Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Erin Wall (Vanessa) and James Morris (The Doctor) in <em>Vanessa</em>(c) Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016
09 Aug 2016

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

A review by James Sohre

Above: Erin Wall (Vanessa) and James Morris (The Doctor) in Vanessa

Photo credit: Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016

 

It is a luxury to see such an exhilarating new staging of this worthy opera, which seems to be finding its way back into favor after some years of unjustified neglect. Mr. Barber writes wonderfully for the voice, and here he crafts a treasure trove of haunting melodies that fall easily on the ear.

Conductor Leonard Slatkin seemed to revel in every bit of nuance in this splendid Neo-Romantic score, from the entrancing harmonies to the soaring melodies to the crackling through-composed dialogue that erupted into pungent arias. The eloquent orchestra responded with a generous outpouring of musical excellence underpinned by dramatic intent. Maestro Slatkin partnered his exceptional cast with unerring unity of purpose, and constantly shifting emotions were accommodated with consummate artistry, nowhere more so than in that shattering final quintet.

That cherishable artist Erin Wall shows once again that she ‘has it all’ as evidenced by her comprehensive, richly detailed, impeccable performance as Vanessa. Ms. Wall regales us with a creamy, warm, vibrant tone that is evenly produced in all registers and volumes. She is totally believable in her early reserve, which gives way, nay “explodes” into a pungent, tormented, mesmerizing characterization. Elegant to look at, ravishing to hear, impossible to look away from, Ms. Wall is a true star presence.

As her inexplicably devoted niece Erika, young Virginie Verrez impresses with a marvelous, refined mezzo that has individuality and polish. Her sound is voluminous, appealing, and displays a fine, even presence, especially in the score’s most famous melody, Must the Winter Come So Soon. Moreover she is slender and lithe, and moves well on stage. As accomplished her refined vocalizing is, I must say I missed Erika’s soul. Anguished cries that should suggest aching spiritual pain, were instead technically secure and intellectually apt. Erika should steal our hearts and run off with the show. I feel certain the gifted Ms. Verrez could come to do this as she discovers the part’s beating heart.

3. Zach Borichevsky (Anatol) in 'Vanessa' (c) Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016 (1).pngZach Borichevsky (Anatol). Photo Credit: Ken Howard.

Rising tenor Zach Borichevsky has abundant appeal as the feckless Anatol. There is a devious sweetness about him that perfectly informs the opportunistic young man. That he also finds a crumb of honest feeling to throw to Erika makes him, if not honorable, at least two-dimensional. His singing has many moments of real beauty, and he is very persuasive encompassing honeyed sustained phrases. The exposed expansive upper stretches are more challenging and sometimes lie ‘just’ shy of the pitch, although Mr. Borichevsky serves them well enough with a subtly manufactured squillo that does the job without doing any harm. This role was written for Gedda after all, asking for a combination of suave insinuation and spinto power. Mr. Borichevsky is already making a good case for the part. Now it will be a pleasure to watch him grow.

It was a treat to see the much admired Helene Schneiderman whose inscrutable mezzo and seasoned dramatic presence made the most of every moment as the irascible Old Baroness. In her self-imposed silence, she even managed to suggest a begrudging (bemused?) attachment to Vanessa and Erika.

15. Helene Schneiderman (Old Baroness) in 'Vanessa' (c) Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016.pngHelene Schneiderman (Old Baroness) in Vanessa. Photo Credit: Ken Howard.

It was worth the price of admission just to see venerable bass-baritone James Morris in a star turn as the dotty Doctor. Mr. Morris is not only a valued asset in this production but also to the recent history of opera performance in general. What a generous, imaginative, gifted, engaging performer he is. It would be foolish to pretend that he is the fresh-voiced basso cantante of yore, or the potent Wagnerian of ‘mid-yore,’ and he doesn’t try to. Happily, he still has the all the charisma and assured technique to craft an unforgettable impression that is the talk of the festival. One of the week’s best moments was his: after he tenaciously clung and clung and clung to a loud extended high note, the delighted audience burst into spontaneous applause! Keep at it, Jim!

Allen Moyer’ handsome, white, film noir set designs (no that is not a contradiction) proved the perfect environment to underscore the aloof, wintery milieu. The imposing white drawing room features a curtained wall up center, which breaks away as it recedes upstage, curtain now drawn to reveal a huge cracked mirror, just as the false Anatol arrives. This powerful imagery at once underscored Vanessa’s fear of aging and the depleting properties of the passage of time, all the while reflecting (sorry!) her shattered dreams and illusions.

The openness of the dining table stage left (the congenial face of the family in public), is ingeniously offset by the cramped, skewed placement of two easy chairs far down right (the uneasy reality of the family in private). Indeed, at curtain rise Vanessa is in profile, her back somewhat to us, facing a stoic Old Baroness, both of them deliberately puffing on cigarettes.

The addition of a grand expressionistic staircase and chandelier up center dominated the visual as the space widened, just the characters’ life views opened up decisively. Erika’s march down those stairs to her attempted suicide was a potent effect. Erika’s bedroom was simply set down left when needed, with all of the subtle movement of set pieces neatly accomplished by costumed servants.

Spatial relationships were somewhat fluid, sometimes alienating, and most always effectively suggested. One puzzle: Once the large double doors were established as the main entrance with Anatol’s arrival, they were never so used again. Church- and partygoers exited up left, Erika ran out to escape her plight down right, Anatol entered carrying the lifeless girl from down left. Not good. Not bad. Just “curious.”

Finally, the presence of a tiered end table bearing snow globes from destinations that these reclusive inhabitants dream of visiting, was nothing short of a brilliant metaphor.

Costumer James Schuette has devised a doozy of a collection: elegant, posh, formalwear in a wide palette of neutral colors for many of the show’s official events: hosted dinners, engagement parties, church going, and leave taking. He has varied the look with attractive casual attire for day trips, skating parties and the like. Most important, Vanessa looked like the fashion plate she should be.

5. Zach Borichevsky (Anatol) and Virginie Verrez (c) Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016.png Zach Borichevsky (Anatol) and Virginie Verrez (Erika). Photo Credit: Ken Howard.

Christopher Akerlind contributed his usual top drawer lighting design. There was excellent use of stark white, shadowy cross lighting, and brooding washes. Since the set was white it took to subtle changes beautifully, and Mr. Schuette employed well-judged hints of color.

I happen to have been seated next to an Ibsen scholar, and what an apt parallel he drew to that style. Of course! The reserved formality of the period, the churning internalized dramatics of the drawing room, the talking past each other rather than to each other, it is all there, and director James Robinson craftily knit these elements into a most satisfying presentation.

Mr. Robinson drew detailed, multi-layered performances from his cast, and he showed an unerring eye for meaningful stage pictures. He kept many pieces of inventive stage business in play simultaneously while always skillfully keeping our focus on the main action. He and his team also crafted a unified plan to build the arc of the drama and then bring it full circle.

After Vanessa and Anatol leave for a brighter future, Erika packs up the snow globes and sends them after the couple. The set withdraws back to its original look. The mirrors are again covered. Erika sits in Vanessa’s easy chair facing a mute Baroness. They smoke as they face off. At the ending, we are back to a new beginning.

With Santa Fe’s illuminating production of Vanessa, we were privileged to participate in a cathartic journey, a perfectly realized evening of lyric theatre in which nothing, and everything, has changed.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Erika: Virginie Verrez; Major-Domo: Andrew Bogard; Vanessa: Erin Wall; Anatol: Zach Borichevsky; Baroness: Helene Schneiderman; Doctor: James Morris; Footman: Andrew Simpson; Conductor: Leonard Slatkin; Director: James Robinson; Set Design: Allen Moyer; Costume Design: James Schuette; Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind; Choreography: Seán Curran; Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston

3rd August 2016.

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):