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

Sarah Shafer as Rosetta and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cesira [Photo by Cory Weaver}
21 Jun 2015

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Two Women in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Sarah Shafer as Rosetta and Anna Caterina Antonacci as Cesira

Photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

Possible answers multiply. San Francisco Opera music director is the Italian conductor Nicola Luisotti who will have held sway. Perhaps San Francisco Opera concurs that it has not had success with its recent premieres by American composers so thinks a journey back to the wellspring of opera might be a good idea.

A further and more palatable idea is that Two Women is potentially a rare story that supports operatic treatment. It is, at least in the eponymous Vittorio De Sica film, a story that has not been artistically explored — the sharing of the sublimely delicate moment when a girl becomes a woman (well, let us forget about Salome for the moment). The De Sica film explores this passage, this dramatic moment, in subtle and startling psychological terms laden in existentialism. The film is a masterpiece. Indeed ripe for opera.

The sound world of composer Marco Tutino supports such atmospheres. Tutino is a colorist who offers surprise after surprise in his score for Two Women, timbres that are hardly new — the bass clarinet for example — but were strategically placed to evoke heretofore unfelt sensations. Without creating an explicitly individual style Tutino avoids any derivative definition, though one might say that his conservative twentieth century sound has its roots in the verismo of Giordano but remains open to incorporating later techniques when called upon, like his very effective use of minimalism.

The opera Two Women or its Italian title La ciociara surely rides the coattails of the De Sica film so to be able to gain Italian and international attention. Comparison is therefore unavoidable, appropriate and in fact enlightening.

The De Sica film is derived from a novel, La ciociara (1957) by Italian novelist Alberto Moravia (Ciociara is a region of bleak and rocky hills south of Rome). Two Women was the title given the English language translation of La ciociara. The libretto for the opera Two Women is derived from a script by one Luca Rossi, it in turn derived from the Moravia novel.

TwoWomen_SF3.pngThe two women and their Moroccan rapists

Unlike the film which focuses on the complex psyches of the two women and absolutely nothing else the libretto delves into the Italian or rather human psyche that in wartime abdicates principle to collaborate with whoever or whatever is powerful at the moment. The libretto creates villains, from the Nazi commander to his local collaborators and to the Moroccan mercenary thugs who rape the two women. A powerful sense of evil is created that is pitted against the survival of the two women and their young male soulmate. That the daughter achieves womanhood in a singularly brutal fashion becomes the secondary, and less important story.

Though it is a thoroughly Italian event the only Italian in the cast was mezzo-soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci as the mother (who by-the-way gives Sophia Loren a run for her money as the costuming intends). Her daughter was sung by American ingenue soubrette Sarah Shafer. While vocally appropriate — a warm, lower voice for the mother and a higher, much brighter voice for the daughter — the two heroines were not physically matched, troublesome in the often cinematic circumstance of this production.

TwoWomen_SF2.pngSarah Shafer as Rosetta and Dimitri Pittas as Michele with Nazi soldier

The young, pacifist school-teacher who infatuates both mother and daughter was sung by American tenor Dimitri Pittas (enough of a look-alike for Jean-Paul Belmondo from row P). The two villains were San Francisco Opera’s Scarpia, Mark Delavan as Giovanni and SFO’s Hoffmann villain, Christian Van Horn as the Nazi commandant.

Marco Tutino also created the libretto for his opera. It was staged by an all-American team (or at least all English speakers). The staging was a combination of cinematic scenes, docudrama of the advancing American forces in the liberation of Rome, the storybook fantasy of a verdant hilltop village in the arid region south of Roma as a sort of paradise, cut-out sets à la American musical and, yes, even moments of old fashioned opera.

The action unfolded in a series of vignettes that incorporated this potpourri of styles culminating in a complex, indeed impressive number (it is a numbers opera) where the action flip flopped between the rape of the women and the murder of Michele (the Belmondo role). Effective also was the scene of the Italian pop-crooner allowing composer Tutino to indulge in musical collage before he imagined a fairytale ending for his opera — a vision of the dead Michele walking toward the dream hilltop village.

The opening night audience accepted the opera as an old fashioned melodrama booing the villains, cheering the damsel (forgetting for the moment that she perhaps was not saved after all), and of course warmly thanking Mme. Antonacci and Mr. Pittas for ably holding their own against their cinematic competition (Loren and Belmondo). Comments overheard as the crowd left the theater were less enthusiastic.

As usual Maestro Nicola Luisotti forced his superb orchestra front and center, and it surely sang out all magic possible in Marco Tutino’s score. Interestingly and uncharacteristically the maestro allowed the singers to be actors in this drama rather than his musical puppets.

Said and done, the real opera remains the De Sica film. It creates one hundred minutes of pure lyricism, never descending to the cliches of movies or theater, or in the case of the opera Two Women to the cliches of musical theater.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Cesira: Anna Caterina Antonacci; Rosetta: Sarah Shafer; Michele: Dimitri Pittas; Giovanni: Mark Delavan; John Buckley: Eddie Nelson; Pasquale Sciortino: Joel Sorensen; Fedor Von Bock: Christian Van Horn; Maria Sciortino: Buffy Baggott; Italian Singer: Pasquale Esposito; Country Woman: Zanda Svede; Old Woman: Sally Mouzon. Orchestra and Chorus of the San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Stage Director: Francesca Zambello; Set Designer: Peter Davison; Costume Designer: Jess Goldstein; Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough; Projection Designer: S. Katy Tucker. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, June 13, 2015.

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):