Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“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.
30 Apr 2014
Les Mamelles de Tirésias in San Francisco
Poulenc’s racy little 1947 confection took stage within Kurt Weill’s peculiar little 1927 singspiel Mahagonny all framed within the current California drought and doomsday predictions of impending global aridity.
But it has been raining a bit in San Francisco, and global warming might even make San Francisco wetter rather than dryer. All this took a bit of the edge off this far-fetched conglomeration of an opera within an opera within a commentary. The good news is that we heard some very good singing by well-trained young artists, and there were some snappy performances as well. Not to forget a quite capable little orchestra in a real pit in a real and indeed fine theater, the Lam Research Theater.
San Francisco has long been in need of an additional opera company to explore vast expanses of the repertory left untouched by the heroic scope of War Memorial Opera House. The 750 seat Lam Research Theater offers a potential home to such an opera company, and maybe it is Opera Parallèle, a venture of conductor Nicole Paiement and stage director Brian Staufenbiel, who have mustered a couple of productions each year since 2010, some of them in this fine theater.
This sally onto the Lam Research Theater stage was a meager production — a too real, quite forlorn 22 foot, vintage cabin cruiser put up on wheels and clumsily pulled around the stage. There was no context for the boat, like a parched earth ground or like denuded hills surround, though there were some meager gaseous aurora borealis lighting effects that flickered faintly from time to time that maybe were drought related.
The little, and it is conceptually and musically inconsequential, Mahagonny did not hold together visually or musically on the open, blank stage and the singers were simply too singerly, their elegance a poor substitution for the Weill/Brecht intended grit. Mme. Paiement’s orchestra was without edge and the maestra’s tempos felt leaden indeed.
Glenn as The Boy, Gabriel Preisser as The Husband in Les Mamelles de Tirésias. Photo by Steve DiBartolomeo, Westside Studio Image
But it all picked up splendidly when the evening morphed into the Poulenc boulevard musical, Les Mamelles de Tirésias intended to titillate and distract the post WWII Parisian public. To be sure the “advanced” social ideals seemed a bit overworked in long-emancipated San Francisco. Fortunately director Staufenbiel did not take the issues too seriously having transformed the piece into I pagliacci (a commedia dell’arte troupe descends on a backward village) here Weill's singers come upon a camp of refuges from drought stricken village somewhere on the French Riviera. Except it was on a blank black stage.
The downstage sideways positioned cabin cruiser did work very well in Les Mamelles because it gave many levels for action, and many nooks and crannies for visual surprises. You could forget the off-the-wall concept (at least there was a concept, a concept sorely lacking these days in the War Memorial) and simply enjoy the quite appealing music beautifully played in the pit and sung on the stage.
Baritone Gabriel Preisser brought unusual warmth and charm to the role of the Thérèse’s husband, tenor Thomas Glenn stood out in his Les Mamelles caricatures and more than anyone else approached the tone of the Weill. Bass-baritone Hadleigh Adams brought snap and flair to Les Mamelles’ antagonist, the Constable. The entire cast attests the high level of training behind young American artists, and the accomplishment of these young singers was very pleasurable to behold.
It will be a relief to perceive them as artists of personality someday, hopefully soon, rather than as fine young singers. Perhaps Opera Parallèle can accomplish this with deeper production values.
It was finally a well realized evening, of institutional accomplishment and promise. Off-the-wall is meant as a compliment by the way, forget the unfortunate transition at the end back into the little Mahagonny.
Casts and production information:
The Husband: Gabriel Preisser; Therèse/Tirésias: Rachel Schutz; The Constable: Hadleigh Adams; The Director: Daniel Cilli; The Journalist/The Son: Thomas Glenn; The Newspaper Vendor: Renee Rapier; The Bearded Man: Aleksey Bogdanov; The Big Lady: Amber Marsh; The Lady; Suzanne Rivin. Opera Paralléle Orchestra and Chorus with the Resound Ensemble. Conductor: Nicole Paiement; Concept and stage director: Brian Staufenbiel; Production design: Frédéric Boulay; Set design: Dave Dunning; Costume design: Christine Crook; Choreographer: KT Nelson. Lam Research Theater, April 26, 2014.