Recently in Performances
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre
Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances
dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed
at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in
the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the
annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I
heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It
was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to
life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s
L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed
follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution
of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities,
upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court
during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined
that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the
opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in
service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question.
Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although
already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.
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.