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On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.
English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.
It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).
There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.
In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman
theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or
amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators
or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in
other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.
Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.
Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.
On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.
The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard
Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014
by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine
Goerke in the title role.
Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.
The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings
On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.
Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
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.