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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.
26 Nov 2016
Rusalka, AZ Opera
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
With water-reflected light bathing the stage, Water Nymph Rusalka and her sisters “swam” sitting on the backs of chairs and waving their arms much as Russian ballerinas do in The Dying Swan.
Their world was separated from the world of humanity by a forbidding white door. Water nymphs and wood sprites wore ethereal gowns that moved gracefully with them and allowed the audience to perceive them as denizens of a different realm. Melinda Whittington was a poignant, tragic Rusalka who enchanted the audience and brought them into her world with her moon song “Mesiku na nebi hlubokem” (“O moon high up in the sky”).
Sara Gartland and David Danholdt as Rusalka and The Prince
When Rusalka fell in love with the human Prince, her father, Vodnik, sung magnificently by Richard Paul Fink, warned her that no good could come of the match because humans are sinful. I wonder if Dvořák got his idea for Vodnik and the Three Wood Sprites from Wagner's Das Rheingold. Vocally, the combination of stentorian baritone and three high lyric voices was fascinating. Daveda Karanas was a human looking Ježibaba. With no pointed ears or other marks of an alien being, she wore a dress with a cut-out bustle that would have been quite fashionable in 1890s. She sang with dramatic vocal colors, but her characterization was rather bland.
Kevin Ray was a dramatic-voiced Prince whose character was bewildered by two women, Rusalka and the Foreign Princess, vying for his hand. Alexandra Loutsion was every inch the evil Foreign Princess and she sang with easily produced warm and resonant dramatic notes that made me wonder if she is a future Wagnerite. In this fairy tale, the Foreign Princess got the Prince’s ring and eventually shoved the social climbing water nymph back into her pond. That was a sad lesson, indeed, but one that must sometimes be learned.
Daveda Karanas and Sara Gartland as Ježibaba and Rusalka
Kevin Newell was a dutiful hunter, but The Gamekeeper in a scruffy wig and the cowardly but limber Kitchen Boy supplied the comic relief that kept Rusalka from being totally tragic opera. Henri Venanzi’s chorus never appeared in front of the curtain and I wondered why. He has a good group but they might have seemed too earthbound for nymphs or sprites.
Dvořák’s music is exquisite and Conductor Steven White presented it in all its liquid, translucent beauty. Although memorable, the moon song is not the only great piece in this opera. There are many other scenes of similar evocative lyricism. The duet between Rusalka and the Prince has been described as one of the most enchantingly nuanced in all opera. Rusalka is a work we need to hear again so that we can get to know and understand its melancholy charm. I hope it won’t be too long before a company in Arizona or Southern California again presents Rusalka. It’s well worth hearing more than once.
Cast and production information:
Conductor, Steven White; Stage Director, Joshua Borths; Set Design, Mark Halpin; Costume Design, Adriana Diaz; Lighting Design, Jeremy Dominik; Choreographer, Molly Lajoie; Rusalka, Melinda Whittington; The Prince, Kevin Ray; Vodnik, Richard Paul Fink; Ježibaba, Daveda Karanas; The Foreign Princess, Alexandra Loutsion; Wood Sprites: Katrina Galka, Lacy Sauter, and Mariya Kaganskaya; Gamekeeper, Joseph Lattanzi; Kitchen Boy, Alyssa Martin; The Hunter, Kevin Newell; Chorus Director, Henri Venanzi.