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

Cilea's L'arlesiana at Opera Holland Park

In a rank order of suicidal depressives, Federico - the Provençal peasant besotted with ‘the woman from Arles’, L’arlesiana, who yearns to break free from his mother’s claustrophobic grasp, who seeks solace from betrayal and disillusionment in the arms of a patient childhood sweetheart, but who is ultimately broken by deluded dreams and unrequited passion - would surely give many a Thomas Hardy protagonist a run for their money.

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anna Christy in the title role [Photo by Amanda Tipton]
21 Jul 2016

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

A review by James Sohre

Above: Anna Christy in the title role

Photos by Amanda Tipton

 

The piece premiered here of course, so there is significant resonance to experiencing it anew in such an invigorating, immensely moving realization. The company covered itself in glory starting with the casting of the title role.

Anna Christy is born to play Baby Doe. Diminutive and appealing, blessed with a limpid, silvery soprano, the role seems to have been tailored to her significant gifts. While she can certainly easily encompass the spunk and grit of the determined heroine, where Ms. Christy uniquely excels is in the incredible legato flights above the staff.

It is not often one encounters such total ease of vocal production, seamless phrasing, and alluring timbre. She also thoroughly understands the full range of emotions in Baby’s journey, and she communicates them with an honest simplicity. I have often marveled at Anna Christy’s achievements in the past, but with this role assumption she is at the height of her powers, an utterly perfect marriage of artist and material.

2016 CCO BOBD Bryan for President #2 Horace Tabor (Grant Youngblood) Photo Amanda Tipton.pngGrant Youngblood as Horace Tabor

As the object of her affection, Grant Youngblood, too, was a splendidly apt choice for Horace W. Tabor. His physical stature and self-assured bearing were matched by a dependable, rich baritone of considerable import. Mr. Youngblood perfectly balanced the public swagger of the successful businessman-politician with the pathos of his personal longings and shortcomings.

His version of Warm as the Autumn Light was luxurious in its outpouring of burnished tone. As he ultimately descended inexorably into a state of drunken despair, he infused his voice with such pathos and anguish that no one could have been unmoved. The final pages of the score with his compelling, unaffected enactment of Tabor’s death, followed by Ms. Christy’s crsytalline performance of Always Through the Changing were unbearably moving. There can’t have been a dry eye in the house.

As the third part of the story’s love/power triangle, Susanne Mentzer emphatically held her own as the determined, staunch, till-death-do-us-part wife Augusta Tabor. To her great credit, Ms. Mentzer finds every cranny of nuance in an often unsympathetic personage. She wisely invests the role with as much dignity as outrage, balancing the overt self-righteousness with an abiding sense of loss.

She is an attractive woman, her handsome bearing able to suggest severity as well as noble suffering. She has an incisive, throbbing mezzo-soprano, and her technique is rock solid, reveling in a freely ringing top and upper middle, while wisely negotiating lower passages with savvy dramatic flair. Ms. Mentzer also excels portraying the character’s physical deterioration, dramatically and vocally. When she appears as her youthful self in Horace’s final hallucination, she is stunningly renewed: sassy and fresh-voiced.

2016 CCO BOBD Bryan for President Baby Doe (Anna Christy) ensemble Photo Amanda Tipton.pngBryan for President (Anna Christy and ensemble)

The featured character William Jennings Bryan was served up with gusto by bass-baritone Donald Hartmann. His characterful, sonorous singing boomed out in the house and his take-no-prisoners campaign persona was the riveting focal point of his scene, as was required. As Baby Doe’s near harridan of a mother, Sarah Barber dominated her scenes with potent stage presence and a highly-charged, brilliantly aggressive vocal delivery of penetrating power.

The large cast of featured roles was so uniformly excellent, it seems a shame not to have space to single all of them out for praise. These dynamic cameos were mostly peopled by the outstanding corps of Apprentice Artists, and the entire laudable cast list is enclosed for your perusal. Moreover, Chorus Master Aaron Breid has molded these talented artists into a precise and finely-honed ensemble.

Conductor Timothy Myers seemed to be having a ball in the pit, and his skillful orchestra responded with a reading that was by turns heady, colorful, atmospheric, driving, introspective and sweetly sentimental. Maestro Myers wrung every bit of variety from this popular score, managing a perfect combination of folksy Americana and profound operatic expression.

If this is not the year that Central City Opera discovered the possibilities of scenic projections, then mark it as the year they perfected them. Is there a show with as many different locations as this one? (Gypsy, maybe?) The over-achieving David Martin Jacques devised a truly wondrous design for sets, lighting and projections juggling all three duties with consummate skill. This achievement was so virtuosic that I suspect the talented Mr. Jacques could have done it all while still clanging a pair of cymbals between his knees like a consummate busker.

2016 CCO BOBD What Do You Intend to Do August Tabor (Susanne Mentzer) Photo Amanda Tipton.pngWhat Do You Intend to Do Augusta Tabor? (Susanne Mentzer)

The scenery was largely scrim panels and painting frames that flew in and out in various combinations. These frames were stretched with ‘canvases’ that were also scrim, spookily ragged, trailing downward as the bottom crosspiece of the frames was missing. On these shifting surfaces were projected real images of the locations and personages of the story. Highly effective.

The few pieces of furniture were chosen with great care and specificity, and it did not hurt that the actors were clad in Sarah Jean Tosetti’s spot-on period costumes. The sweep of the story and the definition of the characters and their stations in life were inestimably aided by Ms. Tosetti’s fine work. The icing on the cake was a beautifully judged wig and make-up design from Liz Printz.

Ken Cazan’s loving and knowing direction was so effective as to almost not be noticeable. The movement was natural and made good use of the space. He brilliantly peopled the stage with inevitable pictures and well-motivated crowd control. Mr. Cazan seems to have created highly productive subtext with his performers since their relationships were so connected and meaningful.

He also had great skill crafting powerful images, none more so than when Augusta is firmly planted center stage, with her lady ‘friends’ buzzing around her with unwanted advice. That they appeared and disappeared from behind a quintet of scrim projections of Horace’s ‘portraits’ was even more powerful, and the complete stasis of the upright, uptight Augusta made the visual startlingly impactful.

I also very much liked having a mute Baby Doe ambling on stage at the beginnings of the acts and other selected times, all buttoned up and moving stiffly as the eccentric recluse she would become after Tabor’s death. Indeed, the show started with her older self, standing in the middle of a snowy ground cloth, soon pulled away as the opera started. At the opera’s close, the same austere cloth was drawn around the dying Horace, and his grieving wife. Touching and meaningful.

This enduring company seems to return to celebrate its ‘signature opera,’ The Ballad of Baby Doe, every ten years. Based on this year’s loving and beautifully rendered landmark production, I can’t wait for the 70th anniversary edition.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Old Silver Miner: Justin Berkowitz; Bouncer: Chad Sonka; Kate, Saloon Girl: Ashley Fabian; Meg, Saloon Girl: Tatiana Ogan; Horace W. Tabor: Grant Youngblood; Sam: John David Nevergall; Bushy: Daniel Ross; Barney: Leroy Y. Davis; Jacob: Samuel Hinkle; Augusta Tabor: Susanne Mentzer; Sarah: Danielle Palomares; Mary: Marlen Nahhas; Emily: Anna Laurenzo; Effie: Megan Case; Mrs. Elizabeth (Baby) Doe: Anna Christy; Samantha, a Maid: Micaëla Aldridge; Clarendon Hotel Clerk: Peter Lake; Albert, a Bellboy: Michael Floriano; Mama McCourt: Sarah Barber; Washington Dandies: Terence Chin-Loy; Nathan Ward, Christopher Kenney, Cody Müller; Father Chapelle: Peter Lake; Footman: Michael Floriano; President Chester A. Arthur: Justin Berkowitz; Elizabeth (child): Lucy Crile; Silver Dollar (child): Carly Crile; Mayor of Leadville: Justin Berkowitz; William Jennings Bryan: Donald Hartmann; Stage Doorman: Peter Lake; Denver Politician: Stephen Clark; Silver Dollar (adult): Kaileigh Riess; Conductor: Timothy Myers; Director: Ken Cazan; Set, Lighting and Projections Design: David Martin Jacques; Costume Design: Sarah Jean Tosetti; Wig and Make-up Design: Liz Printz; Chorus Master: Aaron Breid.

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):