Recently in Performances
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.
In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.
27 Jul 2014
Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.
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.
The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
As was the fashion, the “new” opera of the 1640s celebrated the precedence of the text over the music. It was said that music served to illustrate and therefore followed the text of the drama in every way, allowing the musicians to fill in the chords between the vocal and bass lines as they wished. More complete orchestration, it was thought, should be confined to musical interludes and aria-type passages. This theory has, it must be admitted, caused many of today’s early musicians many headaches!
At Iford, director Justin Way and conductor Christian Curnyn have sensibly foregone the usual “Prologue” as the original libretto by Badoaro established the fact that humans are just playthings at the mercy of the gods - Time, Fortune and Love .However, after this he also leaps into the story of our hero near the end of his trials and travels, and so we join the story as Penelope weeps and waits for her husband to return, pestered by ambitious suitors, whilst Ulysses is washed up on the shores of Ithaca unaware that the goddess Minerva has an idea......
Elisabeth Cragg as Minerva
This Iford Opera production, sung in English, made the most of the tiny space with a vaguely “ancient/mythological” blue flooring design and subdued (and occasionally wayward) lighting. Costumes were also vaguely modern with more than a touch of the dressing-up box, but did little to disturb the intense drama of the piece. A production which served rather than inspired.
However, it was, rightly, the music and the drama which stayed with the audience as we departed into a ridiculously warm and starlit night in the depths of the Wiltshire countryside. Curnyn’s group of eight superb early instrument specialists - with himself at the harpsichord almost part of the drama from time to time - drew us into this time-warp of sound with grace, style and (even more difficult on a sultry evening) amazingly good tuning.
Jonathan McGovern as Ulysses and Rowan Hellier as Penelope
Of the 12 young singers there can only be praise, and they kept up Iford’s reputation for high quality vocalism. The restricted acting space requires complete immersion in the role as there is literally nowhere to hide when so close to the audience and as actors some were better than others. Here experience tended to tell: standouts had to be Rowan Hellier as a noble, plangent Penelope with rich mezzo tones throughout; Jonathan McGovern as the wandering hero Ulysses who brought a powerful tenor which also could spin a line with ease, and Daniel Auchincloss as the faithful servant/shepherd Eumaeus, who’s early music experience, high tenor and appealing stage presence made themselves felt. Among the more minor roles, the resonant snarling bass of Callum Thorpe as one of the nicely-delineated three suitors was memorable.
Monteverdi is not an “easy” option for any summer festival opera series and Iford Opera is to be congratulated for finding exactly the right mix of musicians and singers to convince and perhaps convert those for whom this was a first experience of how it all started so very long ago.
Click here for cast and production information.