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

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alex Richardson as Peter Grimes [Photo by Jessi Franko]
27 Jun 2016

Peter Grimes in Princeton

The Princeton Festival presents one opera annually, amidst other events. Its offerings usually alternate annually between 20th century and earlier operas. This year the Festival presented Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, now a classic work, in a very effective and moving production.

Peter Grimes in Princeton

A review by Andrew Moravcsik

Above: Alex Richardson as Peter Grimes

Photos by Jessi Franko

 

One of the greatest wonders of this masterpiece is precise detail with which the numerous quirky inhabitants of the village are sketched in the score. Princeton Festival assembled a strong ensemble to realize Britten’s vision. Baritone Stephen Gaertner—who has gone on to great things since triumphing here some years back in a double bill of Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi— brought a combination of world-class vocal glamor and appropriately sober restraint to his portrayal of the wise old skipper Balstrode. Young mezzo Eve Gigliotti’s clear diction, resonant voice, and sympathetic manner brought Auntie, the madam with a heart of gold, to life before us. Veteran mezzo Kathryn Krasovec, who sang a memorable Marcellina in last year’s Marriage of Figaro here, vivid caricatured the sleuthing laudanum-addicted busybody Mrs. Shepley, highlighting her absurdity rather than the remarkable variety of her sins. As the Methodist Bible-thumper Boles, Tenor Casey Finnigan projected words and music clearly and idiomatically. Bass-baritone Joseph Barron launched the evening with stentorian tones and clear diction as the lawyer Swallow. Characterful performances also came from Colorado-born tenor Logan Webber as Reverend Adams, Ohio-born baritone Sean Anderson as Ned Keene the Apothecary, and Metropolitan Opera bass Christopher Job as Hobson. Two young sopranos trained at Indiana University, Jessica Beebe and Sharon Harms, sang cheerfully while strutting their stuff as the so-called nieces.

Jessica-Franko-06.16.16_Peter_Grimes_0683_EDIT.pngCaroline Worra as Ellen Orford and William Guhl-Erdie as John

While Peter Grimes is an ensemble opera, a successful performance relies heavily on the vocal and theatrical charisma of its two lead characters: Ellen Orford and Grimes himself. Wisconsin-born Caroline Worra, a repeat favorite at the Princeton Festival, made for a passionate and sympathetic Orford. She approach was as intensely expressive as any I have heard, an impression strengthened by fine diction and bright vocal timbre. In approach the role this way, Worra is simply following trends in modern sensibilities: today we expect middle-aged relationships such as that between Grimes and Orford to be more overtly romantic, whereas in mid-20th century (let alone early 19th century) England, such people expressed affection in a more restrained and discreet manner. Nonetheless, Worra’s performance was convincing, even if she sometimes ran roughshod over Britten’s express intentions, for example the long delicate passages marked “ppp senza espressione” in the “Embroidery” aria.

Even more important to a successful performance is the casting of the title role. Many modern listeners treat Jon Vickers, with his heroic voice and rough-hewn histrionics, as an ideal singer in this part. Yet while Vickers’ Grimes was surely among the most memorable operatic assumptions of modern times, it was unique. Britten and Peter Pears, who created the role, both favored a lighter and more lyrical voice and more contemplative interpretation, so as to bring out the vulnerable, spiritual, and even likeable sides of the character. Most tenors who sing the role—among them Phillip Langridge, Anthony Dean Griffey, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson and Pears himself—approach the role this way.

Alex Richardson takes this lyrical approach as well. His voice is reasonable-sized, although it did not penetrate the hall as well as some others on stage. His performance was thoughtful, musical and generally coherent, and—but for a bit of hoarseness at the top—his voice generally fits the role. Yet—at least on Thursday, when I heard him—he was the weakest link in the cast. Vocally, he lacked the sweet purity and extreme flexibility in the high tessitura that is required to negotiate much of Grimes’ part. Theatrically, his assumption seems not yet to have accumulated all the inspired nuances of edgy characterization that transform a solid rendition into a distinctive stage character whose personality seems sharply etched and whose suffering opens a window into the essence of the human condition. Most of the time he just seemed too nice and well-grounded young guy, but slightly out of focus. Still, Richardson remains young, and we may well hear more from him in years to come as his engagement with the role develops.

Jessica-Franko-06.16.16_Peter_Grimes_0388_EDIT.pngKathryn Krasovec as Mrs. Sedley and Sean Anderson as Ned Keene

Princeton Festival Director Richard Tang Yuk did a splendid job preparing and conducting the chorus and orchestra. I have never heard either one sound so good in this challenging venue. The orchestra played as if inspired, offering many exquisite moments: one among many was the lonely viola solo that began the fourth interlude, played here by Julia DiGaetani. Yuk’s professional skill as a choral director was evident as well. Though the Festival Chorus is not a permanent professional ensemble, it negotiated Britten’s tricky polyphonic choruses with verve, transparency, clear diction and a timbre generally closer to proper English choral style than most of Americans achieve. Only a few spots of the greatest technical difficulty (e,g., the famously tricky “Old Joe Has Gone Fishing” in 7/4) were slightly smudged or too loud.

It was almost inevitable—given a short production run, singers and players new to the score, and the harsh acoustics of Matthews theater—that the very subtlest of Britten’s musical effects would occasionally go by the wayside. Some of Britten’s tripping everyday-speech syncopations disappeared. Some delicately precise woodwind and vocal harmonies (e.g. in the quartet “From the Gutter”) lacked Britten’s magical sense of balance and repose. Some broader architectural spans collapsed amidst the careful negotiation of a series of individual orchestral effects, for example in some interludes. Overall, however, this remained a thoroughly convincing and coherent account of this classic score.

The set design employed an accessorized, modular semi-realistic unit set. It told the story well and obviously economized prudently, without either asking much of, or delivering much to, the audience. Yet it had one fatal disadvantage, namely that the footsteps of anyone walking across it echoed loudly throughout the theater, spoiling many moments, particularly at the start and end of scenes. Set Designer Jonathan Dahm Robertson, though young, had designed for opera before. He should have known that this is a fundamental error, especially when designing for an opera like Grimes, which combines exposed orchestral lines of extraordinary delicacy with many large choral scenes. And, having found a set of this kind in place, why did Stage Director Steven LaCosse—who has long experience directing opera, here and elsewhere—not have the good sense to keep everyone stationary at such moments? Have we really reached the era when stage designers and directors no longer bother to listen to the music?

Jessica-Franko-06.16.16_Peter_Grimes_0409_EDIT.png(l-r) Stephen Gaertner, Eve Gigliotti, Sharon Harms, Jessica Beebe, Elana Bell, Jennifer Kreider

Overall, this was one of the best productions I have heard at the Princeton Festival, which goes from operatic success to operatic success. It is a shame that Thursday night’s performance was only half-full, and many there seemed to be friends or associates of the performers.

Andrew Moravcsik

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):