Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

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.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

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.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

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.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

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.

Tosca in Marseille

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.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

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.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

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.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

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.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

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.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal 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: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

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?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

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.

Double bill at Guildhall

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.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

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.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

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]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

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.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

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.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Irene Theorin as Turnadot [Photo © ROH / Tristram Kenton]
24 Feb 2014

Turandot, Royal Opera

This was in almost every respect an excellent performance — which therefore exacerbates the problem lying at the heart, or whatever it is that lies in its place, of the work itself.

Turandot, Royal Opera

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Irene Theorin as Turnadot

Photos © ROH / Tristram Kenton

 

The field may be fiercely contested, and I should hesitate to award first place to any one contender, but is there a more brazenly offensive opera to modern sensibilities than Turandot? Its racism and misogyny are far from unique, though they are experienced here in a form so extreme that even the dullest of listeners could hardly fail to notice them. The particular offensiveness goes far beyond that, however. Michael Tanner, writing in The Spectator upon this production’s previous outing of the season, went so far as to describe it as ‘an irredeemable work, a terrible end to a career that had included three indisputable masterpieces and three less evident ones, counting Il Trittico as one.’ The real problem is the plot itself. Again to quote Tanner, only summarizing what happens yet in reality twisting the knife by having the plot speak for itself, ‘once Liù has killed herself because she can’t stand any more pain, Calaf forgets about her, and about his frail old father Timur who just disappears, and turns all his attention on Turandot.’ It is repellent, and it is well-nigh impossible to imagine someone possessed of a smidgeon of humanity feeling otherwise.

And yet, its repellent quality fascinates, on account of Puccini’s manipulative genius. There is nothing beneath the surface, but what a surface! What Tanner rightly condemns as a ‘void’ draws one in to its nothingness and achieves if not nihilistic intent then certainly representation and experience of the work’s nihilistic essence. It is not entirely different from much Strauss in that respect, though the sadism is Puccini’s own: how he revels once again in the torture as much as the vile sacrifice itself! A ‘successful’ performance is therefore a problematical concept indeed. Should the work simply be portrayed for what it is? Or should it be confronted, questioned, in some sense ‘dealt with’?

Turandot-14-02-14-ROH-89.gifAlfred Kim as Calaf, Matthew Rose as Timur and Ailyn Perez as Liù

The Royal Opera opted for the former, at least in terms of the umpteenth revival of Andrei Serban’s production, first seen in 1984. Andrew Sinclair’s revival direction seemed tighter than it had in September of last year, though I think that may have been in large part a matter of greater musical — in particular, orchestral — dynamism, sharpening the cruel edges of the work. Yes, there is something of an effort — which again, came across more strongly than last time around — to present the performance with the idea of ‘staging’ to the forefront. It comes perilously close to being lost, however, by the exuberant success of the execution, not least Kate Flatt’s choreography. ‘About staging’ turns into ‘mere staging’. Likewise the Orientalism of Sally Jacobs’s designs. Surely by 2014, we need to inject a measure of irony, or indeed violence. I had a nasty feeling that many of those in the audience wildly applauding had not so much as registered the attendant problems: an urgent need for any responsible new production.

The orchestra was on magnificent form throughout. Nicola Luisotti not only revelled in the score’s phantasmagorical harmonies and sonorities but also imparted a startling symphonic continuity not only to each act but to the work as a whole. Puccini’s surface and that void beneath could hardly have been more brilliantly — in more than one sense — evoked. This Puccini, quite rightly, sounded more than ever a brother of Strauss, not least in his twin descent from Wagner’s invention and disavowal of Wagner’s moral intent. Such made the echoes and/or presentiments of Schoenberg — not only the avant-gardism of Pierrot lunaire, but also the wondrous late Romanticism of Gurrelieder — sound all the more painful, given the strenuous moralism of the Austrian composer, as fervent an admirer of Puccini as Puccini was of him. Luisotti had done for the most part a decent job with Don Giovanni, but he was clearly more in his element here. If only the staging had questioned the work as the fine musical performance necessarily did.

Turandot-14-02-14-ROH-1082.gifDavid Butt Philip as Pang, Grant Doyle as Ping and Luis Gomes as Pong

Iréne Theorin did what she had to do in the truly repugnant title role. Steel and sheer vocal strength were allied to a subtler-than-usual command of dynamic contrast. Alfred Kim might have offered more in terms of subtlety, especially during that aria, which sounded too much like an aria, however much responsibility Puccini must also bear for that. But otherwise, his was a formidable, untiring performance. Liù once again fared very well in indeed in terms of casting, Ailyn Pérez offering a moving portrayal — again, may Puccini’s manipulations be cursed! — in which musical and dramatic imperatives were as one. There are greater opportunities for vocal shading, and of course for sympathy, than with the Princess; Perez undoubtedly took them all. Matthew Rose made for a noble Timur, whilst the unbearably irritating trio of Ping, Pong, and Pang received uncommonly excellent performances, again as laudable in stage as in musical terms, from Grant Doyle, David Butt Philip, and Luis Gomes. Renato Balsadonna’s chorus and extra chorus showed themselves the orchestra’s equals in excellence.

Wagner feared that excellent performances of Tristan would be his ruin; audiences would not be able to take them. In a very different sense, one might say the same of this ‘irredeemable’ work; at least unless a director has the courage more directly to confront its horrors.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Mandarin: Ashley Riches; Liù: Ailyn Pérez; Timur: Matthew Rose; Calaf: Alfred Kim; Ping: Grant Doyle; Pang: David Butt Philip; Pong: Luis Gomes; Turandot: Iréne Theorin; Emperor Altoum: Alasdair Elliott; Soprano soli — Marianne Cotterill, Anne Osborne. Director: Andrei Serban; Andrew Sinclair (revival director); Sally Jacobs (designs); F. Mitchell Dana (lighting); Kate Flatt (choreography); Tatiana Novaes Coelho (choreologist). Royal Opera Chorus and Extra Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna)/Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Nicola Luisotti (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Thursday 20 February 2014.

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):