Recently in Performances
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.
Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.
San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).
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.