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.
08 Jan 2014
Otello in Genoa
Forget Shakespeare, this was distinctly an Otello without the ‘h’. It was Italian melodramma to its core, the collaboration of its metteur en scène Davide Livermore, wunderkind conductor Andrea Battistoni and its Desdemona, Maria Agresto.
There was some foreign intervention, the Otello of American (Wisconsin) tenor Gregory Kunde and the Iago of Spanish baritone Carlos Àlvarez. The American is one of Europe’s leading bel canto tenors who sang Rossini’s Otello long before taking on Verdi’s Moor, in fact his role debut as the Verdi Otello was in the premiere of this production that happened in Valencia, Spain in June 2013 with these same three principals (Zubin Mehta conducting).
Kunde is a bel canto singer who finds unexpected lyricism in this gigantic showpiece usually undertaken by the spinto voices. Kunde’s voice resonated with more depth and beauty than his Rossini roles elicit, with a substantial force of voice somewhat rounder rather than the cutting tone that serves him well in Rossini. The result of this lighter voice in Genoa was a vulnerable Otello, a man neurotically tormented by jealousy, not simply possessed by it. This lyricism grounded the Livermore production as an exposition of neurosis, Desdemona and Iago components of Otello's neurosis.
Àlvarez possesses a darkly colored voice, a black tonality often found in basses who must create the dread associated with opera’s villains — though a baritone Iago is maybe the ugliest of all operatic villains. Àlvarez’ lack of tonal warmth plus his reserve of power, that of a true Verdi baritone, his slim stature and his head endowed with snaky black locks of hair made an evil character who oscillated between feigned passivity and triumphant domination. True to the end he did not dash toward a cowardly escape but ceremoniously descended off the upper edge of the stage, no longer a player in Otello's hell.
Maria Agresta as Desdemona, Gregory Kunde as Otello. Photo by Marcello Orselli
Soprano Maria Agresto as Desdemona revealed levels of vulnerability to human instinct that Shakespeare ignores (the Bard hides deeper character revelations in the phrase picked up by Verdi and Boito — “born under an evil star”). This splendid young soprano is of powerful and complex voice, fearlessly mounting to pianissimo high notes that permitted hints of risk which added edge to character. Of complex persona as well she circled Otello in the Act I duet almost dancing as an animal in rut. And there was more circling — flirtatious at the least — in her Act II meeting with Cassio. La Agresto sang her final prayer lying face down on the floor, a fallen angel, reflected as the whore Otello had made her.
This spectacular casting was topped off by the Cassio of Angelo Fiori, a very tall, very present, young Italian who moved a bit like a dancer. Like Desdemona he was wigged in long blond hair unabashedly establishing a physical connection to her that ignited Otello’s neurosis and palpably inflamed the innate terror of the corni (horns) of all males (Italians) present in the theater.
Like melodramma and like verismo, these characters were possessed by big emotions, clearly stated at the beginning and simply awaiting brutal dénouement. This was Act III, the Venetian scene, when 26 year-old conductor Andrea Battistoni let loose with volumes that equaled, maybe exceeded the opening storm, volumes that were spine chilling in intensity, and dramatically ironic in that they established the enormity of the murderous emotion yet to come. This young conductor obviously relished the brutality of the Livermore conception, visibly participating with the stage by demonstratively pushing the chorus to and beyond its limits. All chorus scenes were huge, the Act II garden chorus seated, aggressively taunting more than praising the purity of Desdemona.
Act II Garden Chorus. Photo by Marcello Orselli
These days metteur en scène Davide Livermore is the most visible stage director on Italy’s more adventurous stages. Like all of his recent projects here he was not only stage director but also the set designer with the collaboration of Giò Forma, a Milanese design company that does big events like the America’s Cup 2012 and the MTV Awards. Here the concept was a vortex like structure (descending concentric circles) with a central, focal disk, like the pupil of an eye. The pupil moved, rising above the structure to transport Otello and Desdemona to the heavens of desire in their love duet. It elevated its front edge from which Iago delivered his “Credo in un dio crudele” at which point the edges of the concentric circles illuminated in red lines (Mr. Livermore is credited for the lighting).
Costume design is credited to Mr. Livermore, wigs a signature element of character (the long blond wigs of Desdemona and Cassio, the long black tresses of Iago that may or may not have been a wig, the identical ship-like, punk shapes of the wigs for the women’s chorus). The swaths of cape colors illuminated character — Iago in luminous metallic silver, Otello ultimately in priestly vestment, a red-lined white cape, that he carefully took off to administer death to Desdemona. Stage movement was abstract, actors moving on the vortex lines of an unstoppable downward vacuum, finding the most powerful, emotional place on the structure to deliver their signature statements. Otello at the end again elevated on the pupil of the eye, this time alone reliving the “bacio” to Verdi’s trombones whispering the opera’s opening storm.
Rarely do operatic forces converge with the artistic power created on the Carlo Felice stage by this production.
Cast and production information:
Otello: Gregory Kunde; Jago: Carlos Àlvarez; Cassio: Angelo Fiore; Roderigo: Naoyuki Okada; Lodovico: Seung Pil Choi; Montano: Claudio Ottino; Un Araldo: Gian Piero Barattero; Desdemona: Maria Agresta; Emilia: Valeria Sepe. Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Carlo Felice. Conductor: Andrea Battistoni; Metteur en scène: Davide Livermore; Scenery: Davide Livermore and Giò Forma; Costumes: Davide Livermore and Marianna Fracasso; Lighting: Davide Livermore. Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, Italy. January 3, 2014.