Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro, and Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]
28 Oct 2014

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

A review by David Rubin

Above: Amanda Majeski as Countess Almaviva, Marlis Petersen as Susanna, Ildar Abdrazakov as Figaro, and Peter Mattei as Count Almaviva [Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera]

 

If I could bottle one production of one opera to pour for friends who have never seen an opera before but are curious about the art form, it would be this new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

This Figaro was very special for one reason only. It was not the singing, which was solid but not exceptional by Met standards. It was certainly not the updating of the action to 1930s Spain, nor the new set — a massive, claustrophobic, monochromatic clump of rotating gold cylinders. No, the pleasure came from the cast of young, athletic, handsome singers who acted as if they were part of the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago.

For fashioning this Figaro into a true ensemble piece we have to thank Sir Richard Eyre, who was in charge of the production. He made this Figaro a lively, funny theater piece, backed by Mozart’s matchless music.

The ringmaster of this Figaro was German soprano Marlis Petersen, the Susanna whom Figaro seeks permission to wed throughout the entire piece. On this afternoon, the opera should really have been titled “The Marriage of Susanna.” Petersen offered a welcome new perspective on this role of the maid in service to the Count and Countess Almaviva. She was no perky soubrette, bouncing around the stage. Rather, Petersen is tall, regal, handsome, cool and very sexy. It is quite clear why the Count lusts after her and wants to bed her before she weds Figaro — an opportunity the Count never achieves during four acts and nearly four hours of pure pleasure for the audience.

Even though Susanna has only one aria for herself, and that comes in the last act, she is on stage constantly, participating in numerous duets and ensemble numbers. She defined her character in the first scene, when she and Figaro are discussing the Count’s interest in Susanna as a bed partner, about which Figaro had been clueless. With graphic thrusts of her pelvis, Petersen made it clear what the Count wanted and suggested that she may be more sexually experienced than either Figaro or the Count imagined. When pretending to seduce the Count in Act Three, Petersen showed a lot of shapely leg.

Petersen was surrounded by a top-notch group of singing actors, almost all of who delivered solid vocal performances. Peter Mattei has played Count Almaviva all over the world. He has mastered projecting aristocratic arrogance and sexual menace. He was particularly strong in his Act Three aria Vedro mentr’io sospiro, in which he realizes Susannah is toying with him.

Ildar Abdrazakov was a Figaro not nearly as clever as the Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, which launches this tale of the Almavivas. This Figaro took his cues from Susanna. He was open faced and genial, but slow on the uptake. Those who saw the company’s Prince Igor last year will remember his strong baritone voice in the title role. He was equally resonant here.

Isabel Leonard, one of the world’s leading mezzo sopranos, was a believably punk, androgynous Cherubino. She delivered both of her signature arias with a mixture of humor and pathos, with solid technique. Leonard is also quite fit. She pumped through a half dozen push-ups at one point, and she climbed about fifteen feet to reach an open window in the Countess’s bedroom, out of which she jumped straight down to an unseen garden.

These four were clearly having fun, and it was a pleasure to watch them interact.

Amanda Majeski as the Countess Almaviva matched Susannah in height and regal bearing. They could have been sisters. But her portrayal presented some problems. She wore a perpetual frown as she fretted about the boorish behavior of her husband. This makes sense, but she projected such frigidity that she was not as sympathetic a character as she should be. The spunky and funny Rosina of the Barber, her character in the Rossini opera, was long gone.

Majeski’s singing was also not quite up to the level set by the others. Her first aria, Porgi Amor, was tentative, lacking volume. Her voice did not have much cream in it. She settled more comfortably into Dove Sono and delivered a more assured performance, but not one that touched the audience. Her voice at this stage is a bit small of a house this large. Majeski is the least experienced of the five leads, so this must be considered. She will undoubtedly grow into this great role.

The cast of supporting players was especially strong. Susanne Mentzer was a younger Marcellina than normal, not really old enough to have been Figaro’s mother — a surprise that surfaces in the third act. Her rivalry with Susanna produced sparks and a spirited duet in Act One.

The veteran John Del Carlo as Bartolo sounded congested in his Act One aria in which he swears revenge on Figaro for how he was outfoxed in the Rossini opera, and he struggled with the top notes. But his voice cleared later and he became a funny, barrel-chested contributor in the ensembles.

Greg Fedderly exhibited an uncommonly clear and forceful tenor as Basilio, the scheming singing teacher. Philip Cokorinos, in strong voice, was not the usual drunken gardener staggering around the stage, which was a relief. Ying Fang made a very promising debut as Barbarina, who eventually becomes Cherubino’s love match.

In Eyre’s updating of the action from 18th century Seville to the 1930s, he bled all the politics out of the opera. Figaro can and should be seen as the rumblings of the peasantry against the aristocracy and its privileges. In 1930s Seville, that doesn’t work. As a result, Eyre’s Figaro was only a comedy about sexual couplings and uncouplings.

However, the 1930s setting did allow costume designer Rob Howell to create some smashing outfits. Majeski wore two gowns — one an eye-catching black and white number. (Alert the Met bookkeepers: She wore it for just a few minutes.) The other was a memorable magenta and black beauty. This one was crucial to sorting out the complexities of the last act, in which Susanna and the Countess swap dresses and identities to fool the Count. Because both Majeski and Petersen are tall, the switcheroo was believable, as was the Count’s confusion. Eyre, for one of the few times I can remember, managed to stage this scene coherently.

Howell also provided a spiffy double-breasted blue jacket and white pants outfit for the Count, plus a riding outfit of jodhpurs and boots. Cherubino sported a white suit and vest with a Panama hat plus a black tuxedo.

While the gold cylinders dominating the stage quickly grew tiresome, the two in the center rotated to provide quick scene changes. At one point they created the illusion of long hallways in the Almaviva mansion, allowing the Count to chase after Cherubino in convincing fashion.

The set also worked well for the last act set in a pine forest. Here, a single large pine tree grew through the center of one of the cylinders. A second-level tree house was placed above the stage in the branches. On this platform Cherubino and Barbarina looked down on the action below, wide-eyed. It was a nice touch.

James Levine remains a peerless Mozart conductor, and the Met Orchestra played with finesse. He made liberal use of the tympani. The grand final 20 minutes of the Act Two ensemble finale traversed the same aural landscape as the Jupiter Symphony. Levine was greeted with adoration by the audience, acknowledging the applause from his specially made wheelchair.

This Figaro returns on December 4 for another long run with a new conductor (Edo de Waart) and a new cast. Perhaps they can capture the magic of this cast and conductor, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

David Rubin
CNY Café Momus

This review first appeared at CNY Café Momus. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

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):