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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Traviata
12 Jun 2014

La Traviata in San Francisco

La Traviata has hit the stage at San Francisco Opera every three to five years (even annually in some periods) since 1924. Surprises have been rare.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Nicole Cabell as Violetta Valéry, Saimir Pirgu as Alfredo Germont [Photo by Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera]

 

And unwelcomed. Take for instance the 2009 San Francisco installment which was the 2006 art deco version imported from L.A. Opera directed by Marta Domingo. Violetta, a flapper, arrived at the party in a Rolls Royce during the overture, and it was downhill from there even though the soprano was Anna Netrebko.

Just now in San Francisco there was a welcome surprise, and that was Verdi’s orchestral score made vividly present in moods and colors, rushes and hesitations, pianos and fortes, well, pianissimos and fortissimos. It was the high octane conducting of Nicola Luisotti that made Verdi’s first truly masterful score the star of the show. The pit was the sentient center of Verdi’s personal and deeply felt domestic tragedy.

Never mind that this intense emotional focus emanating from the seemingly inspired musicianship of a superb orchestra revealed Francesco Maria Piave’s (and one assumes Verdi’s) dramatic structure to be truly clumsy. Or that Luisotti’s ultimate acceleration missed the emotional beats of the opera’s final moments — the blow of the intense release was summarily trampled over — a not atypical Luisotti conclusion.

Traviata_SF3OT.png
La Traviata, Act I. Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

The reliable 1987 (twenty-seven years ago) San Francisco Opera production by John Copley was back on stage. It is definitely mid-nineteenth century in concept as required by Verdi, glowing in warm colors (the splendid lighting designed by Gary Marder). The wash of colors, the swish of lavish gowns, the brilliant red flash of the flamenco dancer, the weight of nineteenth century architecture were however at odds with the detail and precision emerging from the Luisotti pit, and the emotional depth of the score itself.

The cast was decidedly low octane, and intimidated by the conductor. The stage action by the principals was kept downstage center, looking not at each other while singing to one another but presentational, addressing the audience and most importantly remaining able to have direct eye contact with the conductor.

Soprano Nicole Cabell replaced the originally announced Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta. Mlle. Cabell has previously proven herself a fine bel canto singer in San Francisco (Giulietta in Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi) in an integrated production (musical and production elements were compatible). A fine singer and artist, here undirected, she struggled to dominate the stage as required of Violetta, and did not possess an energy or brilliance of tone to bring Violetta to vibrant life. She opted out of the optional E-flat in “Sempre Libera.”

Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu has also proven himself in San Francisco as a bel canto singer (Tebaldo in Bellini’s I Capuleti ed i Montecchi). A fine singer and artist, vocally he cannot make the leap from easily fulfilling the demands of well-directed bel canto to the specific vocal and histrionic requirements of proto-realism roles (a larger, warmer voice and presence) or the higher powered vocal demands of mid- and late Verdi theater.

Traviata_SF2OT.png
Nicole Cabell as Traviata, Vladimir Stoyanov as Germont. Photo by Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera

Bulgarian baritone Vladimir Stoyanov sang Germont. This esteemed artist possesses a quite beautiful voice, and more than Mlle. Cabell or Mr. Pirgu fulfilled the Luisotti musical vision. Yet he too seemed a too small vocal and histrionic presence on the War Memorial stage.

Conductor Nicola Luisotti brings very specific and very powerful musicianship to opera. San Francisco Opera has yet to build a production around his unique talent. One hopes this may one day happen.

Luisotti conducts the first six performances (through June 29). The remaining four July performances, including the July 5 performance beamed directly onto the gigantic scoreboard of AT&T Park (home of the Giants), have a different cast of principals and a different conductor. Opera-at-the-Ball Park is not to be missed. It may be the Traviata you want to see.

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Violetta Valéry: Nicole Cabell; Alfredo Germont: Saimir Pirgu; Giorgio Germont: Vladimir Stoyanov; Flora Bervoix: Zanda Svede; Gastone: Daniel Montenegro; Baron Douphol: Dale Travis; Marquis D’Obigny: Hadleigh Adams; Doctor Grenvil: Andrew Craig Brown; Annina: Erin Johnson; Giuseppe: Christopher Jackson. Chorus and Orchestra of San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti. Original stage director: John Copley; Stage director: Laurie Feldman; Set design: John Conklin; Costume design: David Walker; Lighting design: Gary Marder; Choreographer: Yaelisa. San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, June 11, 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):