Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

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):