Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
30 Jan 2014
Puccini’s La bohème at Arizona Opera
On January 25, 2014, Arizona Opera presented Candace Evans production of Puccini’s La bohème with exciting young artists Zach Borichevsky and Corinne Winters as a romantic Rodolfo and his charming but not-so-innocent Mimì.
Giacomo Puccini and Ruggiero Leoncavallo both wrote operas based on Henri Murger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, but their operas are very different. Not only does each tell different parts of Murger’s wide ranging Scènes, Puccini and his librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, changed much of the story. For one thing, they made Mimì more faithful to Rodolfo, and thus much more acceptable to a bourgeois audience. The distribution of voices is also quite different. In the Puccini Mimì and Musetta are sopranos; Rodolfo is a tenor and Marcello a baritone. In the Leoncavallo, Mimì is a soprano, Musetta a mezzo, Rodolfo a baritone, and Marcello a tenor.
The Puccini opera starts with the men in their garret, but Leoncavallo puts the whole group in the Café Momus where they attempt to “dine and dash” because they have no money. His Act II opens on the repossession of Musetta’s property because her ex-lover is refusing to pay her debts. By Act III, Musetta, who had again taken up with Marcello, is leaving him because she is tired of poverty. She knows that Mimì is living with a nobleman and she hopes to do that too. Mimì returns to Rodolfo in the final act, but she is very ill. She dies as the bells chime for Christmas day. Although it might be fun to see the Leoncavallo opera someday, it is easy to see why Puccini’s story, even without his exquisite music, makes it the more popular work.
On January 25, 2014, Arizona Opera presented Candace Evans's production of Puccini’s La bohème with exciting young artists Zach Borichevsky and Corinne Winters as a romantic Rodolfo and his charming but not-so-innocent Mimì. Evans gave us a realistic interpretation of the libretto staged on sets by Peter Dean Beck. The first and fourth acts took place in a frigid attic room that radiated its cold out into the audience. A dual level set provided adequate space for the joyous outdoor Christmas Eve scene that formed the opera’s second act. It was a perfect background for Andrea Shokery’s grand entrance as the flirtatious Musetta. She sang her coquettish waltz song with dulcet tones, all the time trying to rekindle the interest her old lover, Marcello. When her shoe began to pinch her foot, she asked her escort, Alcindoro, to help her remove it. As he pulled off the shoe she pulled up her several skirts, to his embarrassment and the amusement of the audience.
As Marcello, baritone Daniel Teadt still loved her despite her acerbic personality, and he was happy to take her into his arms. Puccini never gave the lovesick Marcello an aria but Teadt had some beautifully lyric moments in Act III. Chris Carr was a gregarious Schaunard and Thomas Hammons made the most of his two character roles, Benoit, the ineffectual landlord, and Alcindoro, the old dandy who gave up a great deal of dignity to have a beautiful young woman on his arm. Young artist program member Calvin Griffin acquitted himself well as the intellectual Colline. Together, these artists evoked great depth of emotion with their ability to color their tones and act with their voices. Although the story of this opera is sad, Henri Venanzi’s choristers made the second act a pleasant interlude in Mimì’s inevitable decline. At the end, Rodolfo was the last to realize she has died, but when he finally did it was heartbreaking. Joel Revzen led the Arizona Opera Orchestra in a lucid reading of the score that brought out to poignancy of the story. This was a fine performance of the Puccini masterwork and the exquisite playing of the orchestra was a large part of it.
Cast and production information:
Rodolfo, Zach Borichevsky; Mimì. Corinne Winters; Musetta, Andrea Shokery; Marcello, Daniel Teadt; Collie, Calvin Griffin; Schaunard, Chris Carr; Benoit/Alcindoro, Thomas Hammons; Parpignol, Dennis Tamblyn; Conductor, Joel Revzen; Director Candace Evans; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Scenic Designer, Peter Dean Beck; Costumes, A. T, Jones and Sons; Lighting, Douglas Provost.