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 Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jennifer Johnson Cano, Susannah Biller and Cree Carrico as Amour [Photo courtesy of DMMO]
16 Jul 2016

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

A review by James Sohre

Above: Jennifer Johnson Cano, Susannah Biller and Cree Carrico as Amour

Photos courtesy of DMMO

 

The answer would be found in Des Moines Metro Opera’s incandescent production of Orphée et Eurydice. Under Chas Rader-Schieber’s inspired direction and Gary Thor Wedow’s stylish baton, the plentiful artistry on display gives plenty of cause for celebration.

First and foremost, what a treat it is to see DMMO take a chance on a piece that many opera enthusiasts may know of, but never get a chance to experience. This operatic game changer is best known for the mezzo’s set piece Che faro senza Euridice, excerpted from the Italian version. This production, presented in the French version is a reminder, nay revelation of Gluck’s musical genius, and proves a powerful souvenir of a golden age of explosive creativity.

DSC_1929.pngJennifer Johnson Cano and the Furies

Mr. Rader-Schieber has endowed the staging approach with a striking, yet delicate balance of sobering introspection and mythical whimsy. The stage configuration of Simpson’s College’s Blank Performing Arts Center can prove a challenge, bisected as it is by the orchestra pit. The main stage is connected to the thrust by walkways on either side of the lowered pit. The director addresses this limitation by exploring a wide variety of performer placement and continually morphing choral groupings.

In an awesome display of subtlety and nuance, he managed to create well-motivated movement that kept the pictures in flux so that all three side of the horseshoe seating were engaged and visually satisfied. Jacob A. Climer’s handsome, evocative, and frequently dazzling sets and costumes perfectly matched and amplified the director’s artistic sensibilities.

The picture of Mr. Climer’s cool, white cemetery building with decaying wrought iron fence was intersect by a pick-up-sticks like scattering of slender white trees, slightly akimbo. On the thrust is a rectangular grave with a mound of fresh dirt, studded with votive candles. As a white clad, grieving Orphée keens his opening aria, he at first claws at the dirt, then wipes his hands on his clothing, as if wanting to desperately connect with the earth that covers his beloved wife. This was just the opening salvo in several rounds of powerful imagery.

This grave recedes downward and when the trap raises again it bears a writhing chorus of Hades demons who remain submerged waist-level until dancers ooze-crawl onto the stage and proceed to enact a ritual of death. An unsuspecting and unwilling mortal gets roughly stripped of his clothes (read: life) and gets passed, all but naked, down the mosh pit of choristers to death’s realm. The characterful, stylish dances and movement were choreographed with insightful skill and elegance by Jillian Foley.

The festive serenity of the Elysian fields is realized in a hot red palette that could not have been further from the restive handsome cemetery. The chic black court attire is here accented with headwear (and a touch of red) cleverly suggesting deer, rams, goats, and the like. Set pieces were limited to matching red-trees in weighted boxes that could be configured (and re-) to vary the playing area. These stylized bucolic gestures were a perfect complement to the radiant, fairy-princess-perfect gown that adorned Eurydice in gradations of pink.

After her husband breaks his vow and looks upon her, the effect of Eurydice’s death, was brutally blunt and stunning. She was positioned with her back to us upstage on a platform facing Orphée, collapsed onto him, and then sunk into death as she tumbled backwards and downwards on the red stairs. But the evening’s coup de theatre was yet to come. The graveyard façade flies back in separating Orphée from Eurydice once more as it isolates him to sing his famous lament.

DSC_1785 (1).png

Partway through the aria, red rose petals began to fall into the open grave on the thrust. Then they escalate to a flurry as the original rectangular grave reappears, this time covered with a mound of petals. Well, when the winged Amour (clad in eye-popping, shiny gold) brings the heroine back to life one final time, he does so by reaching deep in the mound of petals and drawing out the actress in a matching red gown as the petals cascaded all ‘round. Yes, there were audible gasps. All of this stage magic was flawlessly enhanced by Nate Wheatley’s superb lighting design, and Brittany Crinson’s well-judged make-up and hair design (for Elsen and Associates).

In the pit, Maestro Gary Thor Wedow infused the musical reading with passion and immediacy. Performances of this genre can sometimes become precious, reverential, or worse, irrelevant. But Mr. Wedow encouraged a rendition full of buoyant freshness and dramatic vitality. His instrumentalists responded with equal doses of plangency and panache. Lisa Hasson’s wondrous chorus sang with a full arsenal of well-calculated effects from full-throated joy, to satisfied contentment, to sympathetic bereavement, to satanic vitriol. Bravi tutti. With the title role soloists, we were blessed to have two singers at the top of their game and on the cusp of their fame.

In a time that many young singers sound polished but somewhat monochromatic, no one seems to have told Jennifer Johnson Cano to play it safe. Ms. Cano’s highly individual Orphée was a star turn of significant proportions. Her burnished mezzo has it all: size, color, agility, evenness and individuality. She effortlessly tossed off coloratura with elan as well as meaning, filled the house with refulgent phrases, and drew us into her despair with barely audible vocal effects. She tears into the part with such abandon that occasionally a bit of huskiness intrudes in her powerful lower voice, but oh my, this was a towering, personalized performance.

Susannah Biller is every bit her equal as a radiant, golden-toned Eurydice. Ms. Biller finds every modicum of charm, grace, and poise in her characterization, and is mightily impressive as her elation inexorably turns into heart-wrenching despair. Her secure, gleaming soprano encompassed a wide range of musical colors and she was able to ply her voice to create any number of admirable dramatic effects.

Rounding out the principals, Cree Carrico’s clear, shining soprano was an ideal match for the requirements of the small but indispensible role of Amour. Her poised, focused tone vocally matched her winning, spunky personality. Ms. Carrico made the most out of every second she was on, exuding an infectious and charismatic stage presence.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Orphée: Jennifer Johnson Cano; Eurydice: Susannah Biller; Amour: Cree Carrico; Dancers: Jillian Foley, Isaac Lerner, Megan McCarthy, Tariq Mitri; Conductor: Gary Thor Wedow; Director: Chas Rader-Schieber; Set and Costume Design: Jacob A. Climer; Lighting Design: Nate Wheatley; Choreographer: Jillian Foley; Make-up and Hair Design: Brittany Crinson for Elsen Associates

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):