Recently in Performances
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no
less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series
feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera,
Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener
Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and
Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series
programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
16 May 2015
Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash
Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?
According to Robert Ashley, the composer himself, “Well, if I say
it’s opera, it’s opera! Who’s running this show, anyway?” The composer,
who died in March of last year, was known for anecdotal libretti and
“television operas” that invite close listening and that range in tone from
tragic to comic to cosmically, bewilderingly existential.
Crash , the last of his operas, was performed at Roulette by
Varispeed, an experimental music group consisting of a younger generation of
Ashley disciples: Brian McCorkle, Dave Ruder, Gelsey Bell, Paul Pinto, Aliza
Simons, and Amirtha Kidambi. First performed last year at the Whitney Biennial,
Crash was reincarnated for four nights in April by director Tom
Hamilton and producer Mimi Johnson. The opera is divided into six acts of
fifteen minutes each, during which three of the speakers, in a Cageian fashion,
take turns talking for 30 seconds each: “Thoughts” rambles, as if partaking
in a phone conversation, about fourteen-year life cycles, evil short men, and
the frustrations of neighbors; “Crash” swirls out a string of poetic fears
and musings; “The Journal” stammers out descriptions of each year from
Ashley’s life. Meanwhile, the other three voices murmur quietly in the
background. The members of Varispeed rotated through the parts so that, by the
sixth act, each had taken his or her turn assuming each of the voices and their
varying tempos and amplifications.
Roulette TV: ROBERT ASHLEY // Crash: Act 1 from Roulette Intermedium on Vimeo.
Unlike other of Ashley’s operas, which feature loosely outlined piano or
electronic parts, Crash is distinct in its accompaniment: each of the
three trains of thought, which thread in and around each other like a braid of
multicolored ribbons, is joined only by the quick but quiet mumbling of three
other voices and an array of three different photo projections. This symphony
of voices and abstract images allows the focus to fall not just on Ashley’s
texts but on the spotlighted speaker and the hills and valleys of their
inflections, vocal register and timbre, and unique embodiment of the
“character”. So although the opera is sparse in requisites, it feels
inordinately full and rich in tone as the six voices—four voices at any given
moment—complement each other in continually new ways. (The interpretations of
“The Journal” were most striking in their differences, as each of the
members of Varispeed adopted the required stutter in a particular way.)
Despite this sense of evolution in the ever-fluctuating vocal combinations,
there was an overall sensation of constancy and meditation throughout the
comforting rhythms and switch-offs of the 30-second segments. Each time one of
the characters started back up, no matter who was speaking, the carefully
intricate yet seemingly stream-of-conscious themes and anecdotes of Ashley’s
life fell into their familiar patterns. The mathematically predictable
structure of the opera was the perfect framework for Ashley’s unpredictable
and often humorous observations. Each of the vocalists managed to capture the
ponderous, philosophical, and psychological ramblings—which in the case of
“The Journal” were highly linear and easy to follow, while during
“Crash” they were more obscure—with not just humor but sensitivity and
Another reason, aside from the scrupulous performance of Varispeed, that
Ashley’s personal accounts and musings never felt heavy-handed or forced were
the photographs by Philip Makanna, who collaborated with Ashley on the
latter’s 14-hour video opera/documentary Music with Roots in the
Aether. Throughout the “projection score” by Katie Cox, Eric Magnus,
and Andie Springer, the abstract and peaceful visual component did not feel
like a contrived, maladroit powerpoint sequence as so many new music
projections do. Rather, the photographed landscapes not only depicted the
American scenery so important to Ashley, but also allowed the audience to
“hear the singing and the texts without the typical visual distractions”,
as Ashley desired. In combination with lighting designer David Moodey’s
skillful spotlight maneuvering and Kate Brehm’s stage management, the photo
projections did not hammer home a message but allowed the viewers to form their
own responses alongside their listening. This was the rare opera experience
wherein the visual and aural experiences were united with not a blip of
More straightforward than Ashley’s other operas, which can be oblique and
convoluted in narrative and musical structure, Crash delivers a
wondrous yet meditative experience. Written at the end of the sixth
fourteen-year cycle of his life—and it’s surely no coincidence Ashley died
just before his 84th birthday, considering his self-imposed
significance on the number—the opera feels as if Ashley is looking back on
his life while also looking towards the future, using the voices of young
people to explore concepts of voice, story-telling, and, yes, opera.
Rebecca S. Lentjes