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Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
17 Nov 2016
Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Akhnaten or Akhenaten as his name is sometimes written, ruled Egypt for seventeen years, from a date near 1351 to a date near 1334 BCE. He and his queen, Nefertiti, were part of the eighteenth dynasty. Because composer Philip Glass and his librettists were researching so far back into history to tell his story, they could not answer many of the questions about events in his life. Thus, the opera is not historical. It is inspirational. Akhnaten tried to change his country’s religion from polytheism to a quasi-monotheism in which the Sun God ranked above all others.
On Saturday November 5, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented the American premiere of Phelim McDermott’s spectacular production of Akhnaten, which had already been seen at English National Opera. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo was a perfect fit for the role of the religiously inclined pharaoh. Head shaven and body waxed, he looked the part of a magnificent ruler, and his clear, soaring tones were as smooth as freshly ironed silk. He seemed to produce his strong voice easily and he was not tired at the end of this very long role. Akhnaten was onstage almost all the time.
J'Nai Bridges as Nefertiti, Anthony Roth Costanzo as Akhnaten and Stacey Tappan as Queen Tye
McDermott’s staging was close to choreography because it demanded a great many slow, meditative, ritualistic movements from the principals. In contrast, there were quick motions from the excellent jugglers in the background who never dropped an object until the last act when they did it for effect. Juggling is thought to have been a part of palace life in ancient Egypt since it is seen in a tomb painting from four thousand years ago. Designer Tom Pye's solid three-story stage construction allowed both the actions showing the pharaoh’s slow story and the visual counterpoint of the juggling to be seen at once. His costumes portrayed the riches of Egypt’s royalty in jewel tones, exquisitely woven transparencies, and enormous trains.
The name Nefertiti means “a beautiful woman has come.” Contralto J’nai Bridges was a gorgeous Nefertiti as she sang the part of the consort who gave meaning to Akhnaten’s life. She added lower harmony to his singing as she completed his image. Bass Zachary James was the Scribe who narrated the story in English. Glass made a point of having that character sing in the language of the audience since there are no titles for this opera. I would have liked titles for the material sung in Ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and Akkadian, but the composer preferred to give listeners the feeling of the ancient world rather than an actual text. Not only were there no English titles, I could not find any material in Spanish in the program.
The soprano with the opera's top vocal line line was Stacey Tappan as Akhnaten’ mother, Queen Tye. Probably the most loving stage mother-in-law, she sang with clear legato tones and never caused friction between the lovers. On with the other hand, Nefertiti’s father, Aye, sung by Patrick Blackwell, fanned the flames of the old religion. A stalwart bass-baritone, Blackwell’s sound was easily heard above the chorus that often surrounded him.
Korean baritone Kihun Yoon sang with a robust sound as the self-important heir-to-the-throne, Horemhab, who would eventually bring back the old polytheism and allow Akhnaten to be designated a heretic. Frederick Ballentine was the evil High Priest who plotted Akhnaten’s downfall. Akhnaten’s six beautiful daughters provided gorgeous harmonies in the final act. Coloratura soprano So Young Park, lyric sopranos Summer Hassan and Elizabeth Zharoff, mezzos Michelle Siemens and Michelle Hemmings, together with contralto Sharmay Musacchio formed a notable sextet of graceful voices that lightened the mood of the otherwise somber final act.
Chorus Director Grant Gershon’s group sang with spirit and considerable exuberance. Conductor Matthew Aucoin, LA Opera’s new artist-in-residence, led a dark sounding accompaniment to a vital and exciting performance. In his orchestration of the piece, Glass chose to leave out the usual top line of a score, violins, and that omission gave the accompaniment an unusual sound. Aucoin’s rendition of the score was vital, translucent and beautifully detailed. Akhnaten is a show-stopping modern opera and the Los Angeles audience loved it.
Cast and production information:
Conductor, Matthew Aucoin; Director, Phelim McDermott; Set Designer, Tom Pye; Costume Designer, Kevin Pollard; Lighting Deigner, Bruno Poet; Chorus Director, Grant Gershon; Juggling Choreographer, Sean Gandini; Assistant Director, Trevor Ross;
Akhnaten, pharaoh of Egypt, Anthony Roth Costanzo; Nefertiti, his wife, J’nai Bridges; Queen Tye, his mother, Stacy Tappan; Horemhab, general and future pharaoh, Kihun Yoon; Aye, Nefertiti’s father and advisor to the pharaoh, Patrick Blackwell; High Priest of Amon, Frederick Ballentine; Scribe, Zachary James; Daughters of Akhnetan, So Young Park, Summer Hassan, Elizabeth Zharoff, Michelle Siemens, Michelle Hemmings, and Sharmay Musacchio.