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.
22 May 2014
LA Opera Presents Powerful Streetcar Named Desire
As Blanche, Renée Fleming sang her role with a sultry air. Her smooth, creamy tones revealed her character’s ultra-refined dream world as she told of having once been married to a gay man. The moment when Blanche met Stanley was electric. From that first second, the audience knew he hated everything she valued.
From 1920-1948 New Orleans Streetcars ran on a route called the Desire Line. In Tennessee Williams’s play, Blanche says, "They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields!" The ride brings her to the Kowalski home where the action in both the play and the opera take place.
In 1947, the premiere production of Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway to begin a two-year run. Directed by Elia Kazan, it starred Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden. At the close of the first performance, the audience applauded for almost thirty minutes. The next year it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In 1949, Laurence Olivier directed the London production of Streetcar starring Vivien Leigh. The 1951 film adaptation of the play directed by Kazan featured Brando, Malden, and Hunter reprising their stage roles. Vivien Leigh replaced Jessica Tandy as Blanche. The movie won three Academy Awards for acting: Leigh for best actress, Malden for best supporting actor and Hunter for best supporting actress. Brando was nominated for best actor but lost.
Composer André Previn and librettist Philip Littell wrote the opera A Streetcar Named Desire in 1995, but it was not staged until 1998. Then, San Francisco Opera mounted it in a production by Colin Graham starring Renée Fleming as Blanche, Rod Gilfry as Stanley, Elizabeth Futral as Stella, and Anthony Dean Griffey as Mitch. On May 18, 2014, L A’s purple clad jacaranda trees bloomed as forcefully as magnolias bloom in the Deep South. The warm weather and colorful display put the California audience in the right mood for librettist Philip Littell and composer André Previn’s musical version of the Williams play. Brad Dalton directed L A Opera’s production, which featured effective costuming by Johann Stegmeir and atmospheric lighting by Duane Schuler.
Renée Fleming and Anthony Dean Griffey repeated their roles of Blanche and Mitch; Ryan McKinny was Stanley; Stacey Tappan, Stella; Victoria Livengood, Eunice; Joshua Guererro, Steve; and Cullen Gandy, the Young Collector. Making his debut at L A Opera, Evan Rogister conducted with a broad style that easily encompassed Previn’s allusions to various forms of music not often heard in opera. Previn gives us jazz, blues and even a touch of Richard Strauss.
Ryan McKinny as Stanley Kowalski yells “Stel-lah”.
Instead of placing the orchestra in the pit between the audience and the action, Stage Director Dalton put the Kowalski’s tenement apartment up front with the orchestra behind the singers. Although the locals are in work clothes, Blanche wears a party dress and a flower in her hair when she is not monopolizing the bath. Fleming sang her role with a sultry air. Her smooth, creamy tones revealed her character’s ultra-refined dream world as she told of having once been married to a gay man.
The moment when Blanche met Stanley was electric. From that first second, the audience knew he hated everything she valued. Ryan McKinny was an evil but believable Stanley who exuded strength and macho sexuality. Although he had no aria, he made a firm impact with his excellent diction. Stacey Tappan’s Stella was so totally attached to Stanley that his violent nature did not discourage her. She was a slave to his sexual instincts and sang her most affecting refrain about his lovemaking. The Los Angeles Opera audience had seen Tappan in smaller parts, but this was her first leading role. Expect to see her as many more important characters.
Anthony Dean Griffey reprised his role as Mitch, the “mama’s boy” who does not know how to talk to a young lady. His character’s gaucheries provided a bit of necessary levity for this dramatic piece and his resonant tenor sound rang out with burnished colors. As Eunice, Victoria Livengood was the last person to turn against Blanche. At the end, however, it was Eunice who gave the unwelcome guest to the doctor because she thought there was nothing else to do. At the final moment, Blanche stands next to the ghost of the dead husband who has haunted her all through the opera. This was a spellbinding performance of an important modern work that should appear on many more stages.
Cast and production information:
Blanche Dubois, Renée Fleming; Stanley Kowalski, Ryan McKinny; Stella Kowalski, Stacey Tappan; Harold "Mitch" Mitchell, Anthony Dean Griffey; Eunice Hubbell, Victoria Livengood; Steve Hubbell, Joshua Guerrero; A Young Collector, Cullen Gandy; A Doctor, Robert Shampain; A Nurse, Cynthia Marty.