Recently in Reviews
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
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
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.