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

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

19 Sep 2015

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Ekaterina Semechuk as Federica
All photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

Remarkable because it is not the Giuseppe Verdi of his masterpieces, but it is a transitional Verdi who was leaving behind the blood and thunder of political strife to embrace the social tensions brought about by the revolutions of 1848!

Luisa Miller is a play by Friedrich von Schiller premiered in 1784, as was, by the way, Beaumarchais’ Le Mariage de Figaro — speaking of social tensions. Note that only later Schiller’s play was renamed Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love), the title under which it is now obsessively studied as a theatrical masterpiece.

Luisa Miller by Verdi is not a theatrical masterpiece, nor is it even competent theater. Schiller’s dense play was reduced by Verdi’s librettist Salvadore Cammarano (who returns later this SFO season as the librettist of Lucia di Lammermoor) to a series of commonplace operatic situations that are easy to sing about but very hard to construe into a comprehensible story much less constitute a Figaro-like social document.

You do hear the Verdi of Traviata and Rigoletto, even some Boccanegra but mostly you hear the thunder of Nabucco, Attila and Macbeth (or maybe just now it was the conducting). It is music that in itself is foreign to the Verdi’s emerging dramatic interests, enthusiasms hardly supported by this poor libretto. Nonetheless it is Verdi and this a priori makes it great music waiting for a production that might at least try to make it make dramatic sense.

It is an essentially bel canto libretto thus Luisa Miller is about singing. Unfortunately the San Francisco Opera bar was set very high back in 1974 when Luisa was sung by Katia Ricciarelli (a prompter from La Scala was brought in for these performances remarked “che scuola! “ or “what stylish singing” about la Ricciarelli). Furthermore the Rodolfo was the young Luciano Pavarotti.

LuisaMiller_SFO2.pngLeah Crocetto as Luisa, Michael Fabbiano as Rodolfo

For this Luisa Miller SFO cast its Verdi soprano prodigal daughter Leah Crocetto who acquitted herself very well and sang a quite beautiful “Tu puniscimi, o Signore.” Miss Crocetto has little spinto (push) therefore little drama in her voice, and I missed the soprano voice sailing over the top of the opera’s almost magnificent finales. Rodolfo aka Carlo was the Met’s prodigal tenor son Michael Fabbiano whose lighter lyric voice makes him choose his Verdi roles carefully. I would have wished for a somewhat larger and richer voice capable of more colors to relieve the vocal monotony of this long role.

Both Mr. Fabbiano and Miss Crocetto are fine, well prepared singers who embellish their performances with lots of acting. Here the acting seemed more like flailing as there was no apparent context. Ukrainian baritone Vitaliy Bilyy was Miller, Luisa’s father (in Schiller he is a musician, in Verdi an old soldier). Mr. Bilyy too is a quite fine singer who did only what he is supposed to do — sing! He offered little musical or dramatic personality, nor was any evidently expected or needed in this production.

Bass Andrea Silvestrelli sang Wurm who along with baritone Daniel Sumegi as Count Walter were the villains of the opera. Mr. Silvestrelli’s black colored voice and threatening presence have established him as the perfect Sparafucile (Rigoletto). As a bel canto villain I would have wished for a smoother, more beautiful voice. Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semechuk was the villainess Federica, the production itself made little demand of her and musically she was trounced by the conducting.

San Francisco Opera music director Nicola Luisotti was in the pit imposing his usual extreme tempos. He gave no freedom to his singers for stylistic expansion, thus he was free to drive his musical points, points that were in fact seldom singerly. As usual his finales were noisily magnificent, but by then it was hard to care.

LuisaMiller_SFO3.pngProduction by Francesca Zambello, Set design by Michael Yeargan

San Francisco Opera revived the fifteen year old production (2000) created by Francesca Zambello and designer Michael Yeargan. Both Mme. Zambello and Mr. Yeargan have had long careers in which they have perused virtually every passing fashion to the degree that it is hard to identify an individual style for either of them.

In the case of this Luisa Miller designer Yeargan created a hard edged, highly artificial environment in which Verdi attempts to challenge long established social mores. It is hard to know if the long, thin aluminum truss thrust towards the audience was the rigid arm of an antiquated social structure, or what. It is hard to know if the vertical and horizontal separations effected from time to time in the cyclorama were fissures that portended change, or what. The horse? It was all lovely to look at, but Luisa Miller is hardly a lovely opera.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Luisa Miller: Leah Crocetto; Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano; Miller: Vitaliy Bilyy; Count Walter: Daniel Sumegi; Federica: Ekaterina Semenchuk; Wurm: Andrea Silvestrelli; Laura: Jacqueline Piccolino; Peasant: Christopher Jackson. Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti; Production: Francesca Zambello; Associate Director: Laurie Feldman; Set Designer: Michael Yeargan; Costume Designer: Dunya Ramicova; Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough. War Memorial Opera House, September 16, 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):