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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.
12 Dec 2016
A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the
final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length
concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated
drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
Presumably, the Royal Concertgebouw
Orchestra, foremost in the land and one of the best in the world, could not
muster the budget for a complete Walküre — a worrisome
fact, if this was indeed the case. Second, it would have cost nothing extra to
include the names of the Valkyries next to the singers’ names in the
programme, instead of just their voice type. On a more positive note,
congratulations are in order to mezzo-soprano Alexandra Petersamer, who sang
Rossweisse after having stepped in for an indisposed Petra Lang as Kundry in
Act I of Parsifal at the Dutch National Opera. The original
replacement, Elena Pankratova, whose flight had been delayed, sang the rest of
Michael Volle [Photo by Wilfried Hösl]
Petersamer and her lower-voiced sisters were fine assets in this flight of
Valkyries. Among the sopranos, Allison Oakes as Gerhilde stood out with her
large, prepossessing sound. Jumping immediately into Act III of Die
Walküre means that we find ourselves in the midst of winged goddesses
whooping in the air as they carry fallen warriors to Valhalla. Meanwhile, their
sister Brünnhilde is carrying their human half-sister Sieglinde to safety,
fleeing their father Wotan’s anger. Sieglinde is pregnant by Siegmund,
her twin brother. Brünnhilde, ignoring Wotan’s orders, tried to save
Siegmund’s life, but Wotan had him killed, punishing him for adultery and
incest. Wotan must now also chastise Brünnhilde, his favourite, who
carried out his true wish as a father, but must succumb to his will as chief
Conductor Valery Gergiev muted the first bars of the Ride of the Valkyries
to create the illusion of distance, then suddenly they were upon us with a huge
sound surge. Gergiev delivered in big moments such as this one, but did not
maintain consistent tension throughout the performance. The exchange between
the Valkyrie huntresses was flagging before Christine Goerke as Brünnhilde
entered to charge it up. It is not uncommon in Wagner for the orchestra to
steal the show, but this evening belonged to the soloists. There was nothing
really amiss with Gergiev’s conducting, but neither was there much cause
for elation. He seemed to be content to let the RCO produce beautiful sounds,
which, of course, they did. The low woodwind solos keened gorgeously at
Brünnhilde and Wotan’s farewell, and the Magic Fire Music glistened
splendidly. Gergiev’s articulation, however, lacked psychological
incisiveness. Wotan’s anger was stated rather than expressed, and the
orchestra never reflected Brünnhilde’s terror of becoming mortal,
locked in a deep sleep encircled by fire.
Tamara Wilson [Photo courtesy of Columbia Artists Management Inc.]
Happily, the three main soloists brought enough theatrical passion to make
the performance take off. Soprano Tamara Wilson created a vulnerable, bruised
Sieglinde, her opening phrases darkened with deepest grief. Lithe and shining,
her voice then soared ecstatically in “O hehrstes Wunder!”.
Wilson’s impressive brief appearance was a tantalizing glimpse into what
she could do with the complete role. Her laser-like sound contrasted
thrillingly with Goerke’s broad, complex soprano. Young and energetic,
her Brünnhilde turned incredulously wide-eyed when pleading with Wotan in
“War es so schmählich”. One really believed she was his
somewhat spoiled favourite. Goerke’s unique instrument is dark and rich
at the bottom and vastly opulent in the middle, tapering off into a focused top
with a quick vibrato. It is a voice of many metals and minerals, and she
wielded it expertly. The Amsterdam audience was lucky to get a slice of her
Brünnhilde, as well as a taste of Michael Volle’s deluxe Wotan. With
a baritone on the lighter side of the Wotan spectrum, Volle sang
Brünnhilde to sleep in an impossibly tender, almost erotic, “Der
Augen leuchtendes Paar”. At the other extreme, his seething rage while
chasing his renegade daughter was tremendous. Volle’s clear German
diction is pure bliss. Add to that a lustrous legato, natural theatrical
instincts and a first-class instrument, and it is easy to see why he is one of
the best operatic interpreters of our time.
Innovation in the concert hall is most welcome, but illustrator Tjarko van
der Pol’s repetitious animation added little at best. At worst, it was a
maddening distraction. Animated on a loop, drawings of the characters appeared
each time they sang — a superfluous labelling exercise. The Valkyries
were shields with facial features, gyrating rotors and limbs swinging back and
forth. Sieglinde was a Venus of Willendorf with a clock face, and Wotan had a
giant eye for a head, stuck on a tree trunk neck. These designs would look
great on T-shirts and other Ring Cycle merchandise, but their spare,
quasi-naïf style was totally incongruous with Wagner’s elaborate
Cast and production information:
Brünnhilde: Christine Goerke (soprano); Wotan: Michael Volle
(baritone); Sieglinde: Tamara Wilson (soprano); Valkyries: Christiane Kohl
(soprano), Allison Oakes (soprano), Dara Hobbs (soprano), Stephanie Houtzeel
(mezzo-soprano), Julia Rutigliano (mezzo-soprano), Alexandra Petersamer
(mezzo-soprano), Simone Schröder (alto), Nadine Weissmann (alto); Tjarko
van der Pol, animation. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Conductor: Valery
Gergiev. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Friday, 9th December 2016.