Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

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):