Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May I594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Marina Rebeka as Violetta, Act 1. [Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography]
22 Jan 2014

La traviata, Chicago

In a staging shared with Houston Grand Opera and the Canadian Opera Company, Lyric Opera of Chicago presented recently a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata.

La traviata, Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Marina Rebeka as Violetta, Act 1. [Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography]

 

The title role was sung by Marina Rebeka in her company debut; Joseph Calleja repeated his success as Alfredo Germont; the father of Alfredo, Giorgio Germont, was performed by baritone Quinn Kelsey. The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus were conducted by Massimo Zanetti.

The first and final acts of Verdi’s opera were united in the visual depiction of Violetta Valery’s domain, while the atmosphere attendant on both depictions showed a considerable difference. During the overture to the opera the audience was able to witness, through a film-like curtain suspended before the stage, the protagonist Violetta helped by her maid as she stepped into a ball-gown and train. As the strings played their achingly wistful melody during the overture Violetta donned both feathers and wings to prepare herself further for the festive party in her home. This element of belle époque artifice continued throughout the production lending a credible tone to the celebratory scenes in the later acts.

From her first lines of invitation, “Flora, amici …” and “Miei cari, sedete …” [“Flora, my friends …” and “My dear friends, please be seated”], Ms. Rebeka had full command of Violetta’s role. She sings with a comfortable approach to the character’s shifting vocal lines, uses decoration judiciously, and remains involved in the stage action as hostess at her salon. At Alfredo Germont’s introduction Mr. Calleja assumes a tentative yet searching approach, so that the audience is able to sense his vivid interest not only in the setting but also in its hostess. Calleja’s admirable line and embellishments in the “Brindisi” [“Libiamo” (“Drink”)] are models of bel canto Verdian singing. Individual notes are projected clearly, just as the intensity and color of Calleja’s decorations emphasize an involvement progressing beyond infatuation. When he responds to Violetta’s questions concerning this passionate interest, Calleja introduces his self-defense with a suspenseful diminuendo before describing his unexpected love already for the duration of a year. With a seamless flow of legato expression Calleja outlines his character’s emotional struggle as summarized finally with a tear-laden effect on “Croce e delizia” [“Cross and ecstasy”]. Rebeka’s response is equally moving while she pronounces “un cosi eroico amore” [“such an heroic love”] with a rising line of decoration. During their rapid exchange of plans to meet again when the flower has withered, both principals sang “domani” [“tomorrow”] in piano intimacy. As a means to depicting their growing, shared love, this hushed glance into the characters’ feeling enhanced for the audience the resolve expressed in the duet as concluded.

During an introspective solo, when left alone to ponder the changes affecting her current state, Violetta doubts at first the possibility of authentic love. In the first part of her aria, “Ah, fors’è lui” [“Ah, perhaps he is the one”], Rebeka uses her skills to sing and modulate from soft to loud as though involved in an emphatic conversation with her heart. The incomprehensible, or “misterioso,” is sung by Rebeka softly and in awe, whereas her voice blooms in volume under the weight of the “croce.” During the ensuing “Sempre libera” [“Forever free”] the rapid runs were executed cleanly and forte notes were taken as pure, lyrical cries of emotion. Rebeka succeeds at integrating this showpiece aria smoothly into the drama while at the same time leaving a strong impression of her bel canto approach. Toward the close of the act Calleja’s repeated offstage appeals of “Croce” extended the emotional web for both protagonists even further.

At the start of Act Two Alfredo, while alone, muses on his happiness in the soliloquy “Lunge da lei per me” [“When she is far away”]. Calleja’s breath control and embellishments on “il passato” and “Io vivo quasi in ciel” [“the past” and “I seem to live in heaven”] underline his dream-like state before the rude awakening of Violetta’s financial sacrifice, about which he learns unexpectedly from Annina. In his aria of response, “Oh mio rimorso! Oh, infamia!” [“Oh remorse! Oh infamy!”], Alfredo is indeed jolted into recognizing his position. Calleja performs this aria with true emotional vigor and takes the repeat with the effect of emphasizing his resolve. Act Two of La traviata belongs, of course, just as much to Giorgio Germont, the father of Alfredo. Mr. Kelsey demonstrates a solid command of this role, his exciting baritone drawing on resonant shades of nuance especially during his introductory scene with Violetta. When making an appeal to his son’s lover Kelsey includes individual decoration to enhance the spirit of his request. His sense of rubato was effective in “genitor” [“father”] just as was the embellishment with which he sang “L’angiol consolatore” [“Consoling angel”]. As if in response to this moving portrayal of paternal need, Rebeka’s Violetta sang “Dite alla giovane” [“Tell your daughter”] with a decidedly slow tempo, so that each word was pronounced in fulfillment of her proposed actions. Both singers were then united in a rising line on “sacrifizio” as Violetta subsequently promised to leave Alfredo.

The following scene of Act Two showed Kelsey just as much to advantage. His performance of “Di Provenza il mar” [“From Provence … the sea”], addressed to a disconsolate Alfredo, was noteworthy for its disciplined approach to phrasing. The aria was performed in its uncut form, so that the audience was privileged to hear a polished performance of a baritone staple which is so often trimmed in other productions. Toward the close of this scene the orchestra, perhaps out of sympathy with the anguish expressed between father and son, played its accompaniment too loudly. In the final part of Act Two, at the salon of Flora, the costumed dancers and additional performers fit well into the overall setting of the party. After the intimate duet between Alfredo and Violetta - leading to anger, misunderstanding, and his public denunciation - Germont père returns and participates in a final ensemble. Here Kelsey’s superb legato could be traced throughout the group, while Rebeka performed her part with searing top notes as she lay on her side. Calleja’s lines “rimorso io n’ho” [“I am sick with remorse”], with equally notable projection, remained the dominant impression at the close of the ensemble.

Act Three is staged at first through the same curtain as at the start of Act One, yet now Violetta lies ill and weak as attended by Annina. After Dr. Grenvil hints discretely that Violetta has only several hours to live, the maidservant is sent off to perform errands. When left alone Violetta sings “Addio, del passato” [“Farewell … of the past”], which Rebeka performed with multiple high notes shading to diminuendo. Her vision of “La tomba ai mortali” [“The tomb for us mortals”], as expressed in this performance, was clearly visible to the protagonist despite a letter announcing the imminent arrival of Alfredo. Although he arrives shortly before Violetta succumbs, their final duet, “Parigi, o cara” [“From Paris, dear”] remains ironically also a vision. The tragedy of her death renders this final lyrical happiness, with Calleja’s leading lines answered touchingly by Rebeka’s sustained responses, a poignant conclusion to this excellent new production of Verdi’s masterpiece.

Salvatore Calomino

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):