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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



23 Jun 2014

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Patricia Racette as Butterfly, Brian Jagde as Pinkerson [Photo by Cory Weaver]


It was an Italian opera, the abstract visual images of a Japanese born American and an American fable that converged magically into artistic totality.

The 2006 production itself (design and staging), is from Opera Omaha. It has since traveled to Madison, Dayton, Vancouver, Honolulu, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Charlotte. It would hold the stage in any opera house in the opera world. It is a masterpiece.

The sets and costumes are by Omaha based ceramic artist Jun Kaneko who collaborated with stage director Leslie Swackhamer, a professor at Sam Houston State University (Houston) whose theatrical roots are in Seattle, to create this unique production.

Jun Kaneko works primarily in repeated patterns in two dimensional clay, a visual process that brilliantly found its way into Puccini’s verismo — the abstracted, multi-colored umbrellas of the wedding guests was the kaleidoscope of village life, the sliding panel of black and white squares meant the house. Screens flew in and out on which repeating, jagged lines of growing tension were drawn. These were but some of the patterns that multiplied the joyous and horrific emotional obsessions that are at the base of verismo.

Butterfl_SF1OT.png Act I, Patricia Racette as Butterfly. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Kaneko creates abstract location (background) in giant swaths of solid color — a golden yellow for the marriage, this color carried through the opera by the golden trousers of Trouble, reds and blues for the American presence, and finally brilliant red for blood, in a dripping image that mirrored the neck seppuku committed by the Butterfly standing just below. These were some of the colors that conveyed the powerfully contrasting forces of verismo.

San Francisco Opera’s Nicola Luisotti was in the pit. This powerful musical presence usually dominates the War Memorial stage. However here the tyrannical maestro met his match — the evolving visual statements riveted our eyes to the stage, diva Patricia captivated our emotions. The maestro did no more than hold us in thrall to this masterwork. It was what great operatic conducting can be. And very seldom is.

Butterfly_SF2OT.png Act II vigil. Photo by Cory Weaver.

This was the performance in its finest moments.

Soprano Patricia Racette no longer has the bloom of voice to create the Act I Butterfly or to deliver a resplendent “un bel di.” But she has gained vocal force and darker colors to execute with soul-wrenching power the words that take her gently and brutally to sacrifice and suicide.

Patricia Racette’s Butterfly has been legend for many years. It is a role she is not likely to keep in her voice much longer.

Mezzo soprano Elizabeth DeShong portrayed a Suzuki that could easily become legendary as well. She possesses a lyric mezzo voice in full flower, and a presence that offers an expanded dimension of character for roles like Suzuki and Cenerentola (her Glyndebourne debut) and trouser roles like Hansel (Chicago) and Maffio Orsini (ENO and SFO).

Baritone Brian Mulligan made an adequate Sharpless but did not resonate with the stature of the Racette Butterfly. The Pinkerton was tenor Brian Jagde, a recent Adler Fellow who does not have the refinement necessary to appear on a major stage (the War Memorial claims it is). It was a raw performance, made embarrassing by the strutting onto the stage apron (and even upon the prompter box) to attempt to impress us with his high notes. This young tenor will perform Pinkerton at Covent Garden, casting that is surely manifestation of artistic anti-Americanism. Current Adler Fellow Julius Ahn is not a big enough performer to fill the Goro pants in a major production.

Michael Milenski

Casts and production information:

Cio-Cio-San: Patricia Racette; Lt. B.F. Pinkerton: Brian Jagde; Suzuki: Elizabeth DeShong; Sharpless: Brian Mulligan; Goro: Julius Ahn; Kate Pinkerton: Jacqueline Piccolino; Prince Yamadori: Efrain Solis; The Bonze: Morris Robinson; Commissioner: Hadleigh Adams. Chorus and Orchestra of San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Stage Director; Leslie Swackhamer; Production Designer: Jun Kaneko; Lighting Designer: Gary Marder. War Memorial Opera House, June 15, 2014.

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