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 sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

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.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

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!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anthony Roth Costanzo in the title role of
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 Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Anthony Roth Costanzo in the title role of Akhnaten

Photos by Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera

 

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.

16203-219-C.pngJ'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.

Maria Nockin


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.

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):