Recently in Performances
At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.
By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
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.