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

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

‘Schiff’s Surprise’: Haydn

Many of the ingredients for a memorable concert were there, or so they initially seemed to be. Alas, ultimately what we learned more clearly than anything else was that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new Principal Artist, András Schiff, is no conductor.

Recital of French song from Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

It came as quite a surprise throughout much of the first half of this recital of French song, that it was the piano-playing of Susan Manoff that made the greater impression upon me than the singing of Véronique Gens.

Pelléas et Mélisande: Glyndebourne Festival Opera

What might have been? Such was a thought that came to my mind more than once during this, the premiere of Glyndebourne’s new Pelléas et Mélisande. What might have been if Stefan Herheim had not changed his Konzept so late in the day? (I had actually forgotten about that until reminded during the interval, yet had already began to wonder whether the production had been, especially for him, unusually rushed.)

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

There is something very Danish about this Don Giovanni. It isn’t just that the director, Kasper Holten is a Dane, it’s also that the existential, moral and psychological questions Holten asks point to Kierkegaard who wrote of the fusion of the erotic and demonic in this opera in his work Either/Or (1843). However, I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered a production of Don Giovanni - even Bieito’s notorious one for ENO - where Mozart comes off as second best.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

10 Oct 2015

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

A review by Salvatore Calomino

 

Central to this production is the humanity of Mozart’s opera in all its musical and dramatic manifestations. As a frame to the images of this production gestures representing the foibles, love, and escapades of the Count and Countess open and close the theatrical concept. Accusation and forgiveness, anger, love, jealousy, and desire are bound together in this perceptive realization of Mozart’s glorious score. The role of Figaro and his betrothed Susanna are sung by Adam Plachetka and Christiane Karg, both making debuts at Lyric Opera of Chicago. The Countess and Count Almaviva are performed by Amanda Majeski and Luca Pisaroni; Cherubino and Bartolo feature debuts at Lyric Opera for Rachel Frenkel and Brindley Sherratt. Marcellina, Barbarina, and Basilio are sung by Katharine Goeldner, Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, and Keith Jameson. The roles of Antonio, Curzio, and the two peasant girls (regazze) are performed here by Bradley Smoak, Jonathan Johnson, Laura Wilde and Lindsay Metzger. Michael Black has prepared the Lyric Opera Chorus; designs for sets, costumes, and lighting are by James Noone, Susan Mickey, and Robert Wierzel.

The brisk pace of the overture allows for an acceleration of tensions so vital to this production. Mr. Nánási has the brass take appropriate emphases while maintaining taut control over the whole ensemble so that each instrumental group’s texture is consistently audible. During this well-rounded performance of the overture a scrim sheathing the entire front of the stage begins to billow outward; at the same time, Count Almaviva chases one of his conquests through the aisle of the orchestra seating, subsequently diving with her beneath the scrim just as the Countess in swift pursuit reaches the stage. In the last measures of the overture she releases the scrim to expose the Count’s indiscretion in the forthcoming marital camera of Figaro and Susanna. This humorous pantomime unleashes the myriad of adventures, emotions, and consequences to follow in the four acts of the opera proper.

During the initial duet with Figaro Ms. Karg as Susanna pairs a light vocal approach with swift movements, as in “guarda un po’” [“take a look”], so that her character projects the persona of a darting, perceptive maidservant who remains a match for the Count’s lustful maneuvers. Her voice blends well with Mr. Plachetka’s Figaro as he is gradually led to realize the dangerous proximity of their camera being positioned adjacent to the Count’s room. Here Ms. Gaines’s directorial acumen succeeds not only in overall scenic architecture but also in such simple lines as Figaro’s “Chi sona? La Contessa” [“Who is ringing? The Countess”]. Rather than being a mechanical transition from one number or scene to the next, signaling Susanna’s immediate departure, the line is uttered as a natural and unavoidable break in hurried recitative conversation. The plan of Figaro and Susanna will be finalized only later, yet the germ of cooperation has begun and Figaro’s aria, “Se vuol ballare” [“If you wish to dance”], proceeds as its logical extension. In this aria Plachetka shows his gradual reaction to the Count’s motivations: some words are sung with the grit of disapproval while others show the resonance of determination. These transitions are not a mere exercise, rather they communicate a growing self-confidence in being able to trump the Count and enjoy the game at the same time. Plachetka’s final “Si, le suonerò” [“Indeed I’ll play you the accompaniment”] shows a natural forteemphasis and satisfied resolution.

The entrance of Marcellina and Bartolo underlines further the collaborative essence behind this production. Whereas the costumes and hair-designs of Susanna and Figaro are, up to this point, colorful and stylized enhancements of eighteenth-century garb, the outfit worn by Ms. Goeldner as Marcellina is a truly outré extension of her emotionally excited personality. While Mr. Sherratt’s Bartolo swears vengeance on Figaro in his energetic and agile performance of “La vendetta,” Marcellina inspects surfaces and objects dressed in parakeet-like shades of yellow and orange with a matching feathery headdress. She wears the costume well and flounces delightedly in the subsequent duet with Susanna, “Via, resti servita,” [“Pray, pass before”] upon the latter’s return. Wardrobe and projection of personality are surely here key to presenting the youth Cherubino, whose entrance distracts Susanna from her preceding unpleasantness. As the young man with a nervous admiration for everything feminine, Ms. Frenkel’s characterization exudes energy and boundless desire in every movement. Her celebrated aria, “Non so piu” [“I no longer know”] is staged as a confession to Susanna yet with naturally forte bursts of ardor on phrases like “ai monti” [“(I speak of love) to the mountains”], as Cherubino can barely contain his frenetic behavior. With an appogiatura expressing resignation on “E se non ho chi m’oda” [“and if there is no one to hear me out”], the character retreats into self-consolation. This Cherubino’s movements and personality are enhanced by the relaxed, timeless outfit of a street youth with whom the audience can identify -- and not a costume tied specifically to courtly expectations of Mozart’s time. The fast-paced action accompanying the Count’s entrance results in a series of nicely staged concealments. Mr. Pisaroni’s authoritarian menace inspires in his household personnel both fear and the same inventiveness pledged earlier by Figaro. The Count’s attentions to Susanna are believable and revelatory: Pisaroni delivers these lines with appropriate facial expression and a physically involved agility. Basilio’s entrance prompts the Count, just as earlier Cherubino, to seek a hiding-place. Mr. Jameson performs Basilio with a simpering demeanor, his florid approach to the vocal line incorporating decoration in keeping with his flashy costume. Soon after the Count emerges in anger from hiding, Cherubino is exposed and becomes the focal point of culpability. Figaro’s reappearance with a chorus of peasants mitigates the youth’s punishment by securing Cherubino a commission in the Count’s reggimento. The aria “Non più andrai” [“No longer will you flutter”] encourages the young man to take solace in the future of military adventure. Plachetka’s exhilarating performance makes of the familiar piece a dramatic highpoint. His distinctive formulation of “molto onor” [“considerable glory”], embellishments on repetition of the title words, and singing the final line “alla gloria militar” with an unexpected rising pitch conclude the act with excitement.

A second supplementary pantomime introduces the following act in the Countess’s boudoir. Before the music begins, Susanna fusses over two domestics who have assembled -- without proper courtly touches—a cart filled with cakes and fruit. As the curtain opens and Susanna pushes the cart into the boudoir, the music to “Porgi amor” [“Grant, O Love”] begins. If anything, comparable gestures in this production’s second act establish both Susanna and her lady as full-blooded human characters, every bit a match for the Count. Ms. Majeski’s yearning line in this first aria lingers gently on soft embellishments, while the pain of suffering is expressed without doubt in the extended high pitches on “mi lascia almen morir” [“allow that I may die”]. The following strategic initiation of a “progetto” [“plan”] between Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess, with Plachetka’s decorative echo on “Le suonerò,” leads into the reentry of Cherubino. When invited to sing his recent composition, Frenkel’s performance of “Voi che sapete” [“You who well know”] suggests emotions skidding and changing seamlessly from one verse to the next with especially effective low pitches at the close. The spirit of physical attraction prompts Susanna to close the door while they change Cherubino into women’s clothing. The resulting privacy allows indeed a playful dalliance between the Countess and the youth on the center of her bed. The Count’s interruption of such “buffonerie” leads into the series of delightfully staged ensembles accelerating in confusion and surprise proceeding to the end of the act. At the moment of the Count’s admitting unwarranted jealousy to his wife, Pisaroni uses beautifully seductive phrasing in his appeal, “Rosina, inflessibile con me non sarà” [“Rosina will not be unyielding toward me”]. As an expression of the continued, unexpected turns and the disarray that ends the act, Plachetka’s Figaro is positioned prone on his side while others declare that they may not survive the day. The seeming madness comes to a head when members of each group toss fruit at their opponents in the final moments.

Both costumes and scenic design suggest a more classic simplicity in the concluding acts of the production. An arrangement of chandeliers suggests the noble court; at stage rear several classically modeled statues are posed suggestively. The introductory scene of Act III establishes Susanna as a masterful player in the deception of the Count. Karg’s touching vocal decorations are a sure enticement for the Count just as Pisaroni’s movements and facial expressions show him melting in erotic expectation. Once he realizes the deception and declares in repetition, “Hai già finta la causa” [“You have won your case”], Pisaroni shifts the Count’s persona to being an active participant. In “Vedrò mentr’ io sospiro” [“Shall I see while I sigh”] piano phrasing suggests a monologue of growing self-confidence with a snarl of disdain in reference to his valet. Rising introductory notes on “Già la speranza sola” [“Already the hope alone”], high pitches taken forte on “Quest’ anima consola” [“Console this my sole”], and a jubilant trill on “giubilar” proclaim a final resolution accompanied by a comedic gesture performed at one of the statues as the Count departs.

In the Countess’s parallel aria soon afterward Majeski’s voice draws on myriad effects to illustrate the complex personality she portrays. One hears first her satisfaction as a participant in the “progetto,” with a suspended emphasis on the first syllable; she asks herself softly “Ma che mal” [“but what harm”], yet declares forte that she has been humiliated with a dark color layered on “fatale.” In her musing on the simple, happy past Majeski’s Countess traces a delicate line over “Di dolcezza e di piacer” [“of sweetness and of pleasure”] yet returns to an introspective question on the accusatory “menzogner” [“lying”]. The lyrical repeats in the conclusion of “Dove sono” [“Where are they now?”] expand over a broad range from deeply felt low notes in “La memoria” to a polished melisma on “La mia costanza” [“my enduring faith”]. Her character departs in renewed dignity. All are then once again assembled for the dance at the close of the act in preparation for the nuptial festivities of the evening. While Pisaroni swears his desire for the “più ricca pompa” [“the most lavish pomp”], the Countess resorts knowingly to an ultimate triumphant and comic gesture.

The scene in the garden for the final act is staged in soft iridescent shades. Figaro’s aria as a comment on women, “Aprite un po’ quegli occhi” [“Open your eyes”] is sung by Plachetka with seemingly endless legato, as he laments his position vis-à-vis Susanna. In her own final aria, “Deh vieni, non tardar” [“Come, do not delay”] Karg’s Susanna demonstrates a vocal highpoint for her character’s independence, while she dissembles knowingly within earshot of her fiancé. The final exposure of the Count’s infidelity leads to his denying pardon at first to those who have tricked him, until the Countess’s intercession secures forgiveness for all. Based on a final playful gesture between this production’s noble pair, their human strengths and weaknesses seem likely to be repeated. How better to celebrate the spirit of Mozart?

Salvatore Calomino

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):