Recently in Performances
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
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.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
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.
01 Dec 2015
The New York Festival of Song Creates Intimacy and Joy in a Series of Lesser-Known Rachmaninoff Songs
The New York Festival of Song, founded in 1988 by Michael Barrett and Steven Blier, offers unique evenings of songs rarely heard, or songs rarely heard in conjunction with one another.
Unlike many traditional song
concerts, Barrett and Blier program concerts with a story arc or theme,
engaging the audience in meaningful music-listening and story synthesis.
Their upcoming concert, simply called Schubert/Beatles, will
feature compositions from both Franz Schubert as well as the Beatles,
illustrating the different ways in which these two musical periods were
very much their very own “smash hits” during their own
respective time periods.
The New York Festival of Song opened their season this past November
10th with From Russia to Riverside Drive: Rachmaninoff
and Friends, a warm, intelligent evening of chamber music
featuring the works of Rachmaninoff but also some of his contemporaries
with jazz leanings, such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Held in
Merkin Hall, artistic director Michael Barrett brought a friendly intimacy
to the evening that made it difficult not to leave the concert smiling.
Featuring soprano Dina Kuznetsova and baritone Shea Owens, the program
began by alternating various Rachmaninoff songs, many of which are rarely
performed and thus all the more pleasurable to hear. Kuznetsova has a
magnetic charisma and ease onstage that allowed her to express the full
range of emotions of each of her songs. Her vocal ability was equally
matched, her voice a lustrously dark timbre. She made great use of dynamic
contrast to illustrate the highs and lows of the music, her voice at its
most thrilling in moments of fuller volume. At times, she erred on the side
of too pianissimo for a voice of her size, causing uncharacteristic breaks
in her tone. However, these moments were fleeting and didn’t distract
from what was an excellent and impassioned performance.
Shea Owens [Photo courtesy of IMG Artists
Shea Owens’ interpretations feel slightly academic at times, but
he gains energy as the evening goes on, especially in his more comedic
moments. His vocal quality is stunning, with all the richness of a
well-rounded baritone voice but with a striking brightness that thrills,
particularly in his upper range. The Russian repertoire sits well in his
voice, and he has an easy quality to his vocalization, yet he possesses a
sound that’s not without gravitas and substance.
Barrett and Blier accompany on piano with joy and gusto, appearing to
deeply enjoy their music making with an enthusiasm so genuine it was
impossible not to become absorbed in their warm-toned playing. Blier paused
between songs to give an affectionate and humorous play-by-play of
Rachmaninoff’s personal and compositional history, which deeply
enriched the listening experience. Blier managed to make the evening akin
to a casual evening listening to music in one’s living room with
friends, while never allowing the excellence of the musical quality to
Dalit Warshaw joined in on several songs on the thereminist, an
instrument Blier explained never quite took off in popularity as expected
in Rachmaninoff’s time. Warshaw plays this fascinating instrument
with tenderness and sensitivity, her precision and focus mesmerizing.
The feeling that the entirety of a cast of artists is enjoying their
craft all at once in concert collaboration seems an increasingly rare
experience in recital attendance. The New York Festival of Song manages to
highlight the joy in this series of rare songs from Rachmaninoff and
beyond, providing an evening of delightful musical excellence and true