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

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gwyn Hughes Jones (Dick Johnson) and Patricia Racette (Minnie) [Photo © Ken Howard]
09 Aug 2016

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

A review by James Sohre

Above: Gwyn Hughes Jones (Dick Johnson) and Patricia Racette (Minnie)

Photos © Ken Howard

 

The part is after all, a Big Sing, and poses interpretive spinto requirements that challenge many a skillful soprano. To no one’s surprise, Ms. Racette mined gold out of the heroine’s wealth of diverse musico-dramatic material.

Indeed, It was hard to believe that this was her first outing with Fanciulla, such was her well-rounded understanding and highly effective communication of the role. Her instrument remains one of the most responsive and secure in operadom, and she possesses a distinctive womanly warmth from the lower to upper middle ranges that is impossible to resist.

She can be engagingly conversational one minute and highly excitable the next. When called upon, she can hurl out gleaming phrases above the staff that ring out thrillingly above the large orchestra. If she occasionally pushes the upper voice ‘just’ beyond its natural limit, it is always in heat-of-the-moment service to the drama. The love duet was meltingly voiced, and Patricia spun out filigrees of perfection in the Bible reading scene. In short, Patricia Racette is already among the top Minnie’s of our day, and from this starting point of ‘triumphant’ she is only going to get even better.

1 Ensemble Cast in 'Girl of the Golden West' (c) Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016.pngEnsemble cast

Mark Delavan seems born to play Jack Rance. His oversize presence and stage personality are wedded to an imposing, rock-solid, dark hued baritone. That awesome total package results in a perfect fit for the demands of the unyielding, unseemly, and unpleasant sheriff Jack Rance. This is my favorite role assumption to date for this accomplished, seasoned singer. Rance allows Mr. Delavan to show off all of his many strengths, and he proves an unrelenting vocal powerhouse. The intensity that he and Ms. Racette achieved in the famed Poker Scene was a model of its kind.

The full house seemed to enthusiastically enjoy brawny tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones even more than I did as Dick Johnson. There is much to admire in his evenly produced, heavy lyric tenor. He is especially wonderful when he is letting his clean, pleasing tone flow forth effortlessly with good legato. Mr. Hughes Jones has a bit less success when the going gets heavier, occasionally bearing down so that his lovely sound gets harder and less sympathetic. He was especially moving as he scored all the musical and emotional points in Ch’ella mi creda.

Allan Glassman offered a consistently interesting personality as the bar owner Nick, and his reliable tenor was deployed with insight and meaningful dramatic intent. Craig Verm’s rich, full-throated baritone made Sonora an important component in the evening’s success. It was luxury casting to have Raymond Aceto to lavish the part of Ashby with powerful phrasings from his pointed, polished bass-baritone.

4 Mark Delavan (Jack Rance) in 'The Girl of the Golden West' (c) Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016.pngMark Delavan (Jack Rance)

The entire gifted ensemble worked hard and well. Under Susanne Sheston’s assured leadership, choral singing was of a high standard. The many cameos were so well realized that it may be odious to single out any few. That said, Nicholas Davis’ rolling, mellifluous baritone made a significant impression as Jake; Adrian Smith’s well-voiced Larkens was memorably affecting; and Allen Higgs’ urgent, focused baritone made the most of his stage time as José Castro. Even the most thankless roles in the opera were well-served, with Kristen Choi bringing an appealing mezzo to Wowkle and James Harrington summoning bold, secure baritone singing as Billy Jackrabbit.

The most often heard comment the whole week I was at Santa Fe Opera: When you are doing an opera about the Golden West, and you have a stage with a back wall open to a genuine vista of ‘golden west’ hills, why cover up that natural match with a set? (And a not very atmospheric set at that.)

Well, the answer seems to be that this was a collaboration with English National Opera whose home theatre (the Coliseum) does not have nature’s scenery available (St. Martin’s Lane, anyone?) Still, set designer Miriam Buether has crafted a rather garish Polka Saloon that appears more a warehouse with spare appointments than an evocative Old West tavern. Indeed, once Mimi Jordan Sherin began her lighting design with sickly, day-glo green lighting, the place started out looking more like a wannabe hipster bar on the Vegas Strip. Once past that first impression, Ms. Sherin mellowed the look to an effective, unobtrusive collection of area washes and isolated specials.

Crowded placement of tables and chairs, with only one entrance upstage behind them, made for congested movement, and stymied a successful star entrance for Minnie. Still, the separate dance hall stage right and the secure room for the safe stage left were good touches even though they too lacked meaningful detail. Minnie’s cabin looked like a two-story Ikea dollhouse, all tidy and blond with clean angles. The wide upstage windows were covered by a drape that kept getting pulled open and closed, and the table and two chairs kept getting moved around with no tangible motivation. Curiously, the sound effect of wind gusts stayed at the same volume even when the door was opened or closed during a cue.

19 Gwyn Hughes Jones (Dick Johnson) and ensemble cast in 'The Girl of the Golden West' (c) Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2016.pngGwyn Hughes Jones (Dick Johnson) and ensemble cast

Act Three was not in the “Great Californian Forest at Dawn,” as specified in the script but rather on the wooden front porch/façade of the sheriff’s office building. This had a couple of steps what were used for rather formal choral groupings. The gun rack on the wall in Rance’s office, and the plethora of guns being trained on Johnson in this act began to seem like a commentary on the profusion of weapons in the US.

Nicky Gillibrand’s successful costumes were appropriately character-specific. Minnie’s Act Two ‘dress up’ look was not only fun but also meaningful. Ms. Gillibrand’s somewhat stereotypical ‘black’ attire for Rance was a witty, ironic comment on old west villains.

Richard Jones made interesting decisions in his staging and he was quite effective in scenes with smaller number of characters where he fostered good interaction, motivated blocking, and useful subtext. When Mr. Jones had to move larger numbers of people in Act One, he often left them clustered and cluttered, with an appearance of imprecise traffic control. Conversely, Act Three’s crowd scene was by turns too neat (with even lines of miners on the platforms), or too messily ‘violent’ to the point of being laughable. When Johnson gets methodically passed down the forward line of men from stage right to left, getting individually punched, kneed, and brutalized, I couldn’t help but think of that scene in Airplane, in which fellow passengers line up to take their turn at slapping a seatmate out of her hysteria.

Lucy Burge’s choreography for the miners’ dancing together in Act One was well coordinated and charming. However, having the group of men get on those Act Three steps like a show choir, raise a pistol in unison in their right hand and then, en masse, execute something that was a cross between The Pony and Arsenio Hall’s fist bumps was just plumb silly, totally out of character and context.

Best for last: the Santa Fe Opera orchestra was in absolutely superb form. From the first hammered chords, Emmanuel Villaume was firmly, thrillingly in charge of a reading that was stunning from initial downbeat to finale cut-off. The Maestro was a cunning Pied Piper, leading his amassed forces with meticulous dramatic intent and unfaltering attention to detail, whether nurturing articulate solo statements, or guiding lush ensembles (oh, those gorgeous tutti strings!). Under Villaume, the band and cast rose to meet every atmospheric requirement that Puccini (and Puccinians) could dare to wish.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Nick: Allan Glassman; Joe: Tyson Miller; Handsome: Jared Bybee; Harry: Derrek Stark; Happy: Andrew Paulson; Sid: Jorge Espino; Sonora: Craig Verm: Trin: John Matthew Myers; Larkens: Adrian Smith; Jack Rance: Mark Delavan; Jake Wallace: Nicholas Davis; Ashby: Raymond Aceto; Minnie: Patricia Racette; Courier: Benjamin Werley; Dick Johnson: Gwyn Hughes Jones; José Castro: Alan Higgs; Wowkle: Kristen Choi; Billy Jackrabbit: James Harrington; Conductor: Emmanuel Villaume; Director: Richard Jones; Set Design: Miriam Buether; Costume Design: Nicky Gillibrand; Lighting Design: Mimi Jordan Sherin; Choreography: Lucy Burge; Fight Directors: Rick Sordelet, Christian Kelly-Sordelet; Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston.

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):