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.
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.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago
A review by Salvatore Calomino
Above: Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia [Photo courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
The title role is performed by Albina Shagimuratova, who sang an excerpt from this opera at Millennium Park, Chicago several seasons ago. Lucia’s beloved Edgardo di Ravenswood is sung by Piotr Beczała and her brother, Lord Enrico Ashton, by Quinn Kelsey. A major company debut is scored by Adrian Sâmpetrean in the role of Raimondo, the chaplain and tutor to Lucia. The parts of Alisa, Normanno, and Lord Arturo Bucklaw are performed by Lindsay Metzger, Matthew DiBattista, and Jonathan Johnson. Enrique Mazzola makes his debut conducting these performances and the Chorus Master is Michael Black.
During the overture a plaid scrim, emphasizing Scottish family clans, covers the stage. The title of the opera appears in blood-red script at the base of the scrim. Slow tempi encouraged at first by Mr. Mazzola allow for an appreciation of orchestral detail and contrast which commences at the moment that characters begin to interact. Staged concepts are displayed in this production by means of a series of horizontal and vertical moving panels. In the first scene Normanno and his band of henchmen search fruitlessly through the stylized heather for evidence of an intruder on the Ashton lands. The entrance of Enrico and Raimondo identifies the suspected culprit as Edgardo di Ravenswood, enemy to Enrico and secret lover of the latter’s sister Lucia. The bright, excited projection of accusations by Mr. DiBattista’s Normanno gives fire to the troubled soul of Enrico. Mr. Kelsey embodies here the spirit of his self-descriptive line, “Io fremo” [“I seethe with rage”]. Throughout the balance of the scene Kelsey unleashes his lines with dramatic force, often giving preference to declamatory emphasis over a traditional bel canto line. His performance of “Cruda, funesta smania” [“Cruel, baneful torment”] exemplifies this approach to the character of Enrico. While incorporating some notable embellishments in the aria, he uses a dominant forte approach to various lines such as “amor sì perfido” [“such a perfidious love”]. Once the suspicion of Edgardo’s identity is indeed confirmed by the searching chorus, Raimondo makes the case for Lucia’s innocence. Already in this brief exchange Mr. Sâmpetrean demonstrates an admirably flexible, rich bass voice which he uses to good effect in character delineation. Enrico’s reaction to the news of Lucia’s suitor intensifies an earlier fury, shown here by Kelsey’s performance of the cabaletta “La pietade in suo favore” [“compassion for her”] with unrelenting determination.
The following scenes of the act introduce Lucia, her confidante Alisa, and Edgardo. The heroine’s initial aria, “Regnava nel silenzio” [“Ruled (the night) enveloped in silence”], is performed by Ms. Shagimuratova with careful shaping and a firm sense for legato; her narration of Lucia’s vision at the fountain matches the apprehension of the heroine with a tentative, dramatic approach. In the second piece, “Quando rapito in estasi” [“When enraptured, ecstatic”], as Lucia’s misgivings yield to the joy of her lover’s projected arrival, Shagimuratova incorporates florid decoration, an effective diminuendo, and at least the suggestion of a trill. Her interaction with Ms. Metzger’s supportive Alisa prepares for the emotional reception of Edgardo. When Mr. Beczała appears, sporting a contrasting red tartan, he states with forthright conviction his plan to leave the “patrie” by morning. Beczała’s emotional reaction to Lucia’s fear is here believably expressed by his forte pitches “il sangue mio” [“my blood”] and the chill with which he invests “m’odi e trema” [“listen to me and tremble”]. Although Edgardo must narrate here the conflict engendered by his father’s murder with his present love, Beczała does not depart from a lyrical flow. His continued urging leads to the mutual spousal vows and the exchange of rings. The duet “Verranno a te” [“(my sighs) will come to you”] is in these performances a vocal highpoint of the act with both singers moving from piano tenderness to heartfelt avowal of their affection before parting.
In Act II Enrico, Lucia, and Raimondo interact in several key scenes leading to the heroine’s subsequent transformation. In the first of these the production emphasizes the familial split by means of panels: Enrico is seated at his desk in the company of Normanno, while Lucia appears simultaneously in the garden outdoors next to the moonlit gnarled tree where she had earlier met her lover. Enrico’s troubled spirit is given an appropriately brooding release by Kelsey, who summarizes in a breathless flow the family’s precarious standing. Once he dispatches Normanno to carry out the plans for a wedding, Lucia is escorted into his writing chamber. The line “Appressati, Lucia” [“Come nearer, Lucia”] is uttered by Kelsey with a snake’s duplicity as he tries to reason with the young girl who already shows the librettist Cammarano’s “sintomi d’una alienazione mentale” [“signs of madness”]. Lucia sits stiffly in a period chair and refuses to consider her brother’s coaxing to save the family by marrying Lord Arturo Bucklaw. Once she is shown a forged letter written allegedly by her Edgardo, the girl is weakened further by the presumption of her lover’s inconstancy. As Kelsey comforts Lucia with an embrace, here both kneeling together, he rationalizes her “folle perfido amore” [“foolish perfidious love”] with a strong sense of melodic line. In their duet, “Se tradirmi tu potrai” [“If you can betray me”] Shagimuratova displays excited vocalism yet begins to yield symbolically to Enrico by allowing him here to dominate their concluding lines. This shift is reinforced in Lucia’s subsequent duet with Raimondo. In this scene Mr. Sâmpetrean truly shines in his aria, “Ah, cedi, cedi!” [“Ah, relent!”], in which he uses carefully wrought embellishments in a progressively rising line as a means of convincing Lucia to yield to Enrico’s plan. Equally impressive are Sâmpetrean’s secure, lower register and his varied technique in the piece “Oh! qual gioia!” [“Oh, what joy!”] while he celebrates Lucia’s agreement.
At the start of the following scene the chorus welcomes Arturo Bucklaw as the savior of the troubled Ashton household. In his brief aria “Per poco fra le tenebre” [“For a short time in the darkness”] Mr. Johnson’s Arturo addresses Enrico with assurances for the future. Johnson’s attractive technique incorporates elegant legato phrasing and high pitches securely fixed to the significant line “amico, fratello e difensor” [“friend, brother, and protector”], all of which he swears to become. As soon as the document is signed, with still notable resistance by Lucia, her lover Edgardo bursts into the room. The renowned sextet as highlight toward the close of the act is here well blocked, such that individual performers are distinctly heard yet all blend sonorously in passages where vocal lines converge. Afterward, Mr. Beczała’s effective cry of “Maledetto sia l’istante” [“Cursed be the moment”], his judgement against Lucia’s presumed treachery, returns the act to a level of tension even higher than earlier.
The four vocal scenes of the final act are a direct result of this inflamed spirit of enmity and continued misunderstanding. At first Edgardo and Enrico face each other at Wolf’s Crag, estate of the unhappy lover. Although Enrico has sealed the marriage of his sister, his heart yet thirsts for revenge, “La vendetta mi parlava!” While each defends his family’s position, the two men agree to a duel at dawn. In their duet Kelsey returns to a dramatically rough edge to underscore vocally his character’s intent for the present, whereas Beczała’s flights into lyrical ardor latch more emotionally onto his father’s memory.
The following scene begins as celebration and ends with tragic consequences. At first the chorus dances and sings in jubilation at Lucia’s wedding; they are interrupted by Raimondo announcing tragedy from the bridal chamber, that Lucia has murdered her husband. In his aria “Dalle stanze ove Lucia” [“From the rooms where Lucia”] Sâmpetrean enunciates “quelle mura” [“into the chamber”] with quiet dignity as though in sympathy with a higher power. His imitation of Lucia’s query for her husband shifts to a confused intonation with a deeply rolled -rr- as he describes her demented smile [“un sorriso balenò”]. When joined by the chorus in praying for forgiveness from “heaven’s” wrath, Sâmpetrean holds an extended pitch on “ciel” long after the choral expression of shock subsides.
The following mad scene shows Shagimuratova at her best of this performance. With a face tinted white to emphasize her “pallor,” she incorporates multiple embellishments to illustrate the current deranged state of her character’s persona. Glides drifting upward, scales and roulades performed flawlessly, and individual pitches taken flat or sustained are a credible appeal to the “ciel clemente” [“merciful heaven”] where her delusion seeks happiness. The pendant to this magnificent vocal display is sung by Beczała in the final scene. He gives an equally virtuosic account of “Fra poco a me ricovero” [“Soon refuge for me”], where he modulates his voice to accommodate accusation with an ultimate tone of forgiveness. When Raimondo announces Lucia’s death, “È in cielo” [“She is in heaven”] with a flawless melisma on the final word, Edgardo can wait no longer. Perhaps the reaction to Lucia’s death before his own suicide is best expressed here by his coloring of the phrase “sì crude guerra” [“such cruel agony”] to describe the ultimate effect of selfish human strife on the most innocent of loves.
Lyric Opera is to be congratulated for assembling such a premiere cast to give a fresh interpretation to a repertoire staple.