Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
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.