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.
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.
It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.
Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.
'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.
On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.
In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.
There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.
A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.
One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.
Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,
Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.
Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.
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