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

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sylvia Lee as Lucia  [Photo by Pat Kirk]
14 Sep 2016

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

A review by James Sohre

Sylvia Lee as Lucia [Photo by Pat Kirk]

 

Effective casting is the first key to a successful rendering of this bel canto masterpiece, and OSJ most assuredly did not disappoint. The fact that the four leads were drawn from the roster of Resident Artists speaks volumes to the careful selection and nurturing potential of that successful program.

First, let’s focus on the mesmerizing performance of Sylvia Lee, who assumed the title role. Thanks to the success and widespread fame of several high profile exponents in the immediate past (Callas, Sutherland, Sills, Gruberova) the part has come to be regarded as somewhat an Everest in this Fach. Happily, Ms. Lee scales this mountain of musical and emotional challenges and makes a compelling case for Donizetti’s dramatic writing.

Ms. Lee is diminutive and empathetic, sweet without being saccharine, and she commands our attention whenever she is onstage. Her silvery, limpid soprano is wedded to a solid technique that encompasses not only the pathos of the girl’s dilemma, but also serves all the coloratura flights required in passages of elation and madness alike.

Sylvia has a poised tone that especially shines when she soars above the staff and pings dramatic phrases off the back wall. Her middle and lower voices are similarly well-schooled, although a certain anonymous whiteness can creep in at levels below mezzo forte. Her towering Mad Scene was a model of beautifully calculated effects. If her overall artistry at this point is not as individualized as the divas mentioned above, this will come in good time. As it is, Sylvia Lee is giving a powerful star turn.

Colin & Sylvia.pngColin Ramsey as Raimondo and Sylvia Lee as Lucia

It is arguably harder to locate a great Edgardo than a great Lucia, such are the daunting requirements set out for the leading man. Luckily, OSJ has a prodigiously gifted tenor in its residency: Kirk Dougherty. This versatile performer has never sounded to better advantage than as the romantically driven, politically volatile Donizettian hero. Mr. Dougherty’s honeyed legato singing ravishes the ear, and his ringing dramatic declamations have a thrilling squillo. Moreover, he is a handsome, natural actor who is a master of economy of gesture.

The availability of such an accomplished and indefatigable Edgardo allowed Opera San Jose to include the oft-omitted Wolf Crag’s Scene which made a fine effect thanks to the willing partnership of the sturdy Enrico from another Resident Artist, Matthew Hanscom. Mr. Hanscom has racked up an impressive resume at OSJ and Sarasota essaying roles that are all over the map, but the standard Italian repertoire fits him like a glove.

His is a beautifully rich, rolling instrument that possesses allure and power in all registers and (almost) all volumes. I wish he would check his tendency to occasionally over sell the forte upper passages when Matthew seems to get over committed to the “drama” and pushes the tone sharp. Never you mind, the San Jose public gave him a hero’s ovation at curtain, as much for his Enrico as for the body of solid work he has done for the company.

Bass Colin Ramsey (another R.A.!) was a revelation to me as a beautifully calibrated Raimondo. Until Mr. Ramsey, I have never been persuaded by this role or its musical characterization. But on this day, his majestic, orotund, ravishing bass and sincere acting made as good a case for this part as I imagine is possible. Arturo is usually cast with a young, aspiring tenor, lamentably felled by unfortunate circumstances. Here, casting against type, character tenor Michael Mendelsohn was a rather unsavory, older predator, his reedy delivery adding an unctuous element and a fresh dynamic to the arranged marriage.

Yungbae Yang was a good dramatic presence as Normanno, and his evenly produced lyric tenor contributed gleaming vocalism. Anna Yelizarova was deluxe casting as Alisa, her rich mezzo not only characterful in her solo lines, but also radiant in the famous Sextet.

Ming Luke conducted a responsive orchestra with a fine sense of style and excellent forward direction. Maestro Luke seems to know that dramas need as much attention to pacing as comedy, and he showed an uncanny ability to ride the applause after set pieces to admirably propel the drama onward. While the entire band executed this vintage Donizetti with dedicated acumen, the principal flute proved a haunting character in the plot as it superbly partnered Lucia in her well-known cadenza of increasing insanity. Powerful duo, indeed! Andrew Whitfield’s full-throated chorus was in fine form.

Kirk & Sylvia.pngKirk Dougherty as Edgardo and Sylvia Lee as Lucia

The attractive set design by Steven Kemp provided an atmospheric, practical environment that was visually appealing and practical. The handsome, wood-paneled great hall was dominated by an imposing staircase up left, but its best stroke was an entry stage level up center, a shadow-box sort of affair that allowed for a stunning entrance of the unhinged and bloodied Lucia fresh from the murderous bridal chamber.

The beautiful forest scene, at once featuring verdant mounds of grass and leafless tree trunks, drew a gasp from the audience when it was revealed. Such was its austere beauty. Oddly, when this scene was altered between I-1 and I-2 to add the requisite fountain, a row of trees was left suspended halfway to the flies, trunks dangling in the air. Just as I thought “this may be a mistake,” the other row of trees was yanked up to equal them! Hmmm. As one old lady audience member once hissed to another after the handkerchief scene in a Met Otello, “That must have been about something.”

There was no confusion at all about B. Modern’s superlative costumes. B’s sumptuous period creations were at once earthy and sumptuous. Characters’ stations were well-defined and the overall look firmly grounded us in time and place. This was a significant achievement. It did not hurt that all elements were creatively lit by Sean A. Russell. Mr. Russell manages to create brooding environments without ever relegating the performers to patches of darkness that seem to invade lesser designers’ work in such moody genres. He also focuses and frames the action well, directing us just where to look at critical dramatic moments. Jessica Carter’s Wig and Make-up Design was also highly effective, although from my vantage point in the front orchestra Lucia’s crucial post-murder ‘pale look’ verged perilously close to clown white.

Benjamin Spierman directed an imaginative, fluid production that was chockfull of fresh ideas. During the brief prelude, Edgardo appears, contemplative, troubled, considering a red flower that he carries. Eventually he places it on a grassy knoll, perhaps as a premonition of Lucia’s grave. Or perhaps not. Its beautiful vaguery engages us immediately and allows us to speculate. The red flower is a visual leitmotif that carries through the entire piece.

The character relationships are tellingly developed, and meticulously detailed. Blocking is well-motivated, uses the entire playing space effectively, and explores a great variety of stage pictures. Mr. Spierman is especially adept at moving the large chorus on and off stage with expeditious efficiency. He added a chilling touch to Raimondo’s annunciation of the new groom’s demise by having him kneel on a prie-dieu and put his face in his hands, which then streak his cheeks with the blood seemingly picked up from the cleric’s having cradled Arturo’s corpse. Horrifying, but perfect use of subtext.

In tandem with his gifted soprano, Mr. Spierman found limitless nuance in the extended Mad Scene, alternatively having her stagger, pitch, swoon, threaten, sink to the floor, and recover to threaten more slashing a la Nightmare on Elm Street. This was riveting stuff, and almost faultless in its dramatic shape and emotional impact. Only one moment was ill-timed, when Lucia suddenly threatened Normanno with a throat-slitting which prompted his too-quick bug-eyed horror, prompting unintentional laughter. But that is a matter of fine-tuning. This was a heady dramatic realization.

At the end of the day, Opera San Jose has produced a stylish, risk-taking, skillfully sung and played rendition of a beloved warhorse that was spontaneous, thoughtful, traditional (in the best sense of that word), and immensely crowd-pleasing.

James Sohre


Cast and production details:

Edgardo: Kirk Dougherty; Normanno: Yungbae Yang; Enrico: Matthew Hanscom; Raimondo: Colin Ramsey; Lucia: Sylvia Lee; Alisa: Anna Yelizarova; Arturo: Michael Mendelsohn; Conductor: Ming Luke; Director: Benjamin Spierman; Set Design: Steven Kemp; Costume Design: B. Modern; Lighting Design: Sean A. Russell; Wig and Make-up Design: Jessica Carter; Chorus Master: Andrew Whitfield

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):