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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Elizabeth Caballero [Photo courtesy of Uzan International Artists]
23 Jun 2016

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

A review by Alexis Rodda

Above: Elizabeth Caballero [Photo courtesy of Uzan International Artists]

 

The new New York City Opera, the namesake of which has been revived by a new board of directors and Michael Capasso, the former director of the now-defunct DiCapo Opera, stands in the shadow of its previously glorious past. In its first performance under the weighty name of “New York City Opera,” the company produced a widely-panned Tosca in a display of sentimentality and homage to the New York City Opera’s first production in 1944. Their new season announcement, featuring a diverse array of unusual and interesting operatic selections, seems to suggest that this new New York City Opera is prepared to differentiate itself from its former glory days of the past, and from the hulking giant of the Met across the plaza in Lincoln Center.

The NYCO premiered its new season with Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas . This Spanish-language opera follows the adventures of two couples: the youthful and confused Rosalba and Arcadio, who meet by chance aboard the steamboat El Dorado, and the embittered Paula and Alvaro, who have chosen this trip down the Amazon River as a last-ditch effort to save their failing marriage. In the forefront is the tragic Florencia Grimaldi, a famous opera singer who abandoned her youthful love to pursue artistic greatness and fame.

This is an unusual and intrepid production. Use of mixed media and video projections create an interesting juxtaposition between the performative and the representative, usually successfully. The music itself is glorious and easy on the ear, complex and Straussian in its long, meandering musical ideas but Puccini-esque in its musical illustration of emotions. The orchestra, led by conductor Dean Williamson, is impeccable, creating a complex array of beautiful musical shadings while emphasizing a color palette unusual to the “standard” operatic repertoire, such as dramatically poignant soundings of the steel drum.

Unfortunately, either due to the acoustics of the space or the enthusiasm of the orchestra, the balance between the orchestra and singers was irritatingly off, with the singers either blending completely into the orchestral texture or sometimes becoming simply inaudible. Those with larger voices or more natural squillo fared better, but all the singers became a backdrop to the wash of orchestral sound.

However, not all was lost, and many of the singers fared well despite the acoustic challenges. Won Whi Choi (Arcadio) is an absolute standout singer, with an effortless upper range and a gorgeously rich and smooth tenor voice. His youthful hesitance worked well for the portrayal of the innocent-minded Arcadio. Opposite him, the excellent Sarah Beckham-Turner held her own with a rich middle voice and easy upper range.

The production features a dance corps of dancers clad in white body suits, who, with their endlessly fluid movements, represent the moods and ebbs of the Amazon River. With the regularity that each character refers to the Amazon as living, breathing entity, this was an ingenious touch that literally brought the river to life. The dancers were at times playful like water nymphs, and at other times, menacing, as they invaded the playing space of the singers and grabbed beloved objects or even people from the safety of the ship’s deck.

The inclusion of the dancers, though invaluable, narrowed the playing space of the singers, and often the scenes became rather flat and linear. The stakes felt too low most of the time, with the text and music expressing drama that didn’t seem inherent in the singers’ bodies or physical actions, perhaps due to the physical limitations of the reduced stage area.

The one singer who broke from this stiffness was Lisa Chavez, who gives one of the most compelling performances of the evening. With a rich, healthy mezzo voice, she brings the most three-dimensionality to her character, and her second act aria is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the opera. Luis Ledesma, playing her husband Alvaro, brings humor and charisma in addition to a well-rounded baritone voice to his role. The chemistry between these two and the commitment of both Chavez’s and Ledesma’s performances make the story of this failing marriage the most interesting thread of drama in the opera.

Elizabeth Caballero , singing the title character of Florencia, has a bit of a shaky start, with some breathiness in the upper range and cautious phrasing, but by the second act has completely come into her own. Her second act shows the true blossom of her voice, while her committed emotionality brings a depth of sadness to this opera star who has chosen fame above love.

Kevin Thompson , with a huge baritone voice as the Capitán, and Philip Cokorinos in a likeable, sympathetic portrayal of Riolobo, round out the excellent cast. Cokorinos has a rather stunning vocal display at the end of Act I, with an ominous, gloriously sung cry to the Amazon’s River gods. The costuming choice for Riolobo at this moment—a purple body suit with blue wings, representative of the butterflies that Florencia’s lover was so fond of hunting—rather detracts from the gravitas of the moment, but Cokorinos delivers an outstanding performance in spite of this.

All of the singers play out this drama against a large digital screen which shows various video reels, ranging from realistic scenery of the Amazon River to fantastical images representative of the subconscious. The video was well-executed—in fact, better-executed than most productions I’ve seen that have utilized this form of technology—but the images were inconsistent, ranging from beautiful and well-conceived to downright laughable at the most inappropriate of moments. The Amazonian scenery and the blurring of realism to fantasy are done very well. However, the scenes of “flashbacks” between Florencia and her lover are awkward and border on silly, eliciting giggles from the audience at the solemnest of moments. The final scene in which Florencia experiences her metamorphosis into a butterfly grows increasingly beautiful as the colorful images of butterfly wings are blurred on the digital screen. However, in the final moments of the opera, a ridiculously rendered image of Florencia as a literal butterfly flying into the outstretched palm of a larger-than-life still image of her grinning lover Cristobal ruin the opera’s otherwise beautiful final moments.

Still, this production is to be commended for taking the risk of using digital media in live performance. It does it mostly successfully, and that, combined with the wonderful use of the river dancers, creates an evening of music that certainly isn’t boring. This well-rendered music, combined with the strong cast and bold production choices, is reason enough to spend an evening with the New York City Opera.

Alexis Rodda

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):