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.
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