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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … 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.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“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!”

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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.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

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.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

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.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

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.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

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.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

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.

English National Opera: Tosca

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.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

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).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

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English National Opera: Don Giovanni

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.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

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: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

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.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

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.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

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.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

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.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

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.



Frederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe [Photo by Lynn Lane]
26 Apr 2014

A Coffin in Egypt: A Tour-de-Force for von Stade

Librettist Leonard Foglia based his elegant and literate text on the late Horton Foote’s play, A Coffin in Egypt, and the opera has the original play’s dramatic punch.

Ricky Ian Gordon’s New Opera: A Tour-de-Force for Von Stade

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Frederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe

Photos by Lynn Lane


Foglia who wrote the libretto and directed the opera, also directed the world premiere of the original play.

On April 23, 2014, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts gave the West Coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s new opera, A Coffin in Egypt. Known as The Wallis, the Beverly Hills complex opened in 2013. Thus, it was the perfect place for an even newer opera. Houston, Texas, audiences saw Gordon’s opera last March and Philadelphia audiences will see it in June. Librettist Leonard Foglia based his elegant and literate text on the late Horton Foote’s play of the same name and the opera has the original play’s dramatic punch. Foglia who wrote the libretto and directed the opera, had directed the world premiere of the original play.

Musically, this is a chamber opera that uses the smallest possible forces: one soloist, a quartet of Gospel Singers, and nine instrumentalists. In this case, the soloist was the world famous mezzo-soprano, Frederica von Stade, who came out of retirement to assume the juicy role that Gordon wrote for her. Myrtle Bledsoe was a rich Texas widow who lived in the tiny hamlet of Egypt, near Wharton, where Horton Foote grew up in the early years of the twentieth century. Wharton is on the east side of the Colorado River, about forty-five miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.

Coffin_in_Egypt_02.gifFrederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe and Adam Noble as the Captain

In her ninth decade, Myrtle recounts her life with its many unfulfilled dreams. Although the title speaks of death and Myrtle is old, she is as lively as a firecracker in designer Riccardo Hernández’s bright rose-colored gown. Hernández’s scenery showed flowers on curved surfaces and Brian Nason’s imaginative lighting design added strong colors that enhanced various aspects of the story.

Actually, it is von Stade’s magnetic personality that makes this charming piece come alive. Myrtle recounts her life with her husband, Hunter, and her happiest years abroad with her daughters. She also tells of her husband’s mistresses and the murder with which he was never charged. She can speak freely now because Hunter and her daughters have all preceded her in death. She alone is left to tell the stories, but she knows she will soon join them, in her own coffin, destined to be buried in Egypt. Actors represent the characters of whom she sings. David Matranga was the womanizing Hunter Bledsoe and Adam Noble the handsome Captain Lawson. Carolyn Johnson was Elsie Bledsoe and Cecilia Duarte Jessie Lydell.

The opera is a tour-de-force for mezzo and von Stade’s performance on Wednesday evening is proof that she retired too soon. She was on stage for the full eighty minutes of the opera’s duration, singing almost constantly with well-focused tones. Her voice was always a bit light for a mezzo and on this occasion it had a clarion quality that blended with the woodwinds of conductor Kathleen Kelly’s chamber group. Gordon’s music was very translucent and Kelly’s players brought out his delightful harmonies.

Gordon’s most inventive addition was a Gospel Chorus singing music he composed in the manner of old time Spirituals. For this piece, that addition was sheer genius. Best of all, the singers: soprano Sheryl D. Clansy, alto Laura Elizabeth Patterson, tenor James M. Winslow, and bass Jawan C. M. Jenkins sang in glorious harmonies which formed a delightful contrast to Myrtle’s solo storytelling. Clansy, in particular, has a spectacular voice that should be heard by a wider audience.

Coffin_in_Egypt_03.gifCecilia Duarte as Jessie, Frederica von Stade as Myrtle, and the Gospel Singers

A Coffin in Egypt is a new piece that is quickly winning acceptance in the cities where it has been shown. It will be in Philadelphia in June and from there it should go on to the many theaters in cities large and small that need a well put together opera on a small scale.

Maria Nockin

Cast and production information:

Myrtle Bledsoe, Frederica von Stade; Hunter Bledsoe, David Matranga; Elsie/ Clerk, Carolyn Johnson; Jessie Lydell, Cecilia Duarte; Captain Lawson, Adam Noble; Gospel Chorus: Cheryl D. Clansy, Laura Elizabeth Patterson, James M. Winslow, Jawan C. M. Jenkins; Gospel Chorus Director, Bethany Self; Conductor, Kathleen Kelly; Stage Director, Leonard Foglia; Set and Costume Designer, Riccardo Hernández; Lighting Designer, Brian Nason.

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