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.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
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.