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

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.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Aubrey Allicock as Bulbul Fakh and Sean Panikkar as Shalimar [Photo by Ken Howard]
27 Jun 2016

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

In its compact forty-year history, the ambitious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has just triumphantly presented its twenty-fifth world premiere with Shalimar the Clown.

Shalimar in St. Louis: Pagliaccio Non Son

A review by James Sohre

Above: Aubrey Allicock as Bulbul Fakh and Sean Panikkar as Shalimar

Photos by Ken Howard

 

This riveting new work by composer Jack Perla and librettist Rajiv Joseph (based on Salman Rushdie’s novel of the same name) is not so much a towering achievement, as another astonishing over-achievement from this committed and (apparently) tireless company. Like OTSL’s Champion and 27 before it, Shalimar the Clown seems destined for further greatness.

That is owing to not only a restless, unnerving score replete with profound dramatic declamations but also colored with serenely beautiful melismatic phrases. Mr. Joseph as crafted a lean skeleton of a libretto that connects all of the major occurrences with uncanny precision. And composer Perla has masterfully crafted a score that truly sings, and which sounds like nothing else in the operatic canon.

The piece is beautifully, virtuosically scored, showcasing a rich palette of the “usual” operatic band ably augmented by the addition of a sitar (Arjun Verma) and tabla (Javad Butah). The two “local color” instruments were ingratiating without being overwhelming. Indeed, perhaps they might have been even more prominently incorporated.

SHAL_1980b.pngAndriana Chuchman as Boonyi

The orchestra under the firm control of Jayce Ogren was disciplined and provided atmospheric playing of the highest quality. The scoring starts off rather lean and angular in the opening LA segments, and the reading was appropriately taut and jittery. That yielded soon enough to more expansive, lush scoring and Maestro Ogren lavished us with some gorgeous ensemble playing, accented by tasty solo work, especially the bird-like commentary from the solo flute.

The choral writing was simply splendid and under Robert Ainsley’s tutelage, the cast excelled in countless moments of incomparably beautiful ensemble singing. The overall arc was meticulously controlled by Maestro Ogren who led the massed forces with conviction and obvious affection for the challenging score.

There is arguably no director working today who is more skillful than James Robinson in giving legs to new work. He proved such mastery once again with Shalimar the Clown. Making full use of Allen Moyer’s versatile two story set and carefully selected minimal set pieces, Mr. Robinson created contrasting milieus as he explored a story that encompassed both the bustling world of 1989 Los Angeles and the idyllic folk charms of 1964 Kashmir.

Completing the usual OTSL technical “Dream Team” were Greg Emetaz, who conjured up highly evocative video projections; James Schuette, whose apt costumes ran the gamut from peasant attire to dazzlingly colorful folk costumes to über-hip California styles; and Christopher Akerlind, whose lighting could effectively wash a scene in vivid colors one minute and chillingly isolate key emotional moments in a harsh glare the next.

It would be difficult to over-praise Seán Curran’s ingenious choreography. Indeed, dance was a key element of the score, not only in celebratory group numbers or seductive solos, but also as integral storytelling. I will not soon forget the incidence of the brutal rape of three women by marauders menacing them into submission as they pounded the ground with sticks, augmenting the score’s abrasive percussive effects. Chilling use of stage movement and dance.

Mr. Joseph’s libretto has quite skillfully (and necessarily) reduced Rushdie’s complex novel to begin as a Romeo and Juliet cautionary tale. The Hindu girl Boonyi (Andriana Chuchman) and the Muslim boy Shalimar (Sean Panikkar) fall in love at first sight, religious differences be damned. Very soon thereafter, the story seems to morph into more a Pagliacci-inspired plot, with the cuckolded, abandoned Shalimar fixated on revenge.

Onto this, the creators have layered many rich details and nuances, many of which resonate with the sad topicality of religious radicalization. Complicated social and political developments are served up with bold strokes in the music and stirring pictures in the staging. But the single mindedness and obsession of the title character is even more potent as the music-making winnows down to a laser-accurate simplicity of purpose.

SHAL_2298a.pngFrom left to right: Andriana Chuchman (Boonyi), Gregory Dahl (Max Ophuls) and Katharine Goeldner (Peggy Ophuls)

I would only wish that the introduction of the “clown” allowed a bit more time to acquaint us with a joyful young man, and that the immediate attraction between Shalimar and Boonyi were a bit more expansive and romantic. As it is, the meeting becomes almost immediately about only the sex act. This is further reinforced by the plot turn in which a lecherous older teacher films them in that act and subsequently seeks to blackmail Boonyi into submitting to his desires by threatening to expose them (as it were).

That immediate physical connection was wholly believable since Ms. Chuchman and Mr. Panikkar are two of the best-looking young singers in opera today. As Shalimar, the tenor essayed a taut, focused persona, spending little time as a carefree street entertainer, and immersing his character in white hot revenge mode with abandon. Having heard his radiantly voiced Tamino in two different Magic Flute productions, the honeyed tones on offer in those in no way prepared me for the savage, searing intensity he summoned here. Sean fulfills every vocal demand as he journeys from a sweet-voiced lover to despairing husband to murderous terrorist. His was a mighty achievement in a punishing assignment.

Ms. Chuchman possesses a full lyric soprano with admirable control, capable of serene beauty, wily insinuation, powerful dramatic statement, and heart-rending pathos. She calculated limpid phrases with unerring dramatic instinct. Her poised vocalizing was matched by some of the most skilled dancing I have yet seen from an opera singer. Andriana is the total package, She does not so much perform the difficult role of Boonyi as inhabit it.

As the womanizing diplomat Max who has no problem luring Boonyi to stray from her marital vows, Gregory Dahl put his engaging baritone to good use. Physically and vocally, Mr. Dahl has a solid, beefy presence and he suggested an oily charm that was believably persuasive. As his sterile wife Peggy, Katherine Goeldner was icily imperious, her ripe mezzo slicing out proclamations with steely precision.

OTSL has offered Aubrey Allicock several starring opportunities over recent years, and the abundantly talented baritone has made the most of each and every one. Here, Mr. Allicock offered his usual generous outpouring of well-modulated tone as the jihadist Bulbul Fakh, at once disturbing in his focused intensity and alluring in his mellifluous delivery.

Bass-baritone Thomas Hammons (Abdullah Sher Noman) was convincingly conciliatory and appealing as the paterfamilias who brokers peace in the village. As his wife Firdaus Noman, mezzo Jenni Bank brought a solid vocal presence to her impersonation of the chiding, nattering mother. Justin Austin’s polished baritone contributed much pleasure as Boonyi’s conflicted father Pyarelal Kaul.

As the blackmailing teacher Gopinath Razdan, Geoffrey Agpalo almost walked off with the confrontation scene, his finely focused tenor hurling accusatory phrases that soon effortlessly modulated into a cowed retreat. Elliot Page’s good presence and pliant tenor made the most of his stage time as Grand-Chef Bombur Yambarzal.

Composer Jack Perla has crafted a uniquely atmospheric score using tonal palettes and instrumental effects that run the gamut from soothing to shocking to pleasing to disturbing to violent and back again. And while he wrote innumerable sensitive lyric lines for the soloists and multiple lush choral segments, he also pushed the singers to their dramatic limit, occasionally asking them to essentially produce controlled screaming effects rather than beautiful tone. The accomplished cast rose to every requirement.

Shalimar the Clown may not always be bel canto, but it is a pretty damn’ thrilling addition to the repertoire.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Boonyi Kaul/India Ophuls: Andriana Chuchman; Max Ophuls: Gregory Dahl; Bulbul Fakh: Aubrey Allicock; Shalimar: Sean Panikkar; Peggy Ophuls: Katherine Goeldner; Firdaus Noman: Jenni Bank; Abdullah Sher Noman: Thomas Hammons; Pyarelal Kaul: Justin Austin; Gopinath Razdan: Geoffrey Agpalo; Bombur Yambarzal: Elliott Paige; Zahir: Eric Ferring; Cowardly Giant: Benjamin Taylor; Clumsy God: Samuel Weiser; Mystic Blind Woman: Gina Perregrino; Conductor: Jayce Ogren; Director: James Robinson; Set Design: Allen Moyer; Costume Design: James Schuette; Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind; Video Projection Design: Greg Emetaz; Wig and Make-up Design: Tom Watson; Choreographer: Seán Curran; Chorus Master: Robert Ainsley; English Diction Coach: Erie Mills

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):