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.
01 May 2015
San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing
San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.
Guest conductor Karen Kamensek and members of the San Diego Symphony opened the program with a fervent rendition of Verdi’s overture to La Forza del Destino. Clad in a form-fitting black gown, soprano Lise Lindstrom welcomed the audience with a spirited version of “Dich teure Halle” (“You, Dear Hall”) from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Lindstrom, who sang four selections, was to become the star diva of the evening as she sang with a bright sound that had just the right amount of burnished steel in it. Her Turandot aria, “In questa reggia” (“In this Palace”) was commanding, while her interpretation of Ariadne’s “Es gibt ein Reich” (“There is a Realm”) transported the audience to a place of exquisite beauty. In the last aria on the program, the “Liebestod” (“Love Death”) from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, she sang with sweet, plaintive tones that easily rode over the complex orchestration. I, for one, want to see her perform Isolde in the complete opera.
René Barbera is a most talented lyric tenor who can sing legato music with smooth, resonant tones and florid music with technical brilliance. He and baritone Stephen Powell sang a rousing rendition of “Au Fond du Temple Saint” (“At the Back of the Holy Temple”) from Bizet’s The Pearlfishers. In a second duet, “All’ idea di’ quel metallo” (“At the Idea of that Metal”) from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, they combined fine singing with expert comic timing. High notes present no danger for Barbera and he sang the aria “Ah, mes Amis, quel Jour de Fêtes.” (“Ah, my Friends, this Festive Day”) from Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment, as thought it was an easy tune. Powell, accompanied by bass-baritone Scott Sikon as the Sacristan and the San Diego Opera Chorus, also sang a soaring, powerful interpretation of the Te Deum from Puccini’s Tosca.
Mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti can do wonders with intricate coloratura and her Veil Song from Verdi’s Don Carlo was one of the major delights of the evening. Soprano Emily Magee sang Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte” (“I Lived for Art”) straight from her heart and captured the audience with her first few notes. Later she recaptured the mood with her impressive interpretation of Marietta’s plaintive song from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City). Bass Reinhard Hagen sang a delightful rendition of Prince Gremin’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and concluded his appearance with the powerful low notes of Sarastro’s “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” (“in these Hallowed Halls”) from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
The San Diego Opera Chorus, led by Charles Prestinari, delivered musically excellent performances with secure harmonic balances and rhythmic precision. The Triumphal March from Verdi's Aida was particularly stirring. Karen Kamensek, music director of the Hannover Staatsoper, is an excellent opera conductor who handled this combination of musical styles from various cultures and historical periods with ease. From Mozart to Tchaikovsky and bel canto to verismo, she created the essence of each piece so that the whole program became a crown of gloriously colored individual jewels. San Diego Opera will be back in February 2016 with Puccini’s Tosca. This operagoer will be waiting for its opening with bated breath.
Artists and program:
Overture to La Forza del Destino, San Diego Symphony; "Dich teure Halle," Lise Lindstrom; Entrance of the Guests from Tannhäuser, San Diego Opera Chorus; Prince Gremin's Aria, Reinhard Hagen; "Au Fond du Temple Saint," René Barbera and Stephen Powell; "Mon Coeur s'Ouvre à ta Voix," Marianne Cornetti; "Ah, mes Amis," René Barbera, Scott Sikon and Chorus; "In questa reggia," Lise Lindstrom, Chorus; "Vissi d'arte," Emily Magee; Te Deum, Stephen Powell, Scott Sikon, Chorus; "Va pensiero," San Diego Opera Chorus; "Es gibt ein Reich," Lise Lindstrom; "Non piu andrai," Scott Sikon; "In diesen heil'gen Hallen," Reinhard Hagen; Marietta's Lied, Emily Magee; Veil Song, Marianne Cornetti; Liebestod, Lise Lindstrom; Triumphal March, from Aida, San Diego Opera Chorus, Conductor, Karen Kamensek; Chorus Master, Charles Prestinari.