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.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia
Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory
mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola,
whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the
Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
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.