Recently in Performances
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
11 Dec 2013
The Magic Flute at Los Angeles Opera: Silent Film Style
Los Angeles Opera's new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute opened on November 23, 2013. Brought here from the Komische Oper in Berlin where it premiered last year, the production is a multimedia rendition in the style of the British theater group 1927.
Los Angeles Opera's new production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute opened on November 23, 2013. Brought here from the Komische Oper in Berlin where it premiered last year, the production is a multimedia rendition in the style of the British theater group 1927. The concept by Suzanne Andrade, Paul Barritt, and Barrie Kosky combines opera with 1927's silent movie technique to produce a 'film noir' ambience. Throughout the evening singers interacted with the hand-drawn animation projected onto the screen to evoke the style of silent film. The use of projections instead of stick-built scenery is a growing trend among opera companies since it saves a good deal of time and money that can be used elsewhere.
Although designer Esther Bialas had to deal with the lighting from the projections, she made the singers look like their characters as they acted out the story in front of screens. Silent-film pictures with minimalist texts above Buster Keaton-styled images appeared during the opera's recitatives. Pianist Tamara Sanikidze accompanied them on an eighteenth century hammerklavier with music from Mozart's fantasias K 397 in D minor and K 475 in C minor. Her artistry was magnificent and the extra music provided an unexpected treasure.
Tamino (Lawrence Brownlee, at left) and Papageno (Rodion Pogossov, at right) are sent by the Three Ladies (Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, Peabody Southwell) to rescue Pamina.
The projected video sometimes involved nearly one thousand layers that had to be manually triggered by the stage manager so that the animation matched the conductor's tempi. Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon called the concept 'an extraordinary idea and an extraordinary execution of that idea', adding that 'for LA, the birthplace of movies, it's a perfect fit'. Barrie Kosky said that the rhythm of the music and the text had an enormous influence on the animation. He and his collaborators condensed the dialogues and transformed them into silent film 'intertitles' with piano accompaniment.
After a rousing rendition of the opera's overture, the voice of Lawrence Brownlee as Tamino resonated throughout the hall as he fought a huge dragon that wanted to devour him. He sang this aria and the rest of the role with beautifully cultivated tone. The Three Ladies who really did slay the monster were Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoé Velasco, and Peabody Southwell. Chang's radiant, lustrous soprano was particularly well focused. Velasco provided sumptuous harmony, but Southwell's low notes could have been stronger. Evan Boyer, the Sarastro, is a very young bass with a pleasant voice but his low tones could have been more robust. As the Queen of the Night, Erika Miklósa negotiated her phenomenally difficult arias without missing the tiniest note. Most coloratura sopranos don't sing the Queen for very long, but she has sung it for more than four hundred performances.
Thrown out of Sarastro's temple, Monostatos (Rodell Rosel) teams up with the Queen of the Night's Three Ladies (left to right: Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, Peabody Southwell).
Dressed as Nosferatu, Rodell Rosel portrayed an evil Monostatos whose amusing aria did not win him much sympathy. The tenor voice of Vladimir Dmitruk, the First Armed Man, made listeners wonder when he will sing a larger part. Philip Addis was a stentorian speaker and Valentin Anikin a secure Second Armed Man. Amanda Woodbury was a charmingly sexy Papagena and the three boys from the LA Opera Children's Chorus added a piquant note to the mix. Grant Gershon's adult chorus sang with stirring harmony in their hand-drawn, animated state. Conductor James Conlon, who regaled the audience with a delightful pre-show lecture, had a little difficulty synchronizing stage and pit in the first moments after the overture. After that, he conducted with delightfully varied tempi and rubato that brought out the lilting qualities of Mozart's music. Premieres are always fun at Los Angeles Opera and this one was the cream of the crop.
Cast and production information:
Tamino, Lawrence Brownlee; Pamina, Janai Brugger; The Queen of the Night, Erika Miklosa; Sarastro, Evan Boyer; Papageno, Rodion Pogossov; First Lady, Hae Ji Chang; Second Lady, Cassandra Zoé Velasco; Third Lady, Peabody Southwell; Monostatos, Rodell Rosel; Papagena, Amanda Woodbury; The Speaker, Phillip Addis; First Armored Man, Vladimir Dmitruk; Second Armored Man, Valentin Anikin; First Boy, Drew Pickett; Second Boy, Charles Connon; Third Boy, Jamal Jaffer; Conductor, James Conlon; Directors, Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky; Animation, Paul Barritt; Concept 1927 (Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt) and Barrie Kosky; Scenery and Costume Designer, Esther Bialas.