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

A French Affair: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

A French Affair, as this programme was called, was a promising concept on paper, but despite handsomely sung contributions from the featured soloists and much energetic direction from David Bates, it never quite translated into a wholly satisfying evening’s performance.

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.

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):