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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.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
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 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.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
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.
16 Nov 2016
Soldier Songs in San Diego
David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.
Upon entering the theater, the audience was greeted by low rumbling sounds that erupted into soft-edged explosions every few minutes. It was somewhat unnerving as it continued unabated until the presentation began, but the idea was to give the incoming audience a tiny taste of what it is like to be in a war zone. The mood didn’t get any lighter when Director Tomer Zvulun and design group GLMMR began to show a verismo version of the three stages of a soldier’s life.
In Stage One, the child, acted by Ryan Singer, plays with guns and video games. He enjoys chasing other children with guns. Children chant slogans about killing people with strange clothes and funny names. Video games simulate war and the child onstage thinks going to war is very much like playing a video game. The finality of death has completely escaped the youngster.
In Stage two, the child has grown up and enlisted in the military. Played by David Adam Moore, the Soldier sang with strong virile tones and excellent diction. In this presentation all the music was amplified in Garth MacAleavey’s sound design. There were titles in case anyone missed a word, but they were not altogether necessary.
After enlisting, the Soldier learned some hard truths: Getting shot hurts and soldiers actually die in combat. Casualties of war don’t get up and go home in the way that those shot down in video games or children’s stories do. Only when the soldier saw a mutilated body lying on the ground before him, did he begin to understand what war could do to the warrior. Then, he began to realize that he might be maimed and return home disabled or that he might lose his life and return in a coffin.
In Stage Three, actor Dan Denison showed the audience some of the thoughts of veterans who were lucky enough to have returned home. Contemplating what soldiering had done to them, they found they had trouble talking about their overseas experiences with people who had not been to war. Later, members of the "Talk Back" Panel noted that some veterans have had more trouble reintegrating into American society than others. Unfortunately, returnees who need psychological services may be embarrassed to ask for them. It’s sad to see that some veterans do not learn to cope with life in the United States and end up homeless.
The woman veteran on the "Talk Back" Panel said rejoining normal life in the States was harder for women because military trainers negated much of what girls had been taught growing up. As a child, she had been taught to nurture but as an adult she had learned to join in doing harm. Coming home she was again expected to be nurturing rather than aggressive, and it did not come easily. In business, for example, we expect men to be much more aggressive than women.
In Soldier Songs David Little combined the sounds of far off artillery and percussion with flute, violin, cello, clarinet, and piano. Conductor Steven Schick, a renowned percussionist, is well known for his performances of contemporary music. He paid a great deal of attention to detail and gave an impressive rendition of this unusual score.
Soldier Songs is not for the faint of heart. It takes the audience into war-like situations and shows the average American who has never seen a war zone what some soldiers have to endure. It also points out the lack of understanding many parents and children have regarding the difference between playing violent games and actual violence. High school youngsters, in particular, need to know what the dangers of war are for those who join the military. I think performances of Soldier Songs in San Diego did a great deal to bridge the gaps between soldier, veteran, and civilian.
Cast and production information:
Cast and Production Information:
Soldier, David Adam Moore; Child, Ryan Singer; Elder Man, Dan Denison; Conductor, Steven Schick; Director Tomer Zvulun; Production Design, GLMMR: David Adam Moore, Victoria “Vita” Tzykun; Lighting Designer, Maxwell Bowman; Sound Designer, Garth MacAleavey; Supertitles Coordinator, Charles Arthur; San Diego Symphony: Violin, Wesley Precourt; Cello, Chia-Ling Chien; Flute, Erica Peel; Clarinet, Frank Renk; Percussion, Erin Douglas Dowrey and Andrew Watkins; Piano M. Barranger.