02 Mar 2014
LA Opera Presents a Parable of Good and Evil
Billy Budd, portrayed by handsome lyric tenor Liam Bonner, is a charismatic embodiment of innocence.
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 less-than-tragic plight.
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.
Billy Budd, portrayed by handsome lyric tenor Liam Bonner, is a charismatic embodiment of innocence.
His nemesis, Master-at-Arms John Claggart, played by the equally charismatic Greer Grimsley, hates him because of it. The director could have introduced a homoerotic element of hatred born of rejection, but she chose not to. Instead, the evil Claggart is a first cousin to Verdi and Shakespeare’s Iago.
Herman Melville’s works have become the basis for two modern operas, Benjamin Britten’s 1951 Billy Budd and Jake Heggie’s 2010 Moby Dick. When Melville died in 1891, he left the novella Billy Budd unfinished, so it was not published until 1924. His first biographer, Raymond Weaver, unearthed its manuscript when he read through Melville's papers. In 1951, a play made from the novella by Louis Coxe and Robert Chapman was a major success on Broadway. That same year saw the premiere of Benjamin Britten’s opera, which has a libretto by English novelist E. M. Forster who worked with frequent Britten collaborator, Eric Crozier.
Richard Croft as Captain Vere
The title role was intended for Geraint Evans, but he found its tessitura too high. At the opera’s monumentally successful premiere at Covent Garden on December 1, 1951, Theodore Uppman sang Budd and Evans sang Mr. Flint. The performance received seventeen curtain calls and rave reviews.
The current Los Angeles Opera production by Francesca Zambello was first seen at London’s Covent Garden on May 30, 1995. Los Angeles Opera originally mounted her austere, relatively traditional production in 2000 and brought it back on February 22, 2014, under the direction of Julia Pevzner. Alison Chitty’s set is a steeply raked, angular deck that can be raised to reveal a crew area below. Above the deck is a slanted mast with an arm that becomes reminiscent of a cross when Billy stretches his arms out on it.
Billy, portrayed by handsome lyric tenor Liam Bonner, is a charismatic embodiment of innocence. His nemesis, Master-at-Arms John Claggart, played by the equally charismatic Greer Grimsley, hates him because of it. The director could have introduced a homoerotic element of hatred born of rejection, but she chose not to. Instead, the evil Claggart is a first cousin to Verdi and Shakespeare’s Iago.
Caught in the middle of this drama is the ship’s captain, Vere, beautifully sung and movingly interpreted by Richard Croft. He is seen as an old man in both the prologue and the epilogue. He is still uneasy looking back on his role in Billy’s conviction and execution at sea for assaulting a superior officer. That is Britten’s way of expressing his discontent with the harsh laws of wartime. This production pulled the drama taut and propelled the action forward. Many singers created notable character portrayals in this performance. Greg Fedderly was a raucous Red Whiskers, James Creswell a wise Dansker, and Anthony Michaels-Moore an obsequious Redburn. Members of the Los Angeles Opera chorus sang with precise harmony while making the audience realize how many hundreds of men it took to man sailing ships.
Although the opera does not send the audience out humming its tunes, it is consummate music drama and the orchestra makes the audience feel Billy’s pain when he is betrayed. Britten’s sophisticated musical structure sets the listener up for the coup de grace, Billy’s inability to speak at the crucial moment and his resulting assault on Claggart. The composer has created an evocative phrase for each thing that happens in the opera and conductor James Conlon brought them all out with the brilliant colors and the stark clarity of the score. Conlon was the prime mover for bringing more Britten to Los Angeles and with this performance he demonstrated the powerful emotional appeal of that composer’s work.
Cast and production information:
Billy Budd, Liam Bonner; Captain Edward Vere, Richard Croft; John Claggart, Greer Grimsley; Mr. Redburn, Anthony Michaels-Moore; Mr. Flint, Daniel Sumegi; Lieutenant Ratcliffe, Patrick Blackwell; Red Whiskers, James Creswell; Bosun, Craig Colclough; Novice, Keith Jameson; First Mate, Paul LaRosa; Second Mate, Daniel Armstrong; Novice's Friend, Valentin Anikin; Maintop, Vladimir Dmitruk; Squeak, Matthew O'Neill; Cabin Boy, Rory Hemmings; Conductor, James Conlon; Production, Francesca Zambello; Director, Julia Pevzner; Set and Costume Design, Alison Chitty; Lighting, Alan Burrett; Chorus Master, Grant Gershon; Fight Director, Ed Douglas.