Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

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.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

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!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

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 Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

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.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

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.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

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.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

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.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

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 less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

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.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

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.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):