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

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

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):