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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.
25 Feb 2017
A Merry Falstaff in San Diego
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.
Shakespeare created Falstaff to be an amusing companion to the young and somewhat frivolous Henry IV. Falstaff is gone when Henry becomes a serious ruler. Falstaff lives only for today and indulges in actions that members of the audience forego because they don’t want to deal with the consequences. San Diego Opera’s Falstaff, Roberto de Candia, sang with moderately sized burnished bronze tones. He gave a masterful interpretation of the lovable ‘drinking buddy’ who had no compunction about seducing married women. He even tried for two at once. Thus, the audience almost felt sorry for him but laughed vociferously when he had to hide in a laundry basket that ended up in the river.
Maureen McKay (Nannetta) and Johnathan Johnson (Fenton)
Olivier Tambosi’s electric direction had Falstaff and his rollicking pals cavorting all over the wide Civic Theater stage even though designer Frank Philipp Schlössman placed the Garter Inn in a small area a few steps below stage level. The younger ladies were refined and demure, but Mistress Quickly was an earthy, Grandmotherly, arm twirling comic character.
San Diego Opera had built Schlössman’s three-sided, roofed wooden set for Chicago Lyric Opera, so it was a treat to have it back where it was born. It did a fine job of helping the voices resonate and throwing their sound out into the auditorium. Not only did the center section open up to form the Garter Inn, panels on the sides opened for various functions.
(L-R) Kirstin Chavez (Meg Page), Maureen McKay (Nannnetta), Ellie Dehn (Alice Ford), and Marianne Cornetti (Mistress Quickly)
Schlössman’s costumes included jewel-toned silks for the ladies and the upper class men. For much of the opera, Falstaff and his friend wore what looked like rag pickers’ left-overs, but Sir John wore a new neon red suit with a prominent cod piece for his assignation.
Falstaff’s devil-may-care friends, Bardolfo and Pistola, sung by Simeon Esper and Reinhard Hagen were impressive, both vocally and physically. Marianne Cornetti is a trumpet-voiced mezzo who has sung in the world’s most important opera houses. She is a formidable comedienne, and her performance was enchanting. Her low tones are smooth as chocolate cream , so her ‘reverenzas’ were a special treat. Ellie Dehn who had sung Mozart and Puccini with San Diego Opera, was a clear toned Alice Ford who sang with an opulent, voluminous sound. I would love to hear her sing one of the lighter Richard Strauss roles.
Roberto de Candia as Falstaff and Ellie Dehn as Alice Ford
As Nanetta, soprano Maureen McKay sang with crystalline tones. She and the Fenton, sweet-toned tenor Jonathan Johnson, were perfect young lovers with all the energy youth implies. Kirstin Chavez, who sang a sultry Carmen in Arizona, was a seductive Meg Page who sang with creamy tones. Joel Sorensen was a crafty Dr. Caius who sang his thankless role with character-driven tones. Conductor Daniele Callegari brought out many sonorities that are unique to late Verdi operas such as Don Carlo and Otello. His tempi always pressed forward and supported both the voices and the drama. Despite the presence of a large orchestra, he never covered any of the voices.
Cast and production information:
Dr. Caius, Joel Sorensen; Sir John Falstaff, Roberto de Candia; Bardolfo, Simeon Esper; Pistola, Reinhard Hagen; Meg Page, Kirstin Chavez; Alice Ford, Ellie Dehn; Mistress Quickly, Marianne Cornetti; Nanetta, Maureen McKay; Fenton, Jonathan Johnson; Ford, Troy Cook; Conductor, Daniele Callegari; Stage Director, Olivier Tamboi; Scenic and Costume Designer Frank Philipp Schlössman; Lighting Designer, Christine A. Binder; Chorus Master, Bruce Stasyna; Supertitles, Charles Arthur; Wig and Makeup Designer, Stephen W. Bryant; Production Stage Manager, Mary Yankee Peters; Stage Manager, Michael Janney; Diction Coach, Emanuela Patroncini.