Recently in Performances
Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).
Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
19 Feb 2016
Arizona Opera Presents an Interesting Carmen
Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, based their libretto for Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen on a novella of the same title by Prosper Mérimée. On March 3, 1875, Carmen was premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris.
Because the subject matter was considered vulgar and inappropriate for the Comique’s family-oriented audience, it was not well received. The opera’s depiction of lawlessness and immorality broke new ground in French opera. Carmen would later be considered the bridge between opéra-comique and the verismo style of late nineteenth century Italian opera.
Although Carmen was not revived in Paris until 1883, productions outside of France drew large audiences before that and the opera was soon on its way to becoming the immensely popular work it is today. According to Operabase, Carmen is now the world’s second most popular opera. The only opera that is more popular than Carmen is Verdi’s La traviata.
On February 5, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Carmen in an updated but otherwise traditionally realistic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Douglas Provost’s functional set allowed the story to unfold in a straightforward manner.
Daniela Mack and Adam Diegel as Carmen and Don José.
As Carmen, Daniela Mack sang her lines with an exquisite palette of colorations and smooth dynamic range. A singer with dark hued sultry tones, she also had a fine sense of French style. Her personality could have been more fiery and her acting more intense in the dramatic scenes, but she did keep all eyes upon her when she sang. Her renditions of the Habañera and Seguidilla established her passionate nature and the deviousness of her character and she continued to emphasize Carmen’s fickleness as the plot unfolded. Her Chanson Bohème showed her love of unrestricted freedom and her Card Song proved her belief in the power of fate.
Adam Diegel was a rough-edged and dramatic Don José whose burnished, virile sound rang free throughout the auditorium. He delivered his lines with dramatic conviction and his acting conveyed considerable emotional impact. The Micaëla, Karin Wolverton was a great deal more than a simple country girl who wanted to marry a soldier. A brave and feisty young woman, she readily faced the dangers of looking for her boy friend among a band of soldiers and searching for him at night at an international border crossing. Best of all, Wolverton sang with silvery tones that blossomed into exquisite top notes.
Daniela Mack and Joseph Lattanzi as Carmen and Morales
Calvin Griffin as Zuniga and Joseph Lattanzi as Morales contributed effective portraits as two of the coarse, unrefined soldiers. Ryan Kuster gave a strong impression as the handsome and charismatic celebrity, Escamillo. The difficult tessitura of the Toreador Song seemed easy for him as he sang it to his fans at Lillas Pastia’s Tavern. Amy Mahoney and Alyssa Martin as Frasquita and Mércèdes, Joseph Lattanzi and Andrew Penning as El Dancaïro and El Remendado handled their assignments with alacrity. Together with Mack as Carmen the group gave a strong rendition of the tricky Quintet.
Henri Venanzi’s chorus was well prepared and sang in fine French style, but they tended to move as a group rather than as individuals. Conductor Keitaro Harada gave a balanced reading of the score that had a lucidity of musical detail and a good helping of emotional tension. He gave every phrase its proper shape and drew especially fine playing from the orchestra in the delightful entr'acte that opens the third act.
Audiences never seem to tire of Carmen and it always seems to retain its power to quicken the pulse. The many bows and the standing ovation that greeted Arizona Opera’s fine cast at the end of this performance only serve as a reminder of the opera's well deserved place in the repertoire.
Cast and production information:
Carmen, Daniela Mack; Don José, Adam Diegel; Escamillo, Ryan Kuster; Micaela, Karen Wolverton; Morales/El Dancaïro, Joseph Lattanzi; El Remendado, Andrew Penning; Frasquita, Amy Mahoney; Mércèdes, Alyssa Martin; Zuniga, Calvin Griffin; Conductor, Keitaro Harada; Director, Tara Faircloth; Lighting and Scenic Director, Douglas Provost; Projection Designer, S. Katy Tucker; Chorus Master, Henri Venanzi; Fight Director, Andrea Robertson.