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

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Down in flames: Berlioz's Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz's Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

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):