04 Jul 2016
Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne
Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which was new in 2012, returned to Glyndebourne on 3 July 2016 revived by Ian Rutherford.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
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On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
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A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Michael Grandage's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which was new in 2012, returned to Glyndebourne on 3 July 2016 revived by Ian Rutherford.
Set in 1960's Seville, the production is designed by Christopher Oram with lighting by Paule Constable, and featured Gyula Orendt as Count Almaviva, Golda Schultz as Countess Almaviva, Davide Luciano as Figaro, Rosa Feola as Susanna, Natalia Kawalek as Cherubino, Carlo Lepore as Bartolo, Susan Bickley as Marcellina, John Graham-Hall as Don Basilio, Nicholas Folwell as Antonio, Alasdair Elliott as Don Curzio and Nikola Hillebrand as Barbarina. Jonathan Cohen conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
In an article in the programme book Michael Grandage explained that the 1960's setting for the production came about partly because they were looking for a suitable milieu in which it would be possible for the Countess and Susanna to convincingly swap clothes. Peter Schlesinger's photographs of the beautiful people of the late 1960's provided the inspiration. Another given was the intention to have the action set just in the single day specified in the libretto, so Christopher Oram's designs pair a massive, ancient-looking Moorish palace on a revolve with 1960s people, the whole flowing beautifully from the opening when the Count and Countess arrive early morning during the overture, to the finale in the darkened garden.
I had seen the production when new, when it came to the BBC Proms and also caught it on television, but this was the first time that I had seen it at Glyndebourne. The advantage of the production is manifestly the great beauty of the sets, the lovely contrast between the Moorish-inspired architecture and the 1960s costumes, and the remarkably detailed personen-regie ensuring that the characters were both brilliantly realised and finely in period. And it was both very funny and rather touching.
Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne Festival 2016. Susanna (Rosa Feola) and Count Almaviva (Gyula Orendt). Photographer: Robbie Jack.
My biggest problem with the production remains the depiction of the Count (Gyula Orendt): a selfish playboy prone to bouts of jealousy, he just didn't seem to inspire the sort of fear that would seem to be needed to make the other characters' behaviour believable. A telling point at the performance was that when Orendt's Count went down on one knee at the end of Act Four to beg forgiveness of the Countess (Golda Schultz), there was a small but distinct titter from the audience. In 1960s guise, with his red velvet jackets and tendency to start jiving, this conception of the Count had too many funny moments.
But thinking about the production, as the performances from Davide Luciano as Figaro, and Rosa Feola as Susanna were so strong, it was as if Michael Grandage and Ian Rutherford were refocussing the dramaturgy slightly, making the servants the stronger, more dominant characters as the feckless aristocrats play on around them.
Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne Festival 2016. Figaro (Davide Luciano). Photographer: Robbie Jack.
It helped that both Luciano and Feola are native Italian speakers, so that the opening scene had great strength and vitality in their use of language. Luciano's strong, rather virile performance reminded me that in the original play Figaro had a number of Revolutionary sentiments (which were stripped out by librettist Lorenzo da Ponte). Here was a Figaro less the charmer and more the schemer, quick to jealousy and full of passion. Luciano's musical performance was to match, singing with a sense of a strong line and with a feeling of suppressed anger. Rosa Feola as Susanna was poised and elegant, again with an inner strength combined with suppleness of line. You felt that Feola could have easily taken on the role of the Countess, and her account of ‘Deh vieni’ gave us some of the finest singing of the evening.
Against this pair, the self-indulgent, rather feckless Almavivas did not stand a chance. Golda Schultz's Countess, floating around in her kaftans, was all elegant charm with no real core to her character. Schultz sang warmly vibrant voice, drawing on a lovely sense of elegant personality in the recitatives and beguiling as she should. But ‘Porgi amor’ seemed to lack a real sense of line and felt a little too much like a series of isolated, albeit beautiful, notes, though her account of ‘Dove sono’ had a touching melancholy about it. Gyula Orendt's Count was beautifully sung, within the confines of the character as conceived in this production. Orendt could spin a beautiful line, yet also be quick to anger and his pacing of the long comic scene which ends Act Two was simply brilliant.
Natalia Kawalek was a piece of relatively late casting as Cherubino. Kawalek made a wonderfully convincing youth, and her impulsively sulking performance really helped ground the drama in the naturalism which Grandage clearly desired. Musically she seemed to take some time to warm up, and ‘Non so piu’ seemed to lack the sort of relaxed refulgence of tone which is ideal in this role, though ‘Voi che sapete’ was sung with great charm.
Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne Festival 2016. Cherubino (Natalia Kawalek) and Susanna (Rosa Feola). Photographer: Robbie Jack.
Carlo Lepore was a striking Don Bartolo, rather slickly untrustworthy yet touching when he discovers Figaro is his son. Susan Bickley made a delightful Marcellina, matronly but elegant and full of character, it was a shame that we did not get her aria. Neither did John Graham-Hall's oily Don Basilio get his aria, though Graham-Hall was a complete delight as this odious character. Nikola Hillebrand was a leggily elegant Barbarina, cavorting with Natalia Kawalek's Cherubino and singing her Act Four aria with poise.
The smaller roles were all strongly taken with Alasdair Elliott as Don Curzio, Nicholas Folwell as Antonio, and Julia Hamon and Alison Langer as the bridesmaids. Like the rest of the cast, the chorus clearly had great fun with the 1960s visual details of the production, and helped to bring the ensemble scenes alive. Though I have to confess that I found the choreography (originally by Ben Wright and revived by Kieran Sheehan) relied a little too much on fitting 1960s dance moves to period music, a trope that can easily weary.
From the opening notes of the overture, Jonathan Cohen and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment gave us a crisply vivid account of the score. Cohen used the period instruments to keep the textures light, yet vivid, and to allow the music to move without seeming overly rushed. Individual numbers were shaped finely, but there was an over-arching sense to the performance too, matching Grandage's desire to have the action move seamlessly through the day. There was some lovely continuo playing from Ashok Gupta (forte piano) and Jonathan Manson (cello), responsive and imaginative without overly drawing attention to itself.
All concerned brought out that combination of pathos, humour and tragedy which is the work's hallmark, and if the great moments did not quite move us as much as they could, overall this was a vividly engaging production, with a cast of beautifully realised characters.
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
Figaro: David Luciano, Susanna: Rosa Feola, Count Almaviva: Gyula Orendt, Countess Almaviva: Golda Schultz, Cherubino: Natalia Kawalek; director: Michael Grandage, conductor: Jonathan Cohen, revival director: Ian Rutherford, designer: Christopher Oram, lighting: Paule Constable, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
3 July 2016, Glyndebourne Festival Opera