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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Michael Mayes as Scarpia [Photo by Amanda Tipton]
20 Jul 2016

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

A review by James Sohre

Above: Michael Mayes as Scarpia

Photos by Amanda Tipton

 

This seeming limitation instead proved a liberation for ingenious director Joachim Schamberger. The mutli-talent Herr Schamberger also designed the effective set and the non-stop, virtuosic projections. The unit set is intended to be an overall suggestion of a prison, a metaphor of how society in trapped in certain behaviors, and unable to break cycles of oppression.

As such, it consisted of a semicircle of latticed metal doors above which rose a prison ‘wall’ that served as a perfect receptacle for the combination of still image and film projections. These most often began as structurally accurate suggestions of the actual physical locations, then morphed into artwork of the period relative to the topic, and finally included some very telling psychological reflections.

When Scarpia lusts after Tosca as the parishioners intone the Te Deum, the video above the prayer services is of the imagined conquest of Tosca, wherein a chat room-like close up of the actual actress is languidly undoing her bodice as she projects inviting glances. This was the most profane juxtaposition I have ever seen of Scarpia’s morally bankrupt character balanced against sincere religious fervor.

2016 Central City Opera TOSCA Te Deum ensemble Photo Amanda Tipton 38.pngThe Te Deum

There were other startling images as well, such as blood running over cityscapes during Cavaradossi’s torture. But my favorite might have been the serenity of the imposing Castel Sant’Angelo, projected on the show scrim, which got invaded by a herd of sheep as the Shepherd was picked up in a spot behind the scrim jangling the bells he carried in his hand. What wonderful, telling imagery!

If this sounds highly stylized, it was. Another large part of the show’s success is the dynamic lighting design by David Martin Jacques. As expected, there were well-executed pools and areas of lighting, with good uses of color and textures. But Mr. Jacques also took some real chances: during moments of crisis and decision for major characters he punctuated them with schizophrenic bouncing of spots that were an apt comment on the emotional turmoil of the situation.

The final moments of the show were perfectly calibrated. On this flat floor, one level set, I was wondering how on earth Tosca was going to jump to her death. Well, Team Tosca had a stupendous effect in mind: Tosca parted the center walls floor to ceiling, revealing a white shaft of light, ran a few feet onto a short platform, turned and hurled her final phrase. . .and fell backwards into the abyss like Sigourney Weaver in Alien 3! A stunning surprise.

2016 Central City Opera TOSCA Mario Cavaradossi (Jonathan Burton) Tosca (Alexandra Loutsion) Photo Amanda Tipton 09.pngJonathan Burton as Cavaradossi and Alexandra Loutsion as Tosca

The costumes from Utah Opera looked handsome, and Tosca’s Act II gown, especially designed by Dana Tzvetkov was rich and effective, especially for its red, removable overlay, its flowing white under gown, and a diaphanous scarf. Set pieces were limited to multi-purpose, modular, industrial looking platforms, tables and chairs, a writing stand, and a white marble statue of the Virgin Mary.

I have to say, this was the funniest Tosca I have ever seen. You read that right. The director found willing participants with the Sacristan, Cavaradossi, and yes, even Tosca to create intentionally humorous interplay. I am not sure I liked it all, but I am not sure I didn’t. I can tell you that the premiere audience Ate. It. Up.

Perhaps, that initial humorous tone does not instill the usual nobility in the great tempestuous diva, nor does it presage the immense tragedies that are looming. The Sacristan suddenly kneeling to Scarpia with a pained ‘take,’ Mario playfully coming on to Tosca in their first duet, Tosca being restrained as she threatens to slash the l’Attavanti portrait (which she later does in fact do), all were played with comic sensibilities but also with commendable honesty. Would Floria and Mario actually start to get intimate on the floor of the chapel? Director Schamberger thinks so.

He does not shy away from the attempted rape in Act II, having Scarpia suggestively begin to disrobe as he defines Tosca’s prezzo. In the moments before Vissi d’arte, he actually forces himself atop her on the floor, tearing open the red over dress, leaving Tosca to begin the aria, flat on her back, legs tangled in her petticoats. Pretty intense stuff.

2016 Central City Opera TOSCA Floria Tosca (Alexandra Loutsion) Scarpia (Michael Mayes) Photo Amanda Tipton 48.pngAlexandra Loutsion as Tosca and Michael Mayes as Scarpia

When Scarpia finally crosses down stage to have her, his white shirt open baring his handsome torso, she turns upstage and executes as fierce a stab as I have ever seen, jolting him into the air, before he sinks on bench to be slashed at again and again. Visceral excitement that is pure Puccininian ‘shock and awe.’

Not every idea lands. The Te Deum looked crowded with everyone center stage. And the show began in silence, with extras entering from the house to survey the stage and its pile of rubble. They decide to clean it up and reconfigure the elements to create the first scene. A woman sees a red scarf (Tosca’s) and picks it up, sending (Cavaradossi’s) paint brushes scattering from with it.

The first loud note then intones in the orchestra and they all run off in terror. This rubble turns out to have been the Act III set, and the red scarf was Tosca’s, that artistically fell from the fly loft after she jumped. The show ends with these contemporary extras coming back to the fringes of the action, looking confused. Who are these people? Tourists? Critics? The Puccini Police? Your guess is as good as mine. Or as good as the folks at the B and B where I stayed, who also were unable to suss it out over breakfast.

John Baril conducted a stylistically accurate, theatrically vivid account of this thrice-familiar score. The orchestra responded with real fire and commitment. The divisi celli were especially vibrant and pulsing with emotion. The clarinet solo work was impeccably haunting. Whether playing soli or tutti, Maestro Beril inspired these fine players to thrilling results. He did on occasion allow soloists to indulge in some held high notes that were long enough to give Corelli pause, but that is a minor consideration. His reading had veristic sweep as well as minute detail. Aaron Breid’s chorus was well-schooled and full throated.

2016 Central City Opera TOSCA Spoletto (Peter Lake) Mario Cavaradossi (Jonathan Burton) Scarpia (Michael Mayes Photo Amanda Tipton 44.pngPeter Lake as Spoletto, Jonathan Burton as Cavaradossi, and Michael Mayes as Scarpia

Alexandra Loutsion is making an auspicious role debut in the title role. She has a warm, round, plush sound, that has ample presence in all registers. Ms. Loutsion also has a secure, ringing high register that can ride the orchestra with impressive ease, but she can also scale back to regale us with meltingly beautiful sotto voce singing. Since there were some unorthodox elements to this character’s interpretation I will be interested to follow her development in the part. Although she is herself young, at the moment her vocal approach seems better served by the tortured, mature turns of events of Acts Two and Three, than the unusually coquettish girlishness of Act I.

I had greatly enjoyed tenor Jonathon Burton in last summer’s Fanciulla in Des Moines. Of course, Cavaradossi is a whole other kettle of fish, but Mr. Burton acquitted himself with distinction. He invests a great deal of meaning and emotional weight in his heartfelt singing. He certainly has all of the thrilling money notes, even though one or two lacked the ease of production that characterized his other vocalizing on this evening. It is when he sings in mezzo forte that he can grab your heart and not let go. O dolci mani was beautifully, winningly intoned.

Michael Mayes made an overwhelming impression in his debut as Baron Scarpia. His is a powerful, booming, dark baritone that has a searing presence. Mr. Mayes is also a highly imaginative singer capable of great diversity of effects. I have never experienced quite such a sinuous Va, Tosca, so laced with menace as he seemed to taste her name as he uttered it. He not only had the reserves for the Big Sell moments, but also could command a skillful legato. As a Las Vegan, I can paraphrase the Cosmopolitan’s promo when I say Mr. Mayes’ colossal Scarpia is just “the right amount of wrong.”

The thrilling, full-voiced sing of all three principals is laudable, applaudable, and admirable. I would only caution that sometimes, pressing volume for dramatic effect can invite strain or even errant pitch. When you strive to sing ‘balls-to-the-wall,’ well, in this theatre at least, the wall may be closer than you think!

Lanky Donald Hartmann was all gangly limbs and orotund delivery as he gave us a Sacristan that was all about the comedic core of the character. His was a well-rounded and thorough embodiment of the doddering meddler, although occasionally his histrionics stole focus. Stephen Clark’s stalwart baritone gave great urgency to a well-sung Angelotti. Peter Lake’s smooth, attractive baritone made us wish Puccini had given Sciarrone much more to sing. The fresh-scrubbed Adam Richardson lent his pleasing tenor to a sinister portrayal of Spoletta, and he made the most of his scenes. Ashley Fabian was the sweet-voiced, utterly natural sounding Shepherd.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Angelotti: Stephen Clark; Sacristan: Donald Hartmann; Mario Cavaradossi: Jonathon Burton; Floria Tosca: Alexandra Loutsion; Baron Scarpia: Michael Mayes; Spoletta: Peter Lake; Sciarrone: Adam Richardson; Shepherd: Ashley Fabian; Jailer: Eric McConnell; Condcuctor: John Baril; Director, Set and Projection Designer: Joachim Schamberger; Original Costume Design: Susan Memmott Allred; Costume Coordinator: Dana Tzvetkov; Lighting Designer: David Martin Jacques; Wig and Make-up Design: Liz Printz; Chorus Maste.

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):