Recently in Reviews
Wigmore Hall has announced the 25 young singer and pianist duos from around the world who have been shortlisted for this prestigious competition, which takes place at Wigmore Hall in September with the generous support of the Kohn Foundation. Details were announced on 27 April during a recital by Milan Siljanov, who won top prize in the 2015 Competition.
Garsington Opera's thrilling new commission for the 2017 Season, Silver Birch, will feature over 180 participants from the local community aged 8-80, including students from primary and secondary schools, members of the local military community, student Foley artists under the guidance of Pinewood Studios and members of Wycombe Women’s Aid.
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
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.
06 Feb 2014
Pagliacci Opens San Diego Opera's 2014 Season
On January 28, San Diego Opera presented Pagliacci as the opening production of the 2014 season. Often staged along with another opera, such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, this Pagliacci faced the opera world alone.
Director Andrew Sinclair brought out all the passion and violence of its verismo story and did not allow an intermission to dilute any of its dramatic punch.
Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) grew up in a small town in Calabria and he set his opera Pagliacci in just such a place. The composer’s father was a judge and he said he got the idea for the original story on which he based his opera from one of his father’s cases. That may or may not be true because French author Catulle Mendès thought the story of the opera closely resembled his 1874 play La Femme de Tabarin in which a clown murders his wife. Leoncavallo wanted to compose a verismo opera because he had already witnessed the popularity of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana in 1890.
Leoncavallo knew that story would make a good opera so he used it in writing his libretto. Then he set it to dramatic music. He had been trying unsuccessfully to get one of his operas staged for years. Pagliacci turned the tide. He was able to get it performed in 1892 at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan where it was a triumph with audience and critics alike. Only its conductor, Arturo Toscanini, found it wanting. Mendès sued Leoncavallo for plagiarism, but dropped the suit when he was accused of copying some of his works. Toscanini’s comment was easily forgotten and Pagliacci was soon on its way to worldwide popularity.
Originally titled Il pagliaccio (The Clown), the creator of the role of Tonio, Victor Maurel, asked that the name be changed to Pagliacci (Clowns) because he thought it should include more of the cast. Tonio originally sang final line, “La commedia è finita,” until Enrico Caruso began to sing it as Canio.
Adina Nitescu as Nedda, Frank Poretta as Canio and Stephen Powell as Tonio
On January 28, San Diego Opera presented Pagliacci as the opening production of the 2014 season. Often staged along with another opera such as Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, this Pagliacci faced the opera world alone. Director Andrew Sinclair brought out all the passion and violence of its verismo story and did not allow an intermission to dilute any of its dramatic punch. Scenic director John Coyne set the action in a simple out-of-doors scene with a blooming tree signifying summer in the small Italian town. Baritone Stephen Powell sang the Prologue with stunning and powerful tones. As it turned out, it was the best-sung aria of the evening.
When the curtain rose, the townspeople and circus performers were clothed in Ed Kotanen's authentic early twentieth century costumes. Traveling circus company members were setting up the well-worn platform stage and numerous benches that they carried with them from town to town. After seeming to be a straightforward character when he sang the Prologue, Tonio skulked about the stage when interacting with the other performers. He was a misfit who probably could not get work elsewhere. As Canio, Frank Poretta, was a jovial character whose main purpose was to lure an audience to the troupe’s performances. He sang with a secure, fluid line. Nedda, Canio’s unhappy trophy wife, looked forward to her tryst with her younger lover, Silvio, as she sang her aria about the freedom of the birds overhead. Adina Nitescu is a dramatic soprano and her tones were stronger and darker than the ones expected from Nedda. When Tonio tried to kiss her, Nedda grabbed a whip and beat him until he limped off harboring thoughts of a grisly revenge.
Little by little Tonio infected Canio’s mind until he lapsed into insane jealousy. For Sinclair, this was Tonio’s story, and he made sure the audience saw that the ugly clown was pulling all the strings to make the murder happen. That’s why this time it was Tonio who ended the opera with “La commedia è finita.” Joel Sorensen was a worthy Beppe and David Adam Moore a handsome, vocally sensuous Silvio. Directed by chorus Master Charles F. Prestinari, the choristers sang with delicious harmonies as they portrayed rural townspeople. Yves Abel underscored Sinclair’s dramatic tone with his brisk interpretation of Leoncavallo’s music and his orchestra responded with dramatically alert playing. This was a short but emotionally stunning performance of a well loved verismo opera.
Cast and production information:
Tonio, Stephen Powell; Canio, Frank Poretta; Beppe, Joel Sorensen; Nedda, Adina Nitescu; Silvio, David Adam Moore; Conductor, Yves Abel; Director, Andrew Sinclair; Scenic Designer, John Coyne; Costume Designer, Ed Kotanen; Lighting Designer, Michael Whitfield; Chorus Master Charles F. Prestinari.