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On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
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.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
For the first time in its history, this summer Garsington Opera will present four productions as well as a large community opera. 2017 also sees the arrival of the Philharmonia Orchestra for one opera production each season for the next five years.
New work by the English artist Rachel Kneebone will be exhibited at Glyndebourne Festival 2017, which opens for public booking on 5 March.
The London-based artist has created three new sculptures inspired by two of the operas being staged at the Festival this summer - Cavalli’s Hipermestra and a new opera based on Hamlet by composer Brett Dean and librettist Matthew Jocelyn.
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.
30 Jan 2017
Falstaff in Genoa
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.
Both earlier productions designed by his long time operatic scenic collaborator Margarita Palli.
This Luca Ronconi Falstaff production was first seen in Bari in 2013 (then in Naples and Florence). It is designed by Tiziano Santi, normally a collaborator in Ronconi’s non-operatic theater projects. Santi’s set is nothing more than walls of blank canvases, including the show curtain itself, against which walls Verdi’s gigantic comedy takes place. It is minimalist staging, the scenes traveling presentationally back and forth across downstage. Finally it was a purely verbal Falstaff, staged so the we heard every word uttered both by the voice on the stage and by Verdi’s orchestra in the pit. And we clearly saw every word lived by the opera’s protagonists.
29 year-old, wunderkind conductor Andrea Battistoni was in the pit engaging the hyper alive Genoa orchestra with the stage, magnifying the “Falstaff immenso! enorme Falstaff!” announced by Sir John Falstaff into monumental proportion, driving the punctuating cadences to every last one of Verdi’s intended exclamation points, delighting in the sweet, fleeting encounters of the young lovers, encouraging the female chatter and indulging the Italian male cuckold fetish to its absolute maximum. It was a conducting tour de force, sparks still flying from the tip of his baton (stick still in-hand) at his stage bow.
Ford's tractor, Fenton extreme left, Ford in hat with feather extreme right
The Genoa cast of January 28 found a distinctly Mediterranean bias for Ronconi’s simple English farm life — The Italiano Alberto Mastromarino as Falstaff, Brazilian born, Spain finished baritone Rodrigo Esteves as Ford, Serbian born and trained Nenad Čiča as Fenton, Livorno born Valentina Boi as Alice. Plus two Russian born artists who have become Italian artists — Anastasia Boldyreva as Dame Quickly and Daria Kovalenko as Nanetta. Add to these the bevy of Italian male buffo character roles that were plumbed to perfection in the inimitable Italian buffo tradition.
Interestingly this was the second cast, singing two of the five performances, but you could not imagine or wish for more finished performances. Sir John Falstaff was of believable girth, of quick spirit and of powerful voice. You could, for moments from time to time, even believe that this Falstaff was an honest predator and not simply a caricature of delusion. He quibbled with Ford as an equal, triggering Rodrigo Estives, a very smart-looking, too handsome farmer, to go-off-the-deep-end in forceful hyper-baritonal terms. Note that the Ford disguise was dark glasses and, wittily, a pillow stuffed under his jacket to add girth. Fenton was dressed in bibbed denim trousers, the classic piece-of-straw chewin’ farm hand, tenor Nenad Čiča’s “Dal labro il canto estasiato vola” exquisitely wrought in tenorial flight.
The Alice Ford of Valentina Boi was ever so slightly maternal, her ample lyric voice buoying the fracas of female voices in Ronconi’s barnyard (sketched by nothing more than four geese in a line), pedaling on and off on fantastical antique bicycles with her daughter, Nanetta, sung by Daria Kovalenko in her little-girl operetta-like voice. Anastasia Boldyreva found the richness of tone to vocally convey Verdi’s satiric Quickly, yet it was the voice of a real woman (and gratefully not a cameo appearance by a famous over-the-hill diva). Meg Page did what she always does — stayed out of the way except when needed.
The upside down oak tree
It was perfect theater, well until Act III when the Herne, the Hunter’s Oak inexpicably flew in upside down and dramatically the carefully entwined threads lost direction. Focus was further diluted by Nanetta’s anemic delivery of “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio.” It is possible that the slight musical insecurities inherent to a second cast noticed throughout the evening became more pronounced. We were left musically and dramatically adrift until finally the 10 protagonists walked across the stage apron to sit on the lip and deliver Falstaff’s immense and enormous fugue “Tutto nel mondo è burla, l’uomo è nato burlone” directly under the conductor’s baton. It was indeed Verdi’s 10 voiced fugal joke as never before, his response maybe to Wagner’s 50 voiced Meistersinger riot and certainly a bit of well-meaning one-upmanship to the great ensembles of Rossini himself.
Cast and production information:
Sir John Falstaff: Alberto Mastromarino; Ford: Rodrigo Esteves; Fenton: Nenad Čiča; Dottor Cajus: Cristiano Olivieri; Bardolfo: Marcello Nardis; Pistola: Mihailo Šljivić; Mrs. Alice Ford: Valentina Boi; Nannetta: Daria Kovalenko; Mrs. Quickly: Anastasia Boldyreva; Mrs. Meg Page: Manuela Custer. Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Carlo Felice. Conductor: Andrea Battistoni; Production: Luca Ronconi; Stage Director: Marina Bianchi; Scenery: Tiziano Santi; Lighting: A. J. Weissbard. Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa, Italy, January 28, 2016.