Recently in Performances
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.
03 Jan 2017
It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners
backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern
rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer,
but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard
Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour
franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the
With society bursting at its seams and our civilization at the edge of an
abyss without a catcher in the rye, Grisey’s final work serves as a great
foreshadowing composition at the end of the second millennium, but nobody
seemed to be listening twenty years ago. It certainly resonates now!
Mr Rattle briefly introduced the piece, emphasizing the four different
deaths. He also alluded to the current worldly chaos. He usually doesn’t
speak about the music, but this clearly added to the performance's urgency. In
retrospect, this unnerving, but sultry performance proved itself more an
ominous premonition of future tidings. Especially after what happened a week
later at the Christmas Market attack.
Gérard Grisey emerged from the spectralist school that produced some
fascinating soundscapes. He carries on the lineage of Tristan Murail and
Messiaen; though, Grisey distanced himself from such labels later in life. He
completed this work just before his own passing in 1998.
Grisey’s masterpiece in four segments eerily depicts the deaths of an
angel, civilization, voice, and mankind destroyed by nature. The “Death
of an Angel” text was taken from Christian Guez-Ricord’s “The
Hours of the Night”, heavy on Judeo-Christian images. “Death of
Civilisation” Grisey based on Egyptian Sarcophagi, while 6th
Century B.C., Greek poet Erinna originated the lyrics for “Death of
Voices”. Finally, The Epic of Gilgamesh serves as the
basis for the apocalyptical “Death of Mankind by Environment”.
Even though the concept seems terribly depressing, Grisey’s colourful
and invigorating soundscapes full of saxophones and nonconventional uses of
brass and strings really enlivened the auditorium. The depth dimensions in his
composition really thrived in space. Without the theatrical vocal craft of Ms.
Hannigan, this work might have a troublesome delivery.
The three percussive masters performing with an endless array of instruments
must have had a field day with their exciting pulses and rhythms. They
performed clearly inspired by Rattle, who of course, started out as a
percussionist. Each movement was connected by the soothing scrubbing of what
seemed like sandpaper on drum. These interludes created an otherworldly
ambience, adding to eerie foreboding nature of this piece.
In a fabulous black spiderwebbed outfit, Hannigan shared the stage with Sir
Simon revealing an intimate display of mutual respect. Spitting, regurgitating,
and swallowing the syllables ever so elegantly through Grisey’s vocally
acrobatic composition, Ms. Hannigan’s thrilling vocal expulsions, Mr
Rattle dare not contain, but he must! They seemed superlatively in tune to each
other with a symbiotic synergy one doesn’t often encounter.
Barbara Hannigan made her voice fluctuate and erupt with the languidness of
boiling magma in a simmering volcano. Long vocal lines melted with the
elongated curves of the trumpet’s calls, whose name I did not catch, but
delivered the most memorable trumpet tones. His curves melted into Ms. Hannigan's
voluptuous bends and turns.
In the end, the penetrant, disorienting sounds resulted in a lavish,
arousing, but still fearful atmosphere. I hear you thinking ‘oh how
dramatic’, but the sense of impending doom created by Hannigan and Rattle
certainly fed into my political and environmental panic of what comes next?
The young audience yelled many bravi, while the applause continued for quite
some time, but this was not a piece you could to which you could give an
encore. I left the Philharmonie, thrilled, slightly unnerved by the sensual and
exhilarating closure to this extravaganza... Berlin never ceases to