Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
13 Apr 2015
Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment
On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.
While in Paris working on the French versions of his other operas, Gaetano Donizetti took some time to write an opéra-comique, La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment). Its French text is by Jean-François Bayard, a nephew of the famous librettist Eugène Scribe, and the prolific but rather old fashioned Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges.
After its premiere at the Opéra-Comique on February 11, 1840, Marie-Julie Halligner, who sang the Marquise of Berkenfeld, said that the performance was "a barely averted disaster" because the tenor was frequently off pitch. French critic and composer Hector Berlioz claimed that the new work could not be taken seriously, but in all probability his opinion was colored by jealousy. During a single year, Donizetti had two works performed at the Opéra, two at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, two at the Opéra-Comique, and one at the Théâtre-Italien.
La Fille du Régiment soon became popular at the Opéra-Comique and it achieved its thousandth performance within seventy years. One of the reasons for its success was the aria that defeated the premiere’s tenor, Mécène Marié de l'Isle. "Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fête!” ("Ah, my friends, what an exciting day"), is best known for containing nine high Cs.
David Portillo as Tonio, Susannah Biller as Marie with Regiment including Stefano De Peppo as Sergeant Sulpice
On March 7, 1843, the first American performance of Fille took place at the Théâtre d'Orléans in New Orleans. It was so successful there that the company brought the opera to New York City where it was highly praised by local newspapers. As time went on, artists such as Jenny Lind, Henriette Sontag, Adelina Patti, Lily Pons, and Joan Sutherland enjoyed singing the role of Marie.
On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera finished its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.
Tenor David Portillo, who has a beautiful lyric sound, had no difficulty reaching the nine high Cs in the famous aria. As lively and buoyant as Biller, bass Stefano de Peppo was a nimble, hilariously funny Sergeant Sulpice who sang with a colorful, robust voice. Donizetti did not often write major roles for lower women’s voices but the comedic Marquise of Berkenfeld is an exception. Mezzo Margaret Gawrysiak played her part broadly and showed her true vocal ability in her aria, “Pour une Femme de mon Nom” (“For a Woman with my Name”).
Arizona Opera Young Artist Program member Calvin Griffin has become a valuable member of the company. A lithe and limber comedian, he made an attentive Hortensius. Chris Carr was an amusing corporal while actress Didi Conn was an entertaining Duchess of Krakenthorpe. Like many other operas of this era, Fille has a great deal of choral music. Henri Venanzi’s singers conveyed in idiomatic French style and grace.
Right from the opening notes of the overture, the audience knew that conductor Keitaro Harada was putting his individual stamp on this piece. He combined Donizetti’s delightful melodies with dramatic musical coherence. His dynamic range was huge and he kept the playing transparent so that listeners heard all the melodic strands in the fabric of the score. This was one of the best shows of the year at Arizona Opera and it leaves us waiting with bated breath for next season. Personally, I can’t wait for Emmerich Kálmán’s operetta, Arizona Lady, a piece that has never before been seen in Arizona.
Cast and production information:
Marie, Susannah Biller; Tonio, David Portillo; Sergeant Sulpice, Stefano De Peppo; The Marquise, Margaret Gawrysiak; Hortensius, Calvin Griffin; Corporal, Chris Carr; Duchess of Krakenthorpe, Didi Conn; Notary, Ian Christiansen; Peasant, Justin Carpenter; Conductor, Keitaro Harada; Stage Director, John de los Santos; Scenic Design, Boyd Ostroff; Lighting Designer, Douglas Provost; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Dancers, Phoenix Ballet; Supertitles, Keith Wolfe.