Recently in Performances
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican,
London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony
Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating
a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens
or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me
I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
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.