Recently in Performances
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.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.
12 Jul 2014
Nabucco at Orange
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
It was a production by Jean-Paul Scarpitta who was stage director and scenery and costume designer. Mr. Scarpitta’s dramaturgy is informed by his fascinations for Giorgio Strehler and Robert Wilson from which many wonderful stagings have resulted during his ten year residency in Montpellier.
There was promise in the air, the breadth of the raked stage (300 feet wide, 60 feet deep) was covered in a black asphalt-like substance, the mostly intact, imposing scaenae frons (back wall of the theater) was bare, overseen from high above by the massive sculpture of the Emperor Augustus. The revelation of the evening was the lighting of the black floor by Urs Schônebaum, its enormous shiny, rough surface shone in a myriad of intensities for the huge exterior scenes, sometimes it was reduced to a brilliant square of white light to frame a singer (Nabucco’s intensely personal “Son pur queste mie membra”), other times strong directional side light cast enormous, elongated shadows across the stage that deepened emotional relationships (the Act I confrontation of Abigail with the lovers Fenena and Ismaele).
Scapitta’s staging of Verdi’s early masterpiece was sabotaged often by the video projections on the back wall. After an initial appreciation of the technical feat of accomplishing such massive projections (ranging from discretely deployed white-lighted, descending emotional shapes to the ugly, yellow-ish, sprayed styrofoam image that covered the entire back wall for the palace interior scenes) the projections became distractions to the accomplishments of the singers and lights on the black floor.
George Gagnizde as Nabucco, Maria Serafin as Abigail
Mr. Scarpita is a musical stage director, his actors moved more by musical line and musical structural rather than by dramatic motivation. Here too he was sabotaged, now by singers who were read as static lumps of color rather than as the excited singers responding to the young Verdi whose Nabucco revealed his genius for the first time.
Veteran Georgian baritone George Gagnizde made some big sounds in a strong entrance but soon fell into an almost lieder-like performance by a bored singer. Veteran Austrian soprano Maria Serafin, a noted Tosca, no longer has the bloom of voice and perhaps never had the agility of voice to create a vibrant Abigail, a character Verdi created to tear-up-the-stage vocally and dramatically.
Younger members of the cast were more effective. French mezzo-soprano Karine Deshayes made a low key Fenena that conveyed a static presence and personality in her monochrome rose costume. Italian tenor Piero Pretti sang a stylish Ismaele and moved gracefully.
Dimitry Beloselskiy as Zaccaria, Karine Deshayes as Fenena.
The opera is however about Nabucco and Abigail, not Fenena and Ismaele. Russian bass Dimitry Beloselskiy made it about the Jewish high priest Zaccaraia as well. This fine young bass found the voice and presence to make his role the biggest performance of the evening. Unfortunately his performance was sabotaged by his costume, a white robe covered by black lightning bolt-like (sort of) shapes. While the powerful shapes on the costume sought to embody a force of divine strength they instead made his exhortations seem decorative rather than dramatic.
The costumes of the chorus were always identical, creating giant blocks of color on the stage, mostly static swathes of color that in theory (and if they were far larger) might have become a pedal-point musical color. The problem of how to move these blocks of color onto and off of the stage was never overcome. An additional scenic impulse backfired — thirty or so spear carrying Babylonian warrior extras wearing only loin clothes. Had these stalwart young Orangeois been clothed they might have seemed handsome and strong. Semi-nude they exposed a variety of shapes and postures that cried out for prosthetic chests.
The sight lines from the cavea (the tiered seating) of the Théâtre Antique makes the orchestra (seated in the “orchestra” of a Roman theater) a visually important part of the field of vision. This presence together with the fine acoustic of the theater leaves the orchestra as exposed as a solo singer on the stage. Here the unforgiving acoustic revealed the weaknesses of the Orchestre National de Montpellier, particularly the winds, The sound of the orchestra itself lacked the finesse expected of a fine French orchestra.
The conducting of veteran Israeli maestro Pinchas Steinberg did not come near the intense excitement that Verdi had found within himself for opera as a patriotic art form, nor for the new styles of vocal virtuosity that Verdi asked of his singers. Even “Va pensiero” came across as little more than a self-conscious hum along.
And what about the lighted, window onto upstage stage center from back stage that was left uncovered? Its light and passing figures fouled the stage picture of anyone sitting in Section 4. Is there no one home at the Chorégies?
Casts and production information:
Abigaïlle: Martina Serafin; Fenena: Karine Deshayes; Anna; Marie-Adeline Henry; Nabucco: George Gagnidze; Zaccaria: Dmitry Belosselskiy; Ismaele: Piero Pretti; Il Gran Sacerdote di Belo: Nicolas Courjal; Abdallo: Luca Lombardo. Orchestre National Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon. Choruses of the opera companies of Nice, Montpellier, Avignon and Toulon. Conductor: Pinchas Steinberg. Mise en scène, scenery and costumes: Jean-Paul Scarpitta; Lighting: Urs Schönebaum. Théâtre Antique Romain, Orange, France, July 9, 2014.