Recently in Performances
It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to
explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs
that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and
theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
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.
11 Jun 2014
Rising Stars at Lyric Opera of Chicago
In its annual concert devoted to performances by current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center, Lyric Opera of Chicago showcased a roster of talented singers who will doubtless add greatly to operatic and concert stages of the immediate future.
All of the singers performed their
chosen pieces and ensembles admirably, indeed each selection as sung was
memorable for the degree of lyrical and dramatic commitment transmitted. As a
supplement to the vocal offerings Maureen Zoltek, the Ryan Opera Center’s new
pianist, played the first movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. The
conductor for the entire program was Kelly Kuo.
The first half of the program spanned operatic selections, in four
languages, ranging from the eighteenth through the twentieth century. The
second half of the evening was dominated by American and French selections
after the performance of the movement from the Ravel Concerto. Perhaps most
revealing from this program was the opportunity to hear each of the talented
singers in a variety of repertoire, with performances that emphasized an
encouraging versatility. As an example of such range, Tracy Cantin sang, in the
first part of the concert, Cressida’s recitative and aria, “How can I
At the haunted end of the day,” from Sir William Walton’s
Troilus and Cressida. Ms. Cantin’s involvement in this brief
evocation of the title character was riveting. Her searing top notes
emphasizing “betrayed” and “a phantom” led to the dramatic concluding
declaration of “my conqueror.” In the second part of the program Cantin was
equally impressive in a very different role, the concluding scene of Jules
Massenet’s Thaïs. Here as she was supported by the Athanaël of
baritone Anthony Clark Evans the vision of Thaïs came alive and her
transformation from courtesan to saint was believable. Cantin produced soft,
pure pitches in contrast to the appropriately urgent, sincere appeals by Evans.
The final “Je vois Dieu” [“I see God”] communicated the apotheosis of a
blessed figure. A comparable set of performances was offered by bass-baritone
Richard Ollarsaba. In his rendering of Figaro’s Act IV aria, “Tutto è
Aprite un po quegl’occhi” [“All is prepared
eyes a little”], Ollarsaba demonstrated excellent sense of color and the
ability to use his resonant sound as a means to suggesting varying emotional
states. Even within the single word “Ingrata” the expressive range that
Ollarsaba attached to individual vowels communicated both distress felt by the
character portrayed and a growing sense of irritation. Ollarsaba’s later
contribution was also by Mozart, this time in the trio ensemble, “Soave sia
il vento,” from Act I of Così fan tutte, sung together with soprano
Laura Wilde and mezzo soprano Julie Anne Miller. Each of the three performers
retained a distinct vocal personality while also blending effectively at
requisite moments. As Don Alfonso, Ollarsaba’s upper register and fluid
legato connecting multiple pitches outlined an impressive backdrop for
the myriad emotions expressed, just as the women’s voices rose and fell in
touching pathos. In their solo pieces during the concert both Miller and Wilde
also gave exciting performances. Ms. Miller showed a masterful sense of
Handelian style in the aria of the title character, “Dopo notte,” [“After
night”] from Act III of Ariodante. While communicating the sense of
the text, Miller took the word “splende” [“radiantly”] with appropriate
forte emphasis. Especially noteworthy are Miller’s breath control
and Italian diction, both serving her well in the embellishments she used in
the repeat of the A section of the aria. In the second part of the program Ms.
Wilde sang Marguerite’s aria, “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux!,” [“O God! What
jewels!”] from Gounod’s Faust; she held a mirror in hand and acted
through her character’s delight with the jewel box as she sang this famous
showpiece aria. In decorating the line of this piece Wilde was careful in
observing textual import, so that her decorations on the “princesse,” whom
she fantasized at becoming, were especially well chosen. Her final notes showed
an emotional outburst that spoke more of the character’s naïveté than of
her entrancement with the jewels produced by Mephistopheles.
Among other singers performing in both solo and shared pieces J’nai
Bridges gave a sublime account of Sapho’s aria, “Où suis je
Ô ma lyre
immortelle” [“Where am I
o my immortal lyre”] from Gounod’s opera
Sapho. Bridges led the listeners into Sapho’s emotional world, the
character’s distress at the end of her life being expressed in contrasting
lines with “nuit eternal” [“eternal night”] and “douleur”
[“pain”], both descending to full deep notes, and her wounded “cor”
[“heart”] showing the singer’s glistening upper register. As Sapho’s
inevitable act of suicide approached, Bridges’s voice rose at the
contemplation “sous les andes” [“beneath the waves”]; she invoked her
watery death with chilling, individual low pitches on “dans las mer” [“in
the sea”] before appealing to the ocean to indeed open itself up [“ouvre
toi”] with a final, shockingly dramatic top note on the repetition of “dans
la mer.” A very different sort of character emerged in her duet from
Porgy and Bess, shared with the Porgy of baritone Will Liverman. Mr.
Liverman has an excellent command of legato which he sustained
throughout, just as Bridges declared “I’s your woman now.” Both
singers’ voices suggested the mutually enveloping emotions of their
characters as the line “We is one now” remained the predominant theme
communicated. In his solo contribution, “Batter my heart” from John
Adams’s Doctor Atomic, Liverman showed very effectively the tension
felt by Oppenheimer as he struggled with the responsibilities of his scientific
research and its effects on humanity. Yet another couple deserves mention for
their vocal and dramatic commitment. Soprano Emily Birsan and tenor John Irvin
sang a delightful account of “Chiedi all’aura lusinghiera” from Act I of
Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Both artists demonstrated their
ease and technical skill at bel canto singing, while each was
especially sensitive to weaving a lyrical statement that suggested a growing
sense of attraction and an independent resistance to the same. As a fitting
conclusion to the evening the latter two performers were joined by Miller,
Evans, and Ollarsaba, as well as the full ensemble, in “The promise of
living” from Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land.