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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

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):