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

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Placido Domingo as Gianni Schicchi, with Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa and Andriana Chuchman as Lauretta. [Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera]
29 Sep 2015

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

A review by James Sohre

Above: Placido Domingo as Gianni Schicchi, with Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa and Andriana Chuchman as Lauretta

[Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera

 

Director Woody Allen has devised a wonderfully dark comedic point of view for the Puccini that began the night. Mr. Allen gets us in a laughing mood by preceding the opera proper with a film clip, rolling production credits for a 50’s black and white movie, which playfully (and shamelessly) incorporate well-known Italian foods and phrases.

When the curtain rises, it reveals a marvel of a design that carries on the film noir theme, with all elements in shades of black, white, and gray, mixed with a few earth colors. Santo Loquasto’s imposing, sprawling set design features a wrought iron spiral staircase to a balcony level, a kitchen, a sitting room, and of course, as well as the requisite bed-with-a-corpse. Mr. Loquasto’s equally effective costumes were by turns characterful, sleek, sexy, and all perfectly designed to enhance the personality of the character. York Kennedy’s moody lighting design completed a “look” that could be somewhat sinister one moment and wittily playful the next.

The show has been expertly staged by Kathleen Smith Belcher with some contemporary inventions that play against expectations. Lauretta is not the usual dutiful daughter but rather a sexed up vamp who brandishes a knife before daddy forcibly disarms her. The knife shows up in another surprise moment that was perhaps not Puccini’s intention, but it sure created a memorably different ending.

GS-15232-101.pngLeft to right: Liam Bonner as Marco, Peabody Southwell as La Ciesca, Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa, Meredith Arwady as Zita, Craig Colclough as Simone, Stacy Tappan as Nella and Greg Fedderly as Gherardo.

The bickering, calculating relatives were all well drawn, tightly focused, and commendably specific. Blocking was neatly motivated, character relationships were clear, and fluid stage pictures provided a satisfying visual realization. The invention of propping up dead Buoso outside the door as a sleeping beggar (into whose cup visitors plunked coins) was fresh and clever. I was less sure about Lauretta and Rinuccio’s overt sexual behavior, especially their going up to the balcony to disappear on the floor (shagging?) at the end. It was not only untrue to the parameters of 1950’s film concept, but deprived the pair of the sweetness that balances the others’ comic malice. Still, Woody’s concept pleased the capacity audience, and was (mostly) consistent in its commitment.

The strong cast was evenly matched and completely immersed in effective ensemble playing. Each took focus when it was their moment, and deferred when it was not. Meredith Arwady seems to get better and better with my every encounter, which is to say, her solid contralto is as good as it gets. Her steely, imperious Zita ruled the roost, and she had many amusing moments as she cooked in the kitchen almost throughout. Andriana Chuchman was a striking Lauretta, although her poised, limpid singing of “O mio babbino caro” was so lovely it seemed a bit at odds with the she-devil impersonation the director gave her. Sweet-voiced tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz was boyishly appealing and wonderfully secure. When he started Mr. Chacón-Cruz was a mite underpowered but he grew in stature as the evening progressed, morphing into a heartfelt performance that was marked by warmth of tone and fine musicality. Liam Bonner and Peabody Southwell made for an unusually frisky Marco and La Ciesca, respectively, he singing with burnished tone and she zinging her lines out there with a ripe, round soprano. Greg Fedderly has developed into a fine character tenor, and he lavished Gherardo with pointed, ringing phrases. Stacy Tappan’s delightful Nella was clear-voiced and distinctive. Craig Colclough’s blustery Simone was sung with great gusto, and Philip Cokorinos made every moment count as he put his rolling bass to full effect as a hang-dog Betto di Signa. Young Isaiah Morgan was an audience favorite as the lad Gherardino, whether belting his lines securely, or getting belted around by his rather ‘old school’ Italian parents.

GS-15232-331.pngE. Scott Levin as Maestro Spinellocio (center, facing front) with the cast of Gianni Schicchi.

E. Scott Levin was a daffily doddering Maestro Spinelloccio, sporting a lively baritone deployed with sharp comic timing. Former Young Artists Daniel Armstrong was entertaining as a blind “witness” Pinellino, and intoned his few lines with a smooth baritone. Gabriel Varmvulescu chimed in effectively as Guccio, and best of all, firm-voiced bass (and Young Artist) Kihun Yoon was an inspired Notary. In the pit, Grant Gershon kept the evening percolating with a reading that found just the right balance of forward motion, comic accents, and veristic elasticity. The orchestra played with an assured panache.

One common denominator between the evening’s two one-act operas is the decidedly “uncommon” Plácido Domingo. Mr. Domingo is a remarkable phenomenon, like no one else in the entire history of the operatic art form. In addition to his celebrated career as one of the greatest tenors in history, with countless “firsts” and “mosts” and “bests” in its footnotes, the impresario heads LA Opera itself, conducts performances with regularity, operates one of the world’s most prestigious singing contests, and oh yes, is still singing opera at 74 years young in the baritone “Fach.”

PAG-15231-323.pngAna Maria Martinez (right) as Nedda

Small wonder that the adoring public cheers his every appearance — first as the title role in Schicchi and then as the Maestro in the pit for Pagliacci. Plácido Domingo is an unparalleled factotum, the likes of which has never been seen before and will surely never be seen again. His local public knows that he IS Los Angeles Opera, and they rightly celebrate him accordingly. His is a remarkable package of achievements including a remarkable career as one of the finest singers of his generation.

As Schicchi, he sang intelligently, musically, and with good comic delivery. He did the bass-baritone role very competently, but . . .as a tenor with a decent baritonal tint to his core voice. Did he eclipse (or even challenge) the likes of a Bryn or Sherrill or Cornell in the part? No. On the podium, Maestro Domingo was clean and well organized, and he kept things moving along with good rhythmic pulse. But there were subtle occasions when he seemed out of touch with his Canio, perhaps helming certain phrases as he used to sing them rather than as a collaborative effort with the artist on stage. Did he challenge the conducting accomplishments of a Jimmy or Riccardo or Lenny? No.

And therein lies a conundrum. While his other achievements are uniquely remarkable, his “baritone” and his conducting, while pleasantly agreeable, are not in the same league as the rest of his legend. But only he can decide when being a living legend is simply enough, especially when his public keeps coming back for more.

PAG-15231-844.pngMarco Berti as Canio

Pagliacci was an over-the-top, eye-filling Franco Zeffirelli production that rivaled Cecil B. DeMille for its Hollywood overstatement. It was nothing if not colorful, bustling, and crowded with mini-dramas and character details that extended down to the last chorister. The trouble is, while Mr. DeMille could focus in on the key characters and isolate important moments with a close-up, stage director Stefano Trespidi could not figure out how to direct our attention to the important players at key exchanges. His creed seems to be: “Nothing exceeds like excess.”

Even with the “performance stage” erected stage right, and the thrice familiar drama being played out upon it, there was so much bustle from extraneous street performers that the visual effect was distracting at best, and damaging at worst. Ironically, the gyrating, frenetic extras were urging the “spectators” to look at the stage all the while they completely stole focus from our doing just that.

Ana Maria Martinez was an ideal Nedda, her urgent soprano showing real urgency and passion. Full-bodied in all registers, Ms. Martinez especially shone above the staff where her gleaming delivery gave much pleasure. Her “Stridono lassù" was a lovely outpouring of longing and lush tone. Too bad then that she was largely upstaged by milling town folk, and had to hold hands with, and sing her thoughts to a group of school girls.

PAG-15228-548.pngGeorge Gagnidze (top) as Tonio, with Ana Maria Martinez as Nedda and Brenton Ryan as Beppe

George Gagnidze was in fine form as Tonio, firm of voice, and unctuous of delivery. His prologue was commanding if a bit calculated. In the opera proper Mr. Gagnidze found more spontaneity and color in the more conniving and lecherous statements of his character. Liam Bonner was all that could be desired as Silvio, tall and handsome, and possessed of a mellifluous lyric baritone with persuasive warmth.

Young Artist Brenton Ryan’s Beppe found his vocal stride in a beautifully judged serenade. Earlier, he took time to warm to his task and was a little light in vocal presence.

Of course, Pagliacci is nothing without a potent Canio, and LAO was very fortunate in its leading man Marco Berti. Mr. Berti knows every nuance in this iconic role and his substantial tenor has an ideal heft and ring. If the tenor sometimes pushes his pitch sharp, and sometimes overdoes sobbing portamento effects, he nevertheless captured the empathy of the audience. “Vesti la giubba” was the rich emotional journey it need to be, and Marco knew just how to make each syllable count, prompting enthusiastic audience response. But did they need to beak the spellbinding illusion Berti created by giving him an out-of-character bow in front of the curtain right after it?

But really, that sums up this Pagliacci: satisfying singing that succeeded in spite of a whole list of questionable staging choices that kept yanking us away from the honest emotion and the tragic interaction of some highly gifted performers.

James Sohre


Casts and production information:

Gianni Schicchi:

Gianni Schicchi: Plácido Domingo; Lauretta: Andriana Chuchman; Zita: Meredith Arwady; Rinuccio: Arturo Chacón-Cruz; Gherardo: Greg Fedderly; Nella: Stacy Tappan; Simone: Craig Colclough; Betto di Signa: Philip Cokorinos; Marco: Liam Bonner; La Ciesca: Peabody Southwell; Maestro Spinelloccio: E. Scott Levin; Ser Amantio di Nicolao (Notary): Kihun Yoon; Gherardino: Isaiah Morgan; Pinellino: Daniel Armstrong; Guccio: Gabriel Vamvulescu; Conductor: Grant Gershon; Director: Woody Allen (staged by Kathleen Smith Belcher); Set and Costume Design: Santo Loquasto; Lighting Design: York Kennedy

Pagliacci:

Canio: Marco Berti; Nedda: Ana Maria Martinez; Tonio: George Gagnidze; Silvio: Liam Bonner; Beppe: Brenton Ryan; First Man: Arnold Geis; Second Man: Steven Pence; Conductor: Plácido Domingo; Director and Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli (staged by Stefano Trespidi); Costume Design: Raimonda Gaetani; Lighting Design: York Kennedy; Chorus Director: Grant Gershon; Children’s Chorus Director: Anne Tomlinson

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):