Recently in Performances
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.
06 Jun 2014
Giacomo Puccini: La fanciulla del West
‘I like the atmosphere of the West’, Puccini wrote after seeing three of David Belasco’s plays performed on Broadway in 1907, ‘but in all the “pièces” I have seen, I have found only a few scenes here and there.
a simple thread, all muddle, and, at times, bad taste and old hat.’ It was
nevertheless there and then that the first dramatic seeds were sown for La
fanciulla del West were sown; it would be written to a libretto after
Belasco, dedicated to Queen Alexandra (!), and premiered in New York in 1910.
Even after considerable compression, modification, and so forth, I am not
convinced the work is a resounding triumph, though many Puccini lovers esteem
it highly indeed. It is certainly full of musical interest: the Wagnerisms of
old are perhaps not so prominent, though the love scene in the second act
surely takes partly after Tristan , but the influence of Debussy in
particular is fruitful indeed. Whole tone scales pervade the score, and there
is more than the occasional nod to Pelléas. The story itself, the
characters included, remains more of a problem. They are not the easiest people
to care about, and without that, Puccini’s trademark emotional manipulations
cannot do their work. He may have wished the opera to be a ‘second
Bohème, only stronger, bolder, and more spacious,’ but that
ambition would only fitfully be fulfilled. The sentimentality of the
‘redemptive’ ending is, alas, only too readily resisted.
Or so it seemed here, despite an excellent orchestral performance from the
City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford. The number of occasions when
one really felt the lack of a larger orchestra was surprisingly small, the
strings proving more luscious than one would have had any right to expect, the
woodwind piquant and alluring, and the brass offering dramatical fatalism
aplenty. Stratford’s direction seemed to me splendidly judged, those
Debussyan resonances both readily apparent and seamless incorporated into the
score. There is little that can be done about a rather annoying theme -
friends tell me that it has been ‘borrowed’ by a composer of musical
theatre, though it stands out like a sore thumb even before one is aware of
that - but the score was certainly given its due. Stratford’s - and his
cast’s - crewing up of musical tension during the second-act wager was
Susannah Glanville as Minnie and Simon Thorpe as Jack Rance
Susannah Glanville shone as Minnie; I had not encountered her before, but
was mightily impressed by her vocal reserves and the dramatic use to which they
were bit. This was a performance that would have graced many a ‘major’
stage, not that the ever-enterprising Opera Holland Park has any reason to fear
such lazy comparisons. Jeff Gwaltney sometimes struggled to make himself heard
- in particular, his words - but offered a sensitive portrayal of Dick
Johnson. Simon Thorpe presented the conflicting emotions of Jack Rance with
considerable skill, permitting one initially to sympathise, then to be
repelled. A strong supporting cast included a highly impressive performance by
Nicholas Garrett as Sonora. Choral singing was likewise greatly to be admired.
The problem, then, lay with Stephen Barlow’s production. This, at least it
seems to me, is a vulnerable work, and the updating to a 1950s Nevada atomic
testing ground makes little sense. A number of those who know the opera far
better than I do say that it is a work that resists relocation in any sense. I
am not so sure; I can imagine, for instance, a metatheatrical treatment in
Hollywood, which played upon musical themes as well as the more obvious
metaphor of gold-digging. The name ‘Camp Desert Rock’ seemed to promise
something that remained un-delivered, but perhaps that should come as a relief.
Barlow’s concept, however ably assisted by Yannis Thavoris’s designs, seems
not to involve any real re-thinking; re-location jars and perplexes, rather
than reinvigorates. Puccini’s ‘never a simple thread, all muddle, and, at
times, bad taste and old hat’? That would be too harsh, but work and musical
performance alike are done no favours by pointless, eye- but hardly
ear-catching interpolations, of Minnie’s final act arrival upon a motorcycle
and the lovers’ subsequent airline departure. It was difficult to resist the
conclusion that the opera would have been better off left in Gold Rush
Cast and production information:
Minnie: Susannah Glanville; Dick Johnson: Jeff Gwaltney; Jack Rance:
Simon Thorpe; Nick: Neal Cooper; Sonora: Nicholas Garrett; Trin: Jung Soo Yun;
Sid: Peter Braithwaite; Bello: James Harrison; Harry: Oliver Brignall; Joe:
Edward Hughes; Happy: John Lofthouse; Jim Larkens: Aidan Smith; Ashby: Graeme
Broadbent; Wowkle: Laura Woods; Billy Jackrabbit: Tom Stoddart; Jake Wallace:
Simon Wilding; Jose Castro: Henry Grant Kerswell; Pony Express Rider: Michael
Bradley. Director: Stephen Barlow; Designs: Yannis Thavoris; Lighting: Richard
Howell. Opera Holland Park Chorus (chorus master: Timothy Burke)/ City of
London Sinfonia/Stuart Stratford (conductor). Holland Park. Tuesday 3 June