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.
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.