Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Nikki M. James as Eileen Sherwood [Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera]
12 Dec 2016

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: Nikki M. James as Eileen Sherwood

Photos by Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera

 

With Faith Prince as wisecracking Ruth and Nikki M. James as sexy Eileen, Wonderful Town was a fabulous concert that told a story of the “good old days” in Greenwich Village with singing, dancing, and updated jokes.

In the nineteen thirties, Ruth McKenney wrote of the adventures she and her sister Eileen had in New York City. Although they lived in a damp, mold infested Greenwich Village basement for a mere six months, Ruth’s stories of that time have fascinated readers and listeners for three quarters of a century. She first published her tales in the New Yorker, but in 1938 they appeared in book form as My Sister Eileen and the book became a play and movie. In 1953, when Leonard Bernstein added music to Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s lyrics, Ruth McKenney’s tales of life in New York became Wonderful Town. That was the version of the story that Los Angeles Opera audiences saw on December 2, 2016.

Wonderful-Town_16207-0040.pngJulia Aks (Helen) and Ben Crawford (Wreck)

Director David Lee enabled his artists to tell their story in a realistic manner even though their space was severely limited. The projected scenery, consisting of varied watercolor paintings of a remembered Greenwich Village, could be seen over the heads of the cast, chorus, and orchestra. There was always some movement within these Hana S. Kim projections. Although there were no trees to be seen, shadows of their leaves continually moved on buildings at the behest of soft breezes. From my time in the Village I don’t remember any green fire escapes, but they were charming to see onstage. Projected names such as “Christopher Street” were in the iconic font seen on the cover of the magazine, The New Yorker.

Wonderful Town is the first of three Los Angeles Opera presentations of Bernstein musicals, the last of which will be in 2018, the one-hundredth anniversary of the composer’s birth. The story was still set in the nineteen-thirties and Faith Prince was the street-smart Ruth, a role originally played by Rosalind Russell. In the role of Eileen, originally played by Edie Adams, Nikki M. James was as cute as a kitten. Some things never change and Eileen got the attention of every man, onstage and off, even though it was Ruth who wrote the stories for posterity. Both Prince and James created memorable characters and sang with admirable diction.

Wonderful-Town_16207-0684.pngFaith Prince as Ruth Sherwood, with the dancers of Wonderful Town

Nineteen fifties musicals were known for their dance scenes and Wonderful Town was no exception. I was amazed at how much dancing Peggy Hickey’s troupe could fit into a minimum of space afforded them with orchestra, chorus and soloists on stage. The Navy Yard Conga was the whipped cream on a fabulous dessert and James’s cartwheels were the topmost cherry.

One of the stars of this show was the orchestra under the leadership of Grant Gershon who conducted with crisp, forward pressing tempi and took a minute to dance on the podium. Quite a few of its twenty-seven instrumentalists played more than one instrument, too, so the audience heard the sound of a full compliment of musicians. The rhythms were captivating. Bernstein said, “Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” It can also keep on communicating for decades after the demise of its composer.

Maria Nockin


Cast and production information:

Book, Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov; Original Stories, Ruth McKenney; Music, Leonard Bernstein; Lyrics, Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Adaptation for Concert Performance, David Lee; Ruth, Faith Prince; Eileen, Nikki M. James; Tour Guide, Speedy Valenti, Rexford and other characters, Roger Bart; Mr. Appopolous, Tony Abbatemarco; Officer Lonigan, Brian Michael Moore; Wreck, Ben Crawford; Helen, Julia Aks; Violet, Elizabeth Zharoff; Robert Baker, Marc Kudich; Daniel and Associate Editor, Theo Hoffman; Frank Lippincott, Jared Gertner; Sean, Carlos Enrique Santelli; Pat, Josh Wheeker; Conductor, Grant Gershon; Director, David Lee; Choreographer, Peggy Hickey; Projection Design, Hana S. Kim; Lighting Design, Azra King-Abadi; Musical Preparation, Jeremy Frank and Miah Im.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):