Recently in Performances
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
19 Mar 2014
San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera
On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.
In 1857, the Teatro San Carlo in Naples commissioned Giuseppe Verdi to write an opera. He first intended the work to be his King Lear, but that could not be ready in time for the 1858 Carnival Season. Later, he and his librettist Antonio Somma decided to base an Italian opera on Eugène Scribe’s French libretto for Daniel Auber's Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué. Scribe wrote about the 1792 assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden who was shot while attending a masked ball. Censors in Italy, however, had serious objections. Verdi and Somma made changes, only to be refused a second time. In his libretto, Scribe had kept the historical figures of Gustav and the fortune-teller, but added the character of Amelia and her romance with the king.
On January 14, 1858, several Italians attempted to assassinate Emperor Napoleon III in Paris. After that, censors absolutely forbade the opera to show the murder of a monarch. They told Verdi and Somma to make further changes. Verdi was so angry that he broke his contract. The management of San Carlo sued him and he countersued. After some months, when the legal issues were resolved, Verdi was free to present the libretto and musical outline of the work to the Rome Opera. Since censors demanded further changes, they moved the site of the action to Boston during the British colonial period.
Tenor Piotr Beczala (Gustav III) and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Madame Arvidson).
On February 17, 1859, The Teatro Apollo in Rome premiered Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball). Not until the twentieth century was the site of the action moved back to Sweden. Now the baritone is called Count Anckarström after the actual killer who was beheaded for his crime.
On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. She used wonderfully ornate older scenery that formed an excellent background for John Conklin’s soft colored costumes and Gary Marder’s well-planned lighting designs. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden. It’s a long role and there were a few rough-edged tones in his first aria, but after that he gave a radiant performance. His duet with Krassimira Stoyanova, the Amelia, and his final aria were superbly sung. Stoyanova's lustrous voice blended well with Beczala's and she gave an insightful portrayal of his troubled but innocent love interest.
Greek baritone Aris Argiris is new to San Diego. With his performance of Count Anckarström, he established himself as a fine singing actor with a stentorian voice and a commanding presence. His scene with Amelia made sparks fly across the orchestra pit. Stephanie Blythe has an incredible voice with a distinctive sound and a huge range of tone colors, all of which she used as Madame Arvidson, the mysterious fortune-teller.
Act 3 finale
The trouser role of Oscar requires a coloratura soprano to provide a bit of comic relief in the midst of this dark, tragic story. Kathleen Kim’s bright sound and jaunty stance provided just the right touch for the part. Joseph Hu was thoroughly amusing as an infirm High Judge. Dark voiced Kevin Langan and Ashraf Sewailam were impressively menacing as Counts Ribbing and Horn.
Chorus Master Charles F. Prestinari’s singers represented townspeople of various professions and they sang together in solid harmonies. Conductor Massimo Zanetti made a most auspicious debut and proved that the orchestra can be part of the drama. He brought the orchestra up to fortissimo on some occasions when there was no singing and kept it down to a reasonable level when soloists had to be heard above it.
Cast and Production Information:
Count Ribbing, Kevin Langan; Count Horn, Ashraf Sewailam; High Judge and Amelia’s Servant, Joseph Hu; Gustav III, Piotr Beczala; Count Anckarström, Aris Argiris; Amelia Anckarström, Krassimira Stoyanova; Madame Arvidson, Stephanie Blythe; Oscar, Kathleen Kim; Conductor, Massimo Zanetti; Director, Lesley Koenig; Costume Designer, John Conklin; Chorus Master, Charles F. Prestinari; Lighting Design, Gary Marder; Choreographer, Kenneth Von Heidecke