25 Nov 2016
San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
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.
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.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
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).
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
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.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
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.
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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.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
Inventive stage director Layna Chianakas cleverly started the homage to The Rabbit of Seville early on and carried the hijinks throughout the performance. As the orchestra launched into the jaunty up-tempo repeated chords of the overture, suddenly a silhouette of an enormous carrot appeared as a projection on the grand curtain, traveled across the front of it, and disappeared. Before you wondered if you could believe your eyes, another one appeared from the opposite side and did the same.
By then, we got it. The laughter and applause as we recognized the reference nearly drowned out the merry music-making in the pit (a taut, idiomatic reading led by Andrew Whitfield). The overture was “staged” with carrots dancing, parading and moving into positions suggesting the crossed swords of a family crest. With this cheeky beginning, the tone was set for a no holds barred romp.
The Count and Rosina
Babatunde Akinboboye put his polished baritone on ample display as a winning Fiorello, serving immediate notice that the standard of the afternoon’s singing would match the ingenuity of the staging, and then some. Maestro Whitfield is also the Chorus Master and the men’s ensemble belied their disparate and ragtag look by offering meticulous harmonizing. We are all waiting Figaro’s signature entrance, of course, to experience one of the most familiar arias in all of operadom.
Brian James Myer delivered a true star turn in the title role. Factotum is too puny a word to describe Mr. Myer’s (dare I say ‘definitive’?) performance. I cannot recall encountering anyone in my many years of seeing this piece who exhibited anywhere near such a total command of the role, the style, the joyous abandon. His arsenal included an effortless stage demeanor, a thoroughly considered subtext, flawless comic timing, and a tirelessly wiry presence.
Brian’s evenly produced, appealing baritone may not be in the burly Milnes or Mattei vein, but it has plenty of ping and sass, with a warmly ingratiating tone that fills the house. Figaro is Brian James Myer’s first role assumption as a Resident Artist, and Opera San Jose can be very proud of their superlative choice in adding such a fine young talent to their roster. Nor was he alone in his accomplishments.
Kirk Dougherty (Almaviva) flirts with Renée Rapier (Rosina) in the Lesson Scene
The OSJ talent roster has a deep bench and the remarkably versatile tenor Kirk Dougherty turned in another treasurable performance as Count Almaviva. Mr. Dougherty once again regales us with a honeyed voice that is pliable, beautifully produced, and consistently responsive. His forays into the upper reaches of the role are as comfortably negotiated as the characterful melismas.
The Count has several comic guises in this piece to be sure, and Kirk keeps his tone freely produced even as he colors it to suggest less aristocratic denizens of Seville. His beautifully delivered serenade benefitted from his skill at providing his own guitar accompaniment, a singular feat. Like his titular costar, he established his comic credentials early on, and the expository Figaro-Almaviva duet crackled with witty Rossinian interplay.
The radiant mezzo Renée Rapier immediately engaged our ears with a plush, ripe tonal beauty that announced her as a major discovery. In short order, she also captured our hearts with an especially assured Una voce poco fa. Her fresh, spontaneous reading of this thrice-familiar piece immediately established her credentials as a first tier Rosina. Ms. Rapier’s rich lower register was wedded to a solid middle and brilliant top, giving off coloratura sparks as demanded, and coy romantic heat when appropriate.
Brian James Myer as Opera San Jose's dynamic Barber of Seville
She, too, proved to be a well-rounded, richly complicated personality, and she found a variety of meaningful expression in her impersonation. Her comic sensibilities were a formidable component in the day’s success, and she clearly relished interacting and conspiring with her Figaro and Lindoro. Even though I knew it was coming, her spot on revelation that she has already written the love note that Figaro is prompting her to compose was so “right” that I barked a surprised laugh out loud. This cast was treating the audience to Barbiere as if for the first time, and we relished their sense of discovery.
The oily Music Master Basilio was well-served by the wonderfully suave basso voice of another Young Artist, Colin Ramsey. Allowing him to be honestly, unabashedly youthful was an inspired choice, and no comedy was lost by showcasing Mr. Ramsey’s gorgeously rolling tones, with their vibrant young sheen. A solidly delivered La calunnia has rarely been as pleasingly voiced, yet with all the necessary sinuous underpinnings.
Considering that Valerian Ruminski was undertaking the challenging part of Bartolo for the first time, he revealed much in his depiction of the devious curmudgeon. Mr. Ruminski has a smooth, orotund baritone, perhaps a bit too smooth for this volatile character. His was not (yet?) in the tradition of bloviating, blustering practitioners, but is a little (too?) smooth around the edges. His difficult rapid-fire patter was not always as precise as it may become. Still, his persona and physical stature are ideal for the role and he proved a competent player in the twisting plot. His outlandishly comic, brazenly mis-tuned aria in the Lesson Scene was alone worth the price of admission.
It would be hard to imagine a more committed and scene-stealing Berta than that embodied by the vivacious Teressa Foss. Too often this can be a throw-away part, but Ms. Foss played a deliciously willing accomplice in Rosina’s detention, with an apparent girly fixation on carrying stuffed animals, which increased in obsessive number as the show progressed. Teressa is also possessed of a laser-focused whiz-bang of a soprano voice, and her effortless flights above the staff were as admirable as they were totally unexpected. In the small role of the Sergeant, Sidney Ragland made every phrase count with a secure delivery
Valerian Ruminski's role debut as Bartolo
The physical production was all that could be wished. Matthew Antaky designed an unfussy, practical, attractive set that afforded plenty of opportunities for varied blocking, effective levels, and even a few surprises. The colorful exterior for the opening was wonderfully dressed with palm trees, profusions of flowers, Mediterranean tiles and a fountain. That gave way to a two-level interior with enough doors for a decent Feydeau farce.
Alyssa Oania is credited as being costume coordinator, which may mean she carefully selected the good-looking attire from stock. But Rosina’s well-styled burgundy dress and Spanish shawl seemed far too fetching not to have been created specifically for her, and Basilio’s accessories (including eyewear resembling designer goggles, prissy white hanky, fuschia jabot and matching striped socks) were brilliant touches. And were brilliantly copied for Almaviva’s phony teacher in Act Two.
A highly effective wig and make-up design complemented the dress, with Christina Martin providing excellent support. The gag of having Figaro distractedly tease Bartolo’s wig, not having realized the good Doctor has vacated it, was a memorable visual. And Basilio’s heavily made up doe eyes and high cheekbones made him look eerily like Lily Tomlin in drag. The bobbling, wobbling mustache for Almaviva’s drunken soldier was also a comic plus.
Kent Dorsey achieved a good deal with his diverse lighting design. In addition to even area washes and atmospheric gobos, Mr. Dorsey programmed a number of specialty spots that were helpful in creating a rhythm to the look and flow of the show. He alternated blackouts with spotlighting Figaro during his entrance aria, contributing to the cartoon-like sensibility that permeated the concept. Only the colored disco light effect at the end seemed slightly out of sync.
Teressa Foss's Berta loves animals
With all the key casting and technical positions filled with consummate professionals, it was arguably Maestro Whitfield and Director Chianakas who were the icing on the cake. Or the maple glaze on the carrots. Whitfield helmed a talented collective of solid strings, colorful winds, and punctuating brass that unified into an effective Rossinian arc. And Ms. Chianakas drew out richly detailed interplay onstage that was chockfull of revelatory ideas.
The uninhibited clowning by the choristers at the top, including some balletic goofs, was infectious and conveyed an expectation of what would follow. This included a dizzy moment with the Count and the Barber freezing as “statues” in the fountain to avoid detection by Bartolo, who is exiting his house. The removal of the ladder by some unseen force in the climactic scene was perfectly timed. I am not sure that Mr. Myer’s masterful Figaro needed help putting across his aria by the addition of three chorus girls extras sporting huge wigs studded with salon accouterments, but I appreciate the thought.
A far better thought was turning the storm into a psychological tempest, in which a dreaming Rosina presents a love letter to each of the other principals, then thinks better of it and tears the missives up one by one before returning to her sleep on the settee. A well-considered, serious moment in all the jollity.
But it was not long before those danged carrots were back with us, as a running gag that paid good dividends. Whether being played as musical instruments, tossed about the stage, or God knows what else, those orange veggies always brought us back to the source of this production’s comic inspiration.
So, what’s up Doc? A witty, slapstick celebration of an in-joke that was always characterized by well-calculated physical and intellectual humor, and married to an admirably first tier musical execution. In short, another solid achievement by the resourceful Opera San Jose.
Cast and production information:
Fiorello: Babatunde Akinboboye; Almaviva: Kirk Dougherty; Figaro: Brian James Myer; Bartolo: Valerian Ruminski; Rosina: Renée Rapier; Berta: Teressa Foss; Basilio: Colin Ramsey; Sergeant Sidney Ragland; Conductor/Chorus Master: Andrew Whitfield; Director: Layna Chianakas; Set Design: Matthew Antaky; Costume Coordinator: Alyssa Oania; Lighting Design: Kent Dorsey; Wig and Make-up Design: Christina Martin