Recently in Performances
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.
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.
06 Jul 2014
Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
La Fille has certainly been derided over the years for its vulgarity and
jingoistic tendencies. Yet dig a little deeper and you find that the canny
Donizetti was also in fact essaying a new direction away from the
all-conquering Italian opera of his time and, by a slick piece of “art
concealing (or revealing?) art”, he was on the way to creating a new style.
Indeed he had more than 20 years of compositional experience behind him by the
time Fille hit the stage in 1839/40, and he used all his considerable
wiles to achieve his aims. Perhaps Theophile Gautier best summed up this work
as “facile et spirituelle” — and certainly it seduces with its
infectiously gay (in the original sense),light, and bright music as much as it
explores the weightier themes of nationalism, feminism and the human response
to loss and war, despite skimming over them with a gossamer thread of catchy
tunes. So how to bring all this to a tiny space in the Wiltshire countryside?
Suzanne Shakespeare as Marie
Director Jeff Clarke and his designers Nigel Howard & Graham Wynne and
conductor Toby Purser simply threw away the rule book for this English-language
version and solved the production “problems” with panache, wit, imagination
and, well, plenty of va-va-vroom. Literally almost, as the Regiment is
converted to a South Californian Hell’s Angels-type biker gang, all six of
them beautifully kitted out in full leathers, tattoos and bandanas riding some
interesting-looking “Darley Havisons”. They are “at war” with a rival
gang and so immediately we understand what Clarke is doing and are seduced into
this early 1960’s version of the Napoleonic wars. Marsha Berkenfield, social
climber in LA, her daintily-camp butler Mr.Hortensius, Sulpice is
“president” of the Regiment gang, Dulcie Crackenthorpe an appalling old
heiress, Tonio a Hispanic immigrant (serendipitously cast) and Marie as in the
original, an orphan “found” by the Regiment as a baby. True, there is the
odd surgical cut: no room, literally, for the opening scene with the
“Marquess” and Tyrolean peasants praying for deliverance en masse — but
apart from that Clarke has kept very close to the original opera. The libretto
however was definitely given a far freer rein by Clarke: plenty of choice biker
language, plenty of near-the-knuckle anti-Hispanic invective.
Any “Fille” anywhere has always been an opera which stands or falls by
the success of its Daughter of the Regiment; over the decades it has been
defined by many by the quality of the soprano singing the role of Marie —
from Jenny Lind, via the great Dame Joan Sutherland, and on to such modern day
successes as Natalie Dessay. So it was a delight and a relief to hear young
Australian-born soprano Suzanne Shakespeare take on the mantle with a fearless
display of sparkling coloratura, trills and even a few decorations of her own.
Her voice has both a warm middle and a shining top: E flats popped with aplomb,
yet with “Il faut partir...” her goodbye to the gang in Act One,
she found a touching pathos, ably drawn. A bravura performance from start to
finish — a young star on the high road for sure. So then, of course, there is
the “will he, won’t he” aspect of Tonio’s (in)famous “Mes
amis....”. If young Spanish tenor Jesus Alvarez was nervous, it didn’t
show. We might have been nervous for him for in that intimate space and
orchestration for just eleven instruments, but yes he delivered all nine of
those high Cs with conviction and bang in tune.
Jesús Álvarez as Tonio
However, no matter how thrilling the young leads were, or how convincing
their acting, here at Iford it was the role of Sulpice, sung by the excellent
Adrian Clarke which held the whole show together. Totally in the part from
start to finish, beautifully observed, expressively sung, what a tour de force
he gave us. Almost as impressive was Katharine Taylor Jones’ Marsha
Berkenfield, a statuesque figure wearing the vintage dresses with assurance and
poise, her warm mezzo voice supple through the range. A comically-awful Dulcie
Crakenthopre was played in drag by one of the bikers, Philip Cox who obviously
had a lot of fun mixing his roles. James Harrison’s mincing butler was the
right side of caricature and kept the laughs coming. A word must be said here
for the biker gang: sung by Cox, Richard Belshaw, Graham Stone, Martin George,
Angus McAllister and Richard Woodall, this was no ordinary “chorus” job.
With only six voices to fill out Donizetti’s wonderful music each was a true
soloist, each a significant actor. The same must be said of the 11 players of
that music: from opening solo trumpet to resounding final chords, nowhere to
hide and nowhere needed.
The production team kept it simple but effective with the cloister converted
to a tract of dry desert and cacti. The Music Lesson was ingeniously staged
with an electronic keyboard masquerading as a grand piano, in turn doing duty
as a dance-stage. Clever, witty, and it worked. Which, really, sums up this
mini-triumph of the imagination. A must-see if you can.
La Fille du Regiment (sung in English), Iford Opera, Saturday, July
Opera della Luna at Iford Opera playing: July 8th,
10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and