Recently in Performances
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
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.
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.
15 Apr 2014
Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?
This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:
“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”
Is it not equally mad to let a great opera company like San Diego Opera die when it could live on with different leadership?
On Saturday night, April 5, 2014, San Diego Opera (SDO) presented what may be its last production, a revival of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte. On March 20, General Director Ian Campbell announced that the company would “shut down with dignity” on April 14. SDO is not out of money, but it can no longer afford the deluxe productions it has staged in the past. The move was a total surprise to the employees, but only one of the board members voted against the closing. At the Saturday evening performance of the Massenet opera, Campbell was booed unmercifully when he attempted to speak to the audience. Since his announcement of the closure, almost twenty-one thousand SDO fans have signed a petition to keep opera in San Diego. It can be found here. The Save the Opera Campaign can be found online here.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza fight the giant windmills.
Don Quichotte (Don Quixote) is an opera in five acts that Jules Massenet composed to a French libretto by Henri Caïn. Although Massenet's comédie-héroïque relates to the great Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes, it is closer to Jacques Le Lorrain’s play Le Chevalier de la Longue Figure, which was first seen in Paris in 1904. The opera, written in 1909 for the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, was first performed early the following year at the Opéra de Monte Carlo. The composer may have also thought of himself as a Don Quixote, because at the age of sixty-seven, he was in love with his twenty-seven year old Dulcinea, Lucy Arbell.
Don Quichotte is a vehicle for a charismatic singer with a low voice. Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is one of the truly great artists of our time and an opportunity to enjoy his interpretation of the character created by Cervantes is most welcome, even if the circumstances surrounding it are painful. In 2009, the opera was first staged in San Diego for Furlanetto. Both then and in 2014, his fully engaged character portrayal, his personal magnetism, and above all his glorious singing made the audience fall in love with the madly idealistic knight. San Diego has a large Spanish-speaking population and they were particularly in evidence for this French take on an author with whose work they are most familiar.
Keturah Stickann’s traditional production followed both Caïn’s libretto and Massenet’s music with great care, but added twenty-first century lighting and stagecraft. She told her story in a most creative manner and showed applicable quotations from the original Cervantes work in translation before each scene. The Windmill Scene was particularly memorable because the music seems to be turning the huge blades as they emerged from the fog. Conductor Karen Keltner, a specialist in French music, was at her best as she gave us a musically apt description of the mind of the ingenious gentleman from La Mancha. Missy West’s exquisite costumes and Kristina Cobarrubia’s colorful Flamenco dances added visual excitement to the production. The sets by Ralph Funicello combined with Marie Barrett’s lighting to show the bare bones landscape of rural Spain.
Flamenco Dancing in Don Quichotte
Eduardo Chama’s Sancho Panza was an amusing peasant who really cared for his master. Vocally, he seems to have lost some resonance since 2009, but his able portrayal of the character made up for it. Anke Vondung was a flirtatious but innately practical Dulcinea who sang with a chocolate cream voice. Hervé Blanquart was a frightening head bandit while Chad Frisque, Michael Blinco, Anthony Ballard, and Joseph Grienenberger were mean-looking thugs. Others in the cast who added much to the production as a whole were Joel Sorenson as Rodriguez, Simeon Esper as Juan, Michaëla Oeste as Pedro, and Susannah Biller as Garcias. Choral music is often important in French opera and this work is no different. Charles F. Prestinari’s group sang with precision as they floated their delicious harmonies out into the auditorium. It’s sad to think that they and their instrumental colleagues may have much less work after the end of this season.
Cast and production information:
Rodriguez, Joel Sorenson; Juan, Simeon Esper; Pedro, Michaëla Oeste; Garcias, Susannah Biller; Dulcinea, Anke Vondung; Don Quixote, Ferruccio Furlanetto; Sancho Panza, Eduardo Chama; Ténébrun Chief Bandit, Hervé Blanquart; Conductor, Karen Keltner; Director Keturah Stickann; Choreographer, Kristine Cobarrubia; Scenic design, Ralph Funicello; Costume design, Missy West; Lighting design, Marie Barrett; Chorus Master, Charles F. Prestinari; Supertitles, Ian Campbell.