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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: The Monk vs. The Courtesan
As Athanaël, Placido Domingo created a realistic monk who was ostensibly tempted to disregard his vows. The audience knew that had the courtesan Thaïs lived longer, he would have thrown his immortal soul into the wind.
Composer Jules Massenet and librettist Louis Gallet constructed the opera Thaïs from the 1890 novel of the same name by Anatole France. France based his book on the life of St. Thaïs of Egypt, a fourth century convert to Christianity. Massenet’s comédie lyrique was first presented at the Opéra Garnier in Paris on March 16, 1894, starring the California-born soprano for whom he wrote the title role, Sibyl Sanderson. Sanderson, known for her physical beauty as well as for her vocal interpretations, appeared at a rehearsal wearing a scanty costume made of net. Members of the orchestra were enchanted, but the company insisted she revert to wearing more a conservative outfit that would not attract the police.
Nine years later, on October 17, 1903, Lina Cavalieri sang the Italian premiere of Thaïs at the Teatro Lirico Internazionale in Milan. In 1907, Mary Garden made her American debut at the first United States performance of the opera. Later interpreters of the role of Thaïs include: Anna Moffo, Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price, Renée Fleming, and Elizabeth Futral.
Thaïs is Massenet’s third most often performed work. It follows his Manon and Werther and has never been a constant in the operatic repertoire. One of the reasons for this may be that the hero is a baritone instead of a tenor. Also, the most famous piece from this opera is not an aria. It is the Méditation, a short work for violin and orchestra. On the other hand, the role of Thaïs has been a showpiece for sopranos like Cavalieri, Garden, and Moffo whose looks were as attractive as their singing.
On May 17, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented a production of Thaïs by Nicola Raab that was originally seen in Scandinavia. The costumes and settings by Johan Engels were colorful and evocative of luxury for the first two acts, but they did not set a definite time nor did they define the Cenobite monks with the expected garb. Only Placido Domingo as Athanaël wore an outfit that resembled a monk’s habit. Act I showed the luxury of Alexandria in bold shades of red and gold. The small box set for Act II was exquisite, while Act III showed the desolation of a bleached-out desert. All of these scenes were bathed in Linus Fellbom’s mood-influenced lighting.
Nino Machaidze as Thais with Paul Groves as Nicias
Soprano Nino Machaidze was a lovely Thaïs who sang with a bit of vibrato in the first act. After that she came into her own, however, and created a memorable characterization of the fourth century saint who turned from a life of sinful pleasure to the asceticism of the convent. In the first and second acts, the role of Athanaël lies quite low so we did not hear any of Domingo’s golden toned top notes until late in the show. However, his acting was at its best when he angrily destroyed the courtesan’s favorite erotic statue. Most importantly, he created a realistic monk who was ostensibly tempted to disregard his vows. The audience knew that had Thaïs lived longer, he would have thrown his immortal soul into the wind.
Paul Groves was a hedonistic Nicias who looked every inch the noble and sang with bronzed resonance. As the Abbess, Milena Kitic sang with dulcet tones as she welcomed Thaïs into the company of sisters. Domingo-Colburn-SteinYoung Artist Program Member Valentin Anikin sang Palemon with deep toned lyricism while fellow members Hae Ji Chang as Crobyle and Cassandra Zoé Velasco as Myrtale enchanted the audience with their visual and vocal talents. As with many French operas, the chorus plays a part. Grant Gershon’s group sang with luscious harmonies. Concertmaster Roberto Cani played the Méditation with jewel-like tones. Conductor Patrick Fournillier brought all the wide branching strands of this performance together with a firm hand but he allowed the singers enough room to sculpt their characters with the music.
Cast and production information:
Thaïs, Nino Machaidze; Athanaël, Placido Domingo; Nicias, Paul Groves; Palemon, Valentin Anikin; Crobyle, Hae Ji Chang; Myrtale, Cassandra Zoé Velasco; Abbess Albine, Milena Kitic; Cenobite Monks: Omar Crook; Reid Bruton; Todd Strange; Gregory Geiger; John Kimberling; Servant, Kihun Moon; Conductor, Patrick Fournillier; Director, Nicola Raab; Design, Johan Engels; Lighting, Linus Fellbom; Concertmaster Roberto Cani; Chorus Master, Grant Gershon.