Recently in Performances
Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !
It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
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.