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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Heidi Stober as Sandrina and William Burden as the Podesta [Photo by Ken Howard]
30 Aug 2015

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

A review by James Sohre

Above: Heidi Stober as Sandrina and William Burden as Podesta

Photos by Ken Howard

 

Assuredly, there was nothing phony about Santa Fe Opera’s total commitment to quality in producing this lesser Mozart opus. There is nothing really wrong with the writing to be sure, but neither is there the brilliance of his masterpieces yet to come. Still, second tier Mozart is arguably better than first rate Soler, or Salieri.

The production itself could hardly have been bettered, however, and if this meticulously performed Finta didn’t stir you, it probably never will. This was stagecraft and music making as good as it gets. The starry cast was under the inspired baton of conductor Harry Bicket.

Maestro Bicket is celebrated for his especial skills in this type of repertoire and he led a vivid, urgent reading of great variety and color. His attention to detail drew committed playing from the exceptional orchestra, and impassioned, heartfelt vocalizing from his singers.

William Burden is one of the finest lyric tenors in the business, and one of the busiest. I know of no one else who can survey such a wide range of roles from Baroque to Contemporary with such assurance. As the Podestà (Magistrate), Mr. Burden has ample opportunity to show his full bag of tricks which includes honeyed tone, supple technique, and dead accurate melismas. A consummate actor, he always, always sings with utter conviction and understanding of the drama. This was but another outstanding portrayal from this treasurable tenor.

5-Susanna-Phillips-(Arminda)-and-Joel-Prieto-(Count-Belfiore)-in-‘La-Finta-Giardiniera.’-Photo-©-Ken-Howard-for-Santa-Fe-Opera.pngSusanna Phillips as Arminda and Joel Prieto as Count Belfiore

I first encountered soprano Heidi Stober at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis where I thought she was remarkably fine. In the intervening years, Ms. Stober has grown even more and on this occasion, her Sandrina was individualized, poignant, musically faultless, and fully realized as a wonderfully complex character. She did not sing the part so much as inhabit it. Her poised, warm instrument had enormous appeal.

Providing welcome balance, Laura Tatulescu combined sass and pointed singing to create an edgy, confrontational impression as the sharp-tongued Serpetta. It is to her credit and skillful technique that Ms. Tatulescu is able to craft a personality that is acerbic, without the vocals turning acidic. Her clear, rhythmically assured singing was a pleasure and she clearly relished her comic opportunities and wrung every bit of firebrand potential out of the role.

Joshua Hopkins is a suave performer, with a rich, manly baritone, evenly produced with a suggestion of plush velvet. His Nardo was a perfect foil for Serpetta and they created real sparks between them. Mr. Hopkins knows how to command the stage and his physical presence was as handsome as his vocalizing. Cecelia Hall effected just the right hangdog look to engage our sympathies as Ramiro, and her creamy singing was vibrant and characterful. Even in such a less developed role, Ms. Hall more than held her own in this polished ensemble.

Susanna Phillips took obvious delight in playing Arminda, the opera’s Queen of Mean. She found ample excuses to unleash pointed phrases styled with laser-like accuracy. Yet she resisted delving into caricature, and she also lavished us with singing of amplitude and richness. Ms. Phillips’ disciplined vocal portrayal was nevertheless wedded to a sense of spontaneity thanks to her canny acting.

8-Joshua-Hopkins-(Nardo)-and-Laura-Tatulescu-(Serpetta)-in-‘La-Finta-Giardiniera.’-Photo-©-Ken-Howard-for-Santa-Fe-Opera.pngJoshua Hopkins as Nardo and Laura Tatulescu as Serpetta

Rounding out that cast as Count Belfiore, Joel Prieto offered witty, fluid phrases that were well served by his congenial tenor. Mr. Prieto, too, had a good sense of fun and a loose, easy stage presence. His flexible technique and appealing bright timbre suited the role, although there may be more to be mined in the complicated Count.

Tim Albery has directed with simplicity and clarity. His fluid movement of the actors was highly effective, and the shifting pairings-up, and squarings-off of the cast were brilliant. The whole evening played out as a balletic cat and mouse game with roles, and advantage of positions, in constant flux.

Hildegard Bechler has certainly done her part to ensure the evening’s success with a set design that is at once functional, mysterious, bare bones, and profound. There is an arching wall stage left that is impeccably detailed with an ornate tromp l’oeil recreation of a period palace hall. Chairs with upholstered seats stand against the wall, while a large dining room table sits center stage. This functions as occasional meeting place where character some together, or as a barrier, keeping characters apart.

About two thirds of the stage is covered with lush green Astroturf-as-carpeting, abutted by the requisite garden which takes up the down left area. The rust and yellow flowers (many planted by Sandrina in Act One) are a beautiful balance as they encroach on the formal interior. The dining table is replaced in Act Two by a chaise lounge, which got cleverly incorporated into the staging.

24-Ensemble-in-in-‘La-Finta-Giardiniera.’-Photo-©-Ken-Howard-for-Santa-Fe-Opera,-2015.pngThe ensemble

Jon Morrell created totally apt costumes that aided greatly in the characterizations, black and severe for the servants (including the phony farmerette), and sumptuous for the nobles. The incorporation of floral images in such things as Arminda’s dress and the tablecloth only added to the cheeky visuals. Thomas C. Hase’s slowly unfolding lighting effects were mesmerizing. The extremely deliberate cross fade from sunny exterior to moody interior in the first act was stunning.

Every element of La finta giardiniera was committed to showing that this talented group absolutely believed in the worth of this piece. And damn, if ultimately they didn’t succeed in making me believe in it, too!

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Sandrina: Heidi Stober; Serpetta: Laura Tatulescu; Ramiro: Cecelia Hall; The Podesta: William Burden; Nardo: Joshua Hopkins; Arminda: Susanna Phillips; Count Belfiore: Joel Prieto; Conductor: Harry Bicket; Director: Tim Albery; Set Design: Hildegard Bechler; Costume Design: Jon Morrell; Lighting Design: Thomas C. Hase.

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):