On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella
Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater
at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of
Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French
Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for
the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one
detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production
Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella
Though the story remains faithful to the well-known and oft-interpreted
Cinderella story, Company XIV dazzles the audience with novelty from every
angle. The dancers move with the grace of trained ballet dancers while
seamlessly shifting to modern dance, propelling their sculpted bodies in
rhythmic thrusts. There’s the nod to the traditional movement of the court of
Louis the XIV, particularly in the courtly scenes of the Prince’s ball, but
only for a moment, after which the party devolves into a series of
hypersexualized dance duos.
What’s most satisfying about it all, especially for the opera aficionado,
is that it works. Of all the recent attempts to bring opera back into
relevance or to recapture the excitement, sensuality, and titillation opera and
ballet held for audiences in the Baroque Era, this production is the most
successful. It combines sex with beauty, novelty with tradition, and never
feels like an unconvincing effort to innovate innovation’s sake. It
is sexy, it is innovative, and yet it’s still just the same
fairy tale of Cinderella—except the audience is thrown between ecstasies of
laughter, fascination, and confusing sympathies with characters usually given
Allison Ulrich and Davon Rainey
The true queen of the stage is Davon Rainey, playing the part of
Cinderella’s Step-Mother. He manages to portray the fragility of a woman
fearing the passing of time and the loss of her own beauty, while instantly
snapping to a cruel, vindictive version of the classic evil step-mother. He
sashays around the stage with equal parts feminine sexiness and masculine
vitality, his body firm and robust with every sharply executed bit of
choreography. The oscillation between the longing between hope for the success
of her daughters combined with her own secret desires to retain her youth and
sex appeal causes the Step-Mother to become one of the most compelling
characters in the show. The final moment of Rainey strutting across the stage,
staring concernedly into a mirror, with Cinderella dutifully at her side, is
one of the most devastating and moving moments of the show. No longer a
confusingly abusive foster mother for Cinderella as in the classic tale, the
Step-Mother evokes simultaneous sympathy and disgust. Rainey inhabits this
complex interpretation perfectly, bursting with an aggressive sexuality
that’s both titillating and tragic.
Austin McCormick’s choreography is rife with symbolism and teeming with
creativity, with profound commentary on not only the story of
Cinderella but greater issues of heteronormative relationships and
gender as a social construct. Cinderella (Allison Ulrich) spends the first half
of Act I on her hands and knees into total servitude to her step-sisters (who
first appear in a comedic, German cabaret-style entrance, the first of many
brilliant syntheses of historical musical periods and art forms dreamt up by
McCormick.) Ulrich spends most of Act I scurrying around, mouselike, as
Cinderella endures abuse and ridicule by her step-mother and step-sisters, used
by them as a literal footstool as the trio cackles their way through excess and
frivolity. With Cinderella on her hands and knees, her step-sisters (Marcy
Richardson and Brett Umlauf, two opera singers with bright and lovely sounds)
sing joyfully of their enjoyment of the finer things in life, with a version of
Lorde’s pop hit “Royal” so seamlessly rendered into
classical-sounding duet that it took me a moment to register what was
Allison Ulrich and Katrina Cunningham
Katrina Cunningham (The Fairy Godmother) takes the stage by storm with a
husky-voiced rendition of Lana del Ray’s “Born to Die,” and proves in a
few fluid movements that she’s there not just to sing, but to dance. As a
younger, sexier interpretation of The Fairy Godmother, she embraces Cinderella
in an unforgettable dance duet that fluctuates between a struggle for sexual
power and a sensual display of lovemaking. The duet leaves the atmosphere
uncomfortably erotic right before the first of the “drink breaks” that
broke up the acts of the evening. McCormick, seeming to never forget a thread
in the story he’s weaving, allows The Fairy Godmother one last longing glance
at her protégé, Cinderella, as she winds her body with the Prince in a
display of consummation of their love at the end of Act III.
Ulrich takes the traditionally innocent-minded Cinderella and gives her a
trajectory into truly realized womanhood during Acts II and III, her hair loose
and her body open in acceptance of the Prince’s desires; the Prince, played
smarmily by Steven Trumon Gray, croons beautifully before pulling himself up
for a dance into the suspended ring, just in case the audience thought those
rippling muscles were just for show. Richardson, Umlauf, and Rainey appear and
reappear like mirages throughout the ball and the search for Cinderella, their
antics to ensnare the Prince’s affections culminating in The Jewel Song from
Gounod’s Faust. Sung beautifully by Marcy Richardson, this feat of physical
and musical skill has to be seen to be believed. The ensemble struts across
stage with large black narration cards, when they’re not busy dancing with
finely executed fervor across the stage.
Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is a true modern
Gesamtkunstwerk. No detail is left unforgotten, from the careful
bedazzling of the Louis XIV-style dance shoes to the final spotlight on
Cinderella, a fairytale maiden who learns that all dreams must end.