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Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim
) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.
Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.
One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the
‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber
music to orchestral rehearsals.
The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.
I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly
bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s
thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some
Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with
the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music.
His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in
C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the
Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.
Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.
‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.
This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?
A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert. Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.
On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.
On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.
When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.
It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.
Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.
This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at
’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.
With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.
When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.
Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe
Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.
Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.
23 Apr 2014
Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson
On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.
Pasquale was an aging movie idol from the silent picture era who had been very famous at one time. In the nineteen fifties, however, he was living in an aging mansion on Sunset Boulevard that was as devoid of color as his old black-and-white films.
Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is an opera buffa or comic opera with a libretto by Giovanni Ruffini and the composer based on the text that Angelo Anelli wrote for Stefano Pavesi’s earlier work Ser Marcantonio. In the tradition of opera buffa, the opera makes reference to the stock characters of the Commedia dell'arte. Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Italian Commedia usually involved improvised performances of simple sketches. Actors and actresses were usually professionals and they generally specialized in portraying one particular character. Actually the popularity of the Commedia did much to gain the right to perform on stage professionally for women because men did not portray the female characters. As with the show pictured in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, most performances took place outdoors on temporary stages with minimal scenery.
Andrea Shokery as Norina the Hollywood starlet [Photo by Ed Flores]
The characters of the Commedia usually represented common social types such as foolish old men, handsome young lovers, beautiful, calculating young women, and devious intermediaries. In Don Pasquale the title character is a foolish old man, Ernesto a handsome lover, Malatesta a wily intermediary, and Norina a beautiful young woman who is in on Malatesta's scheme. The use of a false notary is a common operatic device also found in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte.
On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of this opera in Tucson instead of Phoenix and there we enjoyed the slower tempo of Southern Arizona. Chuck Hudson’s production of Don Pasquale combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history. Pasquale was an aging movie idol from the silent picture era who had been very famous at one time. In the nineteen fifties, however, he was living in an aging mansion on Sunset Boulevard that was as devoid of color as his old black-and-white films. His ward and nephew, Ernesto, having refused to accept an arranged marriage, proclaimed his love for an attractive Hollywood starlet named Norina. Therefore, the outraged Pasquale decided to disinherit the young man and beget his own heirs. To do this he needs a wife, however, so he calls on a family friend, Malatesta, to help him find one.
Craig Colclough as Don Pasquale, David Margulis as Ernesto, and Chris Carr as Malatesta [Photo by Ed Flores]
From there the plot of this production differed very little from traditional renditions of the opera. Craig Colclough was a thoroughly amusing, fast singing Don who eventually laughed at his own foibles. He was the only singing member of the cast who was not a member of Arizona Opera’s Marion Roose Pullin Studio. For the young Studio Artists this was their time to shine and that is exactly what they did. Andrea Shokery was a hysterically funny Norina who sang accurately while kicking up her heels. The sound of David Margulis’s tenor voice was honey for the ears. The audience knew Ernesto would get the girl in the end, but they suffered with him on the many occasions when comic obstacles got in his way. Baritone Chris Carr, who can spit tonally accurate patter like a machine gun, was a contentious Malatesta who enjoyed stirring up a hornet’s nest. As the false notary, Calvin Griffin amused us with his antics.
Conductor Gary Wedow used rubato to readjust some of the rhythms of the overture, and with the small orchestra playing this performance, it tended to change some of the music’s free flowing melodies. Henri Venanzi’s chorus, many of whom were dressed as specific old time Hollywood stars, sang in exquisite harmony while they posed for cameras. Wearing Kathleen Trott’s costumes, the audience recognized the characters immediately. One of the most amusing portrayals was silent. Ian Christiansen, the Don's fascinating, formally dressed Manservant, seemed to glide rather than walk across the room as he added to the old fashioned glamor of the mansion. This was a well thought out updating and it worked to make this nineteenth century opera a great piece of twenty-first century entertainment.
Cast and production information:
Don Pasquale, Craig Colclough; Norina, Andrea Shokery; Ernesto, David Margulis, Malatesta, Chris Carr; Notary, Calvin Griffin; Manservant, Ian Christiansen; Cook, Diane Goullard; House Boy, Samuel Slater; Maid, Ruth Sager; Conductor, Gary Wedow; Stage Director, Chuck Hudson; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Costume Designer, Kathleen Trott; Lighting and Projection Designer, Douglas Provost; Set Designer, Peter Nolle.