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

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Parks fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

'So sweet is the pain': Roberta Invernizzi at Wigmore Hall

In this BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, soprano Roberta Invernizzi presented Italian songs from the first half of seventeenth-century, exploring love and loyalty, loss and lies, and demonstrating consummate declamatory mastery.

Staging Britten's War Requiem

“The best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance: this was my approach in the War Requiem - I calculated it for a big, reverberant acoustic and that is where it sounds best.”

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from <em>La pazza giornata o sia il matrimonio di Figaro</em>
26 Jun 2016

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

Last week an audience of 50 assembled in the kitchen of a luxurious West Village townhouse for a performance of Marriage of Figaro.

The “Other” Marriage of Figaro in a West Village Townhouse

A review by Andrew Moravcsik

Above: Scene from La pazza giornata o sia il matrimonio di Figaro

All photos courtesy of Pavel Antonov

 

It began when Figaro, dressed in modern clothes, walked up and asked me to hold one end of a tape measure, pulled the other end across the room, signaled the conductor for a downbeat, and began to sing: “Fourteen…” By the end of Scene One, he and Susanna were going at it hot and heavy (still singing) on top of a woodblock table. The audience then moved on to an elegant salon for the second scene before concluding with Act Two in a grand three-story atrium.

The visionary founders of On-Site Opera (OSO) have a name for such intimate performances in hand-picked spaces appropriate to the libretto: “immersive opera.” They are betting that immersive opera will help transform 21st-century opera. I am a believer, and I am not alone: tickets to all five performances sold out in three hours. It is not hard to understand why. Immersive opera offers a uniquely thrilling experience: singers meet your gaze, brush you as they pass, and—even if it sometimes leaves your ears ringing—sing just a few feet away. Of course big houses will always be there for those who prefer opera singers to remain behind the fourth wall. (And perhaps this approach will always be impractical for the grand operas of composers like Wagner—though I would be tempted to see Tristan und Isolde staged on the dark parapet of a windswept Brittany castle, the audience huddled around the dying hero.) Yet for smaller-scale operas, immersive opera recaptures—and often exceeds—the intimacy of the tiny theaters in Italy for which many operas were originally conceived.

Figaro_cast.pngL to R: Ginny Weant, Melissa Wimbish, David Blalock, Jesse Blumberg, Jeni Houser, Camille Zamora, Margaret Lattimore, David Langan

The folks at OSO do not simply perform operas in ways you have never seen. They perform operas you have never heard. This was not Mozart and da Ponte’s Figaro, but a version by Marcos Portugal. Born in Lisbon in 1762, Portugal is arguably the most distinguished classical music composer in the history of his native land. Once the toast of Italy, he supplied theaters there with more than 40 operas in under a decade. Today he is largely forgotten, though he did pen the first national anthems of both Portugal and Brazil, as well as some lovely religious music. (Check out his Misse Grande here). Having become a Brazilian citizen, he died in Rio de Janeiro in 1830.

Portugal composed his Figaro for the opening night of the Venetian Carnival season in 1799, thirteen years after Mozart’s version. Gaetano Rossi, who supplied the text, surely knew the earlier libretto. Though Rossi followed Beaumarchais’ title rather than da Ponte’s (“La Pazza giornata, ovvero Il mattrimonio di Figaro” / “The Crazy Day, or The Marriage of Figaro”) and recast the work as a two-act opera buffa, he borrowed many of da Ponte’s revisions, additions and cuts, as well as some of his wording.

Portugal’s score, however, cannot compete with Mozart’s. His music is pleasing but hardly memorable—a pale imitation of Cimarosa, Jommelli and other minor composers of the Neapolitan School. Occasional flashes of melodic or harmonic inspiration in the countess’s aria, the letter duet, and the two finales, for example, are not sustained. Nor did José Luis Iglésias’s atmospheric reduction for an Iberian-accented chamber orchestra (complete with guitar and accordion), commissioned by OSO, fully convey Portugal’s modest orchestral innovations, for example his treatment of woodwinds. Ultimately one could not help being reminded of the exceptional genius of Mozart, and even of the winning qualities of second-tier composers like Paisiello, whose Barbiere di Siviglia remained popular for a generation and, as OSO demonstrated last year, still can enchant us today.

Given the weakness of Portugal’s score, prime responsibility for the performance’s success rested on its all-American cast of singers. The English translation of the libretto by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray did not ease their task. While it abounds with clever rhymes, its reliance on Anglo-Saxon vowels rendered the text far more difficult to sing. I would have preferred to hear the original Italian with supertitles, as OSO employed last year.

In these challenging circumstances, three singers stood out. Houston-born soprano Camille Zamora, a singer of wide repertoire and myriad musical interests, perfectly embodied the wronged and vulnerable yet proud Contessa, while phrasing every note with elegance and sensitivity. Margaret Lattimore, a veteran of the Met and many other grand stages, gave a veritable lesson in stage technique, scaling down a large warm mezzo to the intimate setting and effortlessly acting circles around singers two decades her junior. Melissa Wimbish, a Baltimore-based mezzo who specializes in contemporary music and sings Indie Rock on the side, made an uncannily convincing Cherubino. Her commitment to immersive opera is so great that when I met her on the stairwell after the performance, she remained in character.

Other members of the ensemble offered spirited accounts. The extensive experience of Michigan-trained baritone Jesse Blumberg as a Lieder singer showed in his soft-grained and elegantly sung Figaro. Experienced bass-baritone David Langan displayed crisp diction and suave manner as lawyerly Don Bartolo, while Mannes graduate student Ginny Weant made the most of a chipper cameo as Cecchina (da Ponte’s Barberina). Enthusiastic Antoine Hodge was vocally assured in the dual roles of Antonio and Gusmano (da Ponte’s Don Curzio).

Sometimes, however, immediate proximity can highlight vocal limitations in young singers whose voices have yet to smooth out entirely. Jeni Houser brought impressive technique to Portugal’s Susanna, a lyric coloratura soprano role, but her high notes sometimes sounded edgy in the small space. The same was true of tenor David Blalock, who returned from the cast of last year’s Barbiere to portray again the (now slightly older but surely no wiser) Conte Almaviva. OSO Music Director Geoffrey McDonald conducted with customary assurance.

Portugal’s Figaro marks the midpoint of OSO’s three-year Beaumarchais trilogy. It began last June with the Paisiello and will end next June with Darius Mihaud’s Le Mére Coupable.(The location is still to be announced.) Along with Massenet’s Cherubin, these two works are the best of many operas not by Mozart or Rossini that draw on the Beaumarchais characters. I’ll be there, but I hope thereafter that OSO upgrades to canonical works of greater proven quality, which should further intensify the immersive experience.

OSO faces one final issue, namely how to manage the list of disappointed patrons left outside—reportedly more numerous than the lucky few who made it in. Why not do the Met one better and double down digitally? OSO might beam future performances as they happen to an overflow space with a bank of large screens, a great sound system, and a hip mixologist behind the bar. Now that would be 21st century opera!

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):