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

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

12 Aug 2015

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

The title was somewhat a cheeky selection, containing as it does the name of a nearby New York town. However, once that in-joke is acknowledged, the work justifies its festival position by bringing to the stage Metastasio's poetic depiction of Cato the Younger as quite brilliantly musicalized by Antonio Vivaldi.

The first act score has never been found, so revivals have compensating choices to make as to reconstruction. Alessandro Ciccolini devised one such completion and composed some music for missing passages using Vivaldi concerto themes as inspiration. The finale was wholly instrumental, and worthy of Vivaldi’s intentions. Since much of Vivaldi’s output has been forgotten (or missing), this American premiere was a welcome opportunity to experience a drama that deserves to be performed.

Conductor Ryan Brown coaxed an edgy, rhythmically incisive reading from his accomplished players, whose dramatic commitment made them true collaborators in underpinning the vocalists’ emotional state. The vast majority of the da capo arias range from brisk to brisker and the Maestro showed an unerring hand in accommodating the soloists. When the mood and tempo did relax, Brown let the players luxuriate in meaningful solo flights and he evoked moody atmospheres. The continuo work was meticulous, especially the inventive theorbo work by Michael Leopold.

If there was one breakout, star-making performance in the Festival, it would be the dynamic portrayal of Caesar by counter-tenor John Holiday. As he launched into his first aria you could sense the excitement build in the audience as palpable electricity was generated between stage and audience. We sat up and leaned forward to relish his every melisma, his fierce commitment, his flawless technique and his highly personal, gleaming tone.

It is often difficult for this voice category to offer much variety because of the tonal production demands. But Mr. Holiday’s Caesar-in-love had a very different color and delivery than Caesar-at-war. His ascending war hoops (sort of Vivaldian ho-jo-to-ho’s) were chilling in their vicious impact. The passagework was faultless and always rooted in the drama. It just doesn’t get better than this. The intermission and post-show buzz confirmed that a star was born.

This is not to take anything away from the evening’s other counter-tenor. Young Artist Eric Jurenas offered a completely different sound as Arbace, tightly focused in its delivery of secure, highly musical contributions. He was believable as the sexed up aggressor, and became sympathetic after his romantic rejection.

As Cato’s daughter Marzia, Megan Samarin (another accomplished Young Artist) sports an appealing, warm mezzo, with a slight cover to the delivery. Ms. Samarin commendably throws herself into the drama, but when emoting overtakes her concentration on technique or when she pushes the final syllable of phrases for effect, she can veer slightly off pitch.

Allegra De Vita served the role of Fulvio well, with a gleaming mezzo of great presence and security. Ms. De Vita exuded lots of personality and she had a handsome stage presence. This was the sort of assured performance from a Young Artist that foretells even greater things.

Sarah Mesko’s astonishing range and trip hammer agility on display in Bad-Girl-Emilia’s two murderously difficult arias produced some awesome effects. She pulls a few tricks when she negotiates top notes in rapid runs or at phrase ends by darkening and slightly pulling back. But hey, whatever it takes. This is fiendishly challenging writing. All other times, the even tone is throbbing, glistening, and exciting.

Thomas Michael Allen brought a regal bearing and conscientious commitment to Cato. But his title character did not have the distinctive timbre or emotional investment of his remarkable cast mates. His slender tenor was somewhat dry and, while it found some fire late in the evening, it lacked weight.

The design team has come up with a handsome, inventive, smoothly flowing production.

John Conklin’s gilt, tawny set design featured ancient ruins and conveyed august dignity. A giant arch upstage center reveals stylized projections of a column, or collosseum, or obelisk, or a serene moonlit desert. The fallen pillars and altarpieces that litter stage left and right are richly painted in passionate reds, oranges, rusts, and golds. A Rothko-like red square makes an appearance at the opera’s beginning, and is a recurring symbol that gets flown in at various junctures, in various sizes, and on various fly lines.

This monolithic appearance could suggest a bloody order. Or maybe a bloody wall? Boxed in violent emotions? All I know is it was handsome, nicely textured, and it engaged us by allowing us to “speculate.” The first three acts (played together) are in this handsome unit set. After intermission, act four found the ancient ruins removed, effectively suggesting a clear, open battlefield for Cato and Caesar’s final confrontation. Robert Wierzel’s evocative lighting really came into its glory here as a giant pallid square flew in isolating Emilia front and center, only to turn blood red, trapping the character downstage for her hysterical, stuttering climactic showpiece.

Costume designer Sara Jean Tosetti proves herself a critical partner in identifying the characters with wildly inventive and colorful riffs on traditional period dress. Marzia’s first diaphanous yellow gown is used brilliantly to convey her girlishness, and also her recklessness in loving Caesar. Emilia’s dangerous purple, hooded gown has an ostentatious train and quirky accents. Caesar’s regal blue sums up his stature and his power. Arbace’s vest with its hippie fringe was an apt visual representation of the randy lad.

Wig and Make-up designer Anne Ford-Coates has contributed her usual high quality work the whole season but nowhere more effectively than here. The personalized look for each character was a successful fusion of ancient tradition and contemporary coiffures. Only the bald Cato escaped her magic touch.

Director Tazewell Thompson started the evening with a master stroke as the characters walked one by one into a spot light behind a scrim, upon which was projected their character name and their relationship to the story. Instant understanding! After this effective orientation, Mr. Thompson created beautiful movement, inspired by the dramatic moment, and springing from truthful relationships.

The director had actors use the ruined columns and plinths in all manner of traffic patterns by sitting, reclining, standing upon, circling around, and climbing up and down. The instrumental introductions, interludes and closing bars of arias were anything but clichéd pacing visualizations. Tazewell invested them with meaningful motion: a playful, child-like game between Arbace and Marzia; an emotion-filled volcanic eruption for Caesar; a cat-like tension for Emilia; a wilting supplication for Marzia; a controlled movement for Cato that explodes into a physically abusive treatment of his daughter. This was an informed, meaningful dramatic realization of the piece.

The best staging moment was arguably the last. Reverting to Vivaldi’s original intent of having Cato commit suicide, a final revelation showed the lifeless Cato splayed in his chair, back to the audience, arms spread, wrists bled dry (thanks to attached red cloths). The rest of the players solemnly paid obeisance to him in character until they evolved into a final tableau as the orchestra exquisitely played an interpolated dirge.

This was a memorable evening laden with marvelous music and emotional import. Utica. It’s worth the trip.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Cato: Thomas Michael Allen; Marzia: Megan Samarin; Fulvio: Allegra De Vita; Arbace: Eric Jurenas; Emilia: Sarah Mesko; Caesar: John Holiday; Conductor: Ran Brown; Director: Tazewell Thompson; Choreographer: Anthony Salatino; Set Design: John Conklin; Costume Design: Sara Jean Tosetti; Lighting Design: Robert Wierzel; Hair and Make-up Design: Anne Ford-Coates.

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):