Recently in Performances
“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.
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.
03 Mar 2014
Torn Between Rival Loyalties
Handel’s great opus, Rodelinda, at English National Opera on
Friday night was the latest in the Coliseum’s recent run of new and
co-produced productions, and also renowned director Peter Jones’ latest foray
into the world of opera.
A full-ish house for the first night seemed from the
start inclined to be indulgent and supportive (does a Friday night after a long
week in the office in London help a new production? Discuss......) and was
helped along by what sounded suspiciously like a small claque cheering
from the very first da capo aria (“let’s get this lot going chaps”?)
without, it has to be said, that much cause at that particular moment.
John Mark Ainsley as Grimoaldo
Never mind, the audience did not need much further encouragement to applaud
as we were that night treated to one of the finest expositions of handelian
singing across the vocal spectrum that we’ve heard for quite a while. A
superb collection of the best British singing talent gathered under one roof to
show the world how Handel should — ought — to be sung. John Mark Ainsley,
(Grimoaldo), Susan Bickley (Eduige), Iestyn Davies (Bertarido), and Rebecca
Evans (Rodelinda) took on the leading roles in this tale of loyalty, power,
love and lust and gave full measure at every turn. They were supported no less
ably by Richard Burkhard (Garibaldo), Christopher Ainslie (Unulfo) and Matt
Casio (a non singing, but certainly acting Flavio). One could spend paragraphs
praising each performer’s intelligent and musical interpretations, but
suffice to say that there was not one weak link in this chain of excellence
although inevitably both Evans and Davies, as chief protagonists and with the
most sublime and ferocious arias to their credit, did receive the loudest and
longest ovations come the end of three plus hours of Mr Handel at his best. And
each singer of course supported by the dash, drive and commitment to baroque
style that Christian Curnyn supplied from the pit.
I mentioned loyalty as a major driver in the plot: it came through again and
again both within the personal relationships of the characters and in their
wider political and philosophical concerns but it was loyalty much closer to
home which worried this writer most. One wishes only success and financial
security for English National Opera as it goes forward from some pretty torrid
times; one wishes that Handel’s greatest works should become loved by ever
larger audiences in ever more numerous productions; one wishes that more opera
house orchestras could adapt as stylishly to baroque details as does ENO’s;
and one wishes our British theatrical production talents ever more plaudits
both here and overseas as they bring new ideas and angles to old favourites.
However, the elephant in the room on Friday night, it must be said, was this
very thing. Peter Jones has already garnered many plaudits for his theatrical
insight and challenging productions around the world, but on leaving the
theatre on Friday night it became clear that this production was splitting
people down the middle.
A scene from Rodelinda
A straw poll aftewards produced extremes of reaction:
“marvellous, clever, thought-provoking” at one end and “poor singers, how
did they produce such excellence within such dire, distracting drivel?” at
the other. To be fair, he and his team did (mostly) give the singers both space
and focus on the stage for their big numbers; it was all the stuff in between
that in this writer’s opinion was either indulgent, patronising or plain
wrong. Once again, poor Mr Handel has suffered from a director’s inability to
trust the music, an inability to understand that emotion, conflict and
psychological evolution is already there — on the score, within the bars and
notes, riding on the swell and trough of fine singing. Others will disagree, no
doubt; some will say it’s a modern masterpiece; only the audiences of the
future will decide and let’s hope they do in droves. What is without doubt is
that Rodelinda will survive it all and with singers as good as we
heard in the Coliseum we can rest assured that Mr Handel will always have the
Until 15 March. Tickets: 020 7845 9300; www.eno.org