Recently in Performances
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.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
05 May 2014
Thebans: World Premiere at ENO
Julian Anderson’s Thebans at the Coliseum, London, absolutely justifies the ENO's mission: opera, in English, and of national significance. Anderson is one of the most influential figures in modern British music.
He's always written with a distinctively "visual" personality, translating concrete images into abstract music Thebans may be his first official foray into formal opera, but he's been heading towards it for years.
"Is this a contemporary opera?" asked someone in the audience. A good comment, since "isms" are irrelevant to art. Greek tragedy is universal because it deals with concepts that transcend time and place. Its very power comes from abstraction. Frank McGuinness's text distils the essence of the drama in a concise way so Anderson can tell the story through his music. Orchestrally, Thebans is so vivid that I closed my eyes during the First Act to better absorb how the drama was being created by the orchestra, and the interplay between orchestra and voices. Massive towers of sound suggest the relentless Fate that will destroy Oedipus and his issue. Pierre Audi's staging, with Tom Pye's designs, reflects the music extremely well. Strong horizontals against towering verticals giving form to the structure in the score. The choruses are very well blocked, their movements reflecting the movement, and the tension in the music. Towers filled with rock loom over the stage: Antigone, Oedipus's daughter, will be entombed alive in an insane, sterile parody of the womb of the Earth.
Edward Gardner conducts with savage but tightly controlled ferocity. Gardner chose Anderson's Symphony for his high-profile Barbican concert nearly ten years ago, tellingly combined with Walton's Symphony no 1. He understands Anderson, and his place in British music. Gardner shows how Anderson's textures are created. Gardner is wise to expand his portfolio and seek further challenges in orchestral repertoire. He could perhaps be the "British" conductor of choice, with a new, distictive approach.
The powerful blocks of sound that create such impact are not crude monoliths but built up in carefully delineated levels of density. Anderson knew Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail. He knows how microtones operate. I also thought of Harrison Birtwistle, specifically Earth Dances, where tectonic planes of sound are shaped by layers of smaller fragments. Birtwistle's syyle is strikingly organic, as if it grows naturally from great depths. Audi's staging again reflects this musical concept. In the Second Act, The Future, lights shine through the towers of rock, highlighting the invisible gaps behind solid objects (probably styrofoam). The lights suggest fire, perhaps volcanic forces rising from the bowels of the planet. Antigone defies oppression. She is the "light" that leads Oedipus who has gouged out his eyes.
The Second Act, which tells her story, is exceptionally well written, worthy of being staged on its own as a stand-alone. A second interval after a 20 minute act would normally kill an opera, but in this case feels necessary: you need to escape the intensity. The writing for the choruses is also very good indeed. Anderson sings in choirs himself. Like Greek choruses, Anderson's chorus pronounce judgement. From way up at the top of the auditorium, the choruses explode, augmented either in numbers or by electronics. : the effect is overwhelming, yet the voice types are not muddled.
In this powerful Second Act, music and visuals glow black, white, indigo, red and gold. This intensifies the desolation at Colonus, the portal of Death. The music becomes sepulchral. At times I caught echoes of plainchant. The devastaion is all the more harrowing because we have just seen how the curse on Oedipus outlasts his death.
Roland Wood sang Oedipus. He has been unwell for some weeks, so we didn't hear him at full capacity, so all the more respect to him. I hope he doesn't harm his voice by pushing it for this premiere, important as it is. Julia Sporsén sang Antigone. Lyrical beauty doesn't necessarily come into this role, so Sporsén created the strength in the part well. Peter Hoare's Creon was superb, helped by the oddly sensual passages Anderson writes for the part. Creon's monolgue in Act Two is disturbingly enticing. Anderson also uses countertenor for good effect, so Christopher Ainslie singing connected to baroque style while also suggesting the surreal intervention of Theseus. The whole Oedipal saga circulates around Jocasta, though she's swiftly despatched fairly early on. Anderson gives Susan Bickley a good aria, and Audi's costume designer Christof Hetzer further illuminates the past by dressing her - alone - in royal blue.