Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

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.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

New Production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Lyric Opera, Chicago

In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.

A Salome to Remember

Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.

L’Elisir d’Amore Goes On Despite Storm

On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susannah Glanville as Minnie and Jeff Gwaltney as Dick Johnson [Photo by Fritz Curzon]
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.

Giacomo Puccini: La fanciulla del West

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Susannah Glanville as Minnie and Jeff Gwaltney as Dick Johnson

Photos by Fritz Curzon

 

Never 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 beyond reproach.

photo-5.gif 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 California.

Mark Berry


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 2014.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):