Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

Agrippina at the Bavarian State Opera

And still they come. The opera world’s obsession with Handel’s operas shows no sign of abating. The Bavarian State Opera has, since Peter Jonas’s Intendancy, stood at the forefront of Handel staging; this new production of Agrippina was dedicated to him. As ever, I was pleased to see one of these operas for the first time in the theatre – how could I not be pleased to see almost anything in Munich’s wonderful Prinzregententheater – but again, as ever, I was left unable ever quite to put to one side the dramaturgical difficulties/problems/flaws/inadequacies. (Call them what you will.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

15 Jul 2015

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

Carmen in Orange

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose
Photo copyright Abadie, courtesy of the Chorégies d'Orange

 

But Jose, unlike Aida’s Radamès, is actually the star of the show, Carmen herself is a cameo role, three brief songs, then thrown around a bit and finally stabbed, throttled or drowned depending on directorial humors. In Orange Carmen was one of the unusual interpreters of the role — Kate Aldrich.

Mme. Aldrich once brought the shine of Kansas to Carmen’s Seville (San Francisco Opera 2007) but this estimable artist has matured in Europe where she has embraced the soprano bel canto repertory with great success. Cast now in Orange a bit after her Carmen period the role is still well in her voice and she still makes Carmen a magic presence by sheer vivacity of personality, as she had in San Francisco. It is not a Carmen based on sultry sexiness.

It was a lively night in the 2000 year old Théâtre Antique despite the 37C/100F temperature. Normally at a Chorégies performance there are a few spectators (among the 10,000 or so) who are carried out on stretchers — the steps are steep, the audience aged and much wine has flowed at the hundreds of festive dining tables spread out in the streets of the old town. But no one was going to miss out on this famous tenor doing this famous role.

Carmen_Orange2 - 1.pngJonas Kaufmann as Don Jose, Kate Aldrich as Carmen
Photo copyright Gromales, courtesy of the Chorégies d'Orange.

Given that expectations were inordinately high a couple of boos were heard through the polite applause for the “Habanera.” But that was before we (many, many of us in the audience) became aware that conductor Mikko Franck had indeed transformed Bizet’s fiery opera into a lovely symphonic tone poem. It was of great orchestral personality above all else, and of an inexorable deliberateness of musical exposition. The pit was absolutely detached from the stage.

Upon his re-entry into the pit after the intermission this conductor was met with a resounding chorus of boos (mine included). Mr. Franck conducted seated in an arm chair (yes, there really were arms) seldom glanced at the stage, made the instrumental duets with the singers into brilliant solos for the very fine players of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (the third act intermezzo for flute was coyly playful rather than the expected flowing reverie), destroyed the quintet with sluggishness, dragged down Micaëla’s aria with agogic elaborations in his accompaniment. Not to mention that the usual impeccable ensemble of the always huge chorus with the pit was painfully missing.

What seemed illuminated orchestral playing at the commencement of the evening — evoking once again admiration of the surprisingly acoustic of this fine old theater — soon became annoying, and in the end belayed the adage that Carmen is indestructible. But had not Mr. Franck, music director designate of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, destroyed it, the staging of Louis Désiré would have accomplished this singlehandedly.

Carmen_Orange3 - 1 (1).pngKate Aldrich as Carmen, Jonas Kaufmann as Jose, Act IV
Photo copyright Abadie, courtesy of the Chorégies d'Orange.

Mr. Désiré, who gave us a splendid Tosca in Marseille last spring, evidently determined that the 300 foot expanse of the Théâtre Antique stage prevented all possibility of realizing the physical drama messieurs Meilhac, Halévy and Bizet had imagined. His solution was to make Carmen an oratorio, the identically costumed choristers frozen in blocks, the only physical actions were changing the placements of the famous scenes from one playing area to another (delimited by the surfaces of several huge face-up playing cards, a scattered deck being Mr. Désiré’s scenic concept).

All was not lost however because we did have the fine Don Jose of Jonas Kaufmann. Not that this tenorissimo is a real Jose — his voice is heroic, his delivery refined, his musicianship impeccable. Mr. Kaufmann is a remarkable singer with technique that allows him opportunity to explore and vocally exploit roles that are successful even when delivered monochromatically. In some ways Mr. Kaufmann and conductor Franck were an extraordinary musical match. Like conductor Franck he achieved an elegantly expanded rather than an eloquent performance.

Physically Mr. Kaufmann’s Jose was scruffy and well acted, hardly the handsome matinée idol of his publicity photos.

Micaëla was sung by 50 year-old Inva Mula, her great experience and confidence triumphing above the over-refined pit, her “Je dis” expansively and knowingly delivered diva style. It was deservedly well appreciated by the audience. Escamillo was sung by Kyle Ketelsen, the Aix Festival’s nimble Leporello and Figaro. He brought a lively wit to this Escamillo that was beyond the scope of this oratorio context. One can only dream of Mme. Aldridge and Mr. Ketelsen in a theatrically informed Carmen in a small theater or maybe even in the huge Théâtre Antique with a conductor and stage director who know that opera is, well, opera.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Carmen: Kate Aldrich; Micaëla: Inva Mula; Frasquita: Hélène Guilmette; Mercédès: Marie Karall; Don José: Jonas Kaufmann; Escamillo: Kyle Ketelsen; 
Zuniga: Jean Teitgen; Le Dancaïre: Olivier Grand; Le Remendado: Florian Laconi;
Moralès Armando Noguera. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, choruses of the operas of Angers-Nantes, Avignon and Nice, Maîtrise (childrens chorus) of the Bouches-du-Rhône. Conductor: Mikko Franck; Mise en scène, décors, costumes: Louis Désiré; Lighting: Patrick Méeüs. Théâtre Antique, Orange, France, July 11, 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):