concocted a heady framework for the music of Rossini’s masterpiece. It would have been truly brilliant had it gotten off the ground.
Lucas Meachem as Figaro, Janvier Camarena as Almaviva, Alessandro Corbelli as Bartolo, Andrea Silvestrelli as Basilio, Catherine Cook as Berta, Isabel Leonard as Rosina [Photo by Cory Weaver]
Unfortunately stage director Sagi was more interested in exploring these interesting theatrical ideas than in staging his singers. This lack of a unified and focused dramatic intelligence resulted in the feeling that Rossini’s headstrong characters were arbitrarily walking through the classic comedic process rather than bringing it to life.
A plodding succession of the events of the story we know so well resulted. This sense was exacerbated in the pit. While conductor Finzi did have his truly splendid moments, and there many of them he could not impose a larger musical unity over an act or the evening, evidenced by the overture that ignited no excitement whatsoever. There was a sense of relief when nine dancers appeared to maybe add some life with a bit of abstracted flamenco movement. Alas the choreography was clumsy and meaningless, later met with feelings of dread whenever the dancing became lengthy.
A.J. Glueckert as Ambrogio, Catherine Cook as Berta [Photo by Cory Weaver]
Catherine Cook was the Berta who was as lightheaded as Rosina was weighty minded. She made her aria another of the evening’s high points with the help of her adoring Ambrogio, Adler Fellow A.J. Glueckert who shined as a silent, physical performance artist given he has hardly anything to sing. Bass baritone Hadleigh Adams brought snap and flair to the brief role of the Officer, not allowing his few moments on stage to go unnoticed.
Andrea Silvestrelli brought the considerable panache he provides Rigoletto’s Sparafucile to the role of Basilio. This major role stood out as miscast, and as a vocal misfit into Rossini’s vocal and musical textures. Much the same can be said of the Figaro of Lucas Meachem who confused bellowing with singing and strutting with acting. Italian bass baritone Alessandro Corbelli is a small scale if accomplished Bartolo who here disappeared into the melée rather than making himself the cause of it all.
Of the many, many Barbiere productions encountered over the years, this one stacks up among the best. Its glaring flaws could have easily been overcome with more careful casting, conducting, lighting and directing.
Cast and production information:
Figaro: Lucas Meachem; Rosina: Isabel Leonard; Count Almaviva: Javier Camarena; Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli; Don Basilio: Andrea Silvestrelli; Berta: Catherine Cook; Ambrogio: A.J. Glueckert; Fiorello: Ao Li; An Officer: Hadleigh Adams; Notary: Andrew Truett. San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Conductor: Giuseppe Finzi. Stage director: Emilio Sagi; Set Designer: Llorenc Corbella; Costume Designer: Pepa Ojanguren; Lighting Designer: Gary Marder; Choreographer: Nuria Castejón. San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. November 13, 2013.