Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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.

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):