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

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

The devil shares the good tunes: Chelsea Opera Group's Mefistofele

Every man ‘who burns with a thirst for knowledge and life and with curiosity about the nature of good and evil is Faust ... [everyone] who aspires to the Unknown, to the Ideal, is Faust’.

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

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):