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.
04 Feb 2017
A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio
On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.
When first produced in 1782 in Vienna, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s singspiel, The Abduction from the Seraglio, was as popular as New York City’s current hit show, Hamilton. On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of the Mozart singspiel that places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English. There were English titles for the musical numbers but not for the dialogue. Allen Moyer’s set consisted of two cars and the vestibule that connected them. At the back of the set was the row of windows normally found on a train and beyond them the scenery flew by as the train sped from one city to another.
Anna R. Oliver’s costumes transformed Librettists Christoph Friedrich Bretzner and Johann Gottlieb Stephanie’s European characters into chic flappers and jauntily dressed beaux. Turkish overseer, Osmin, sung by bass Morris Robinson wore a false belly and a coat over enormously full pants but his boss, Pasha Selim, wore a western business suit.
Brenton Ryan as Pedrillo, Joel Prieto as Belmonte and Morris Robinson as Osmin
Like The Magic Flute, Abduction demands extraordinarily talented singers. The leading soprano, Konstanze, has to encompass an enormous range that includes trills, triplets, and dramatic declamation such as one hears from Fiordiligi in Cosi fan Tutte. British soprano Sally Matthews had all the vocal goods and displayed them in magnificent style on Saturday evening.
Puerto Rican tenor Joel Prieto sang the role of her lover, Belmonte, with oboe-like tones that always seemed to come from the exact center of the note. The part of Osmin, the riotously funny Turkish overseer, requires a bass who can sing the lowest possible notes. Morris Robinson, a veteran Sarastro, sang some of the lowest notes ever heard on the opera stage with style and grace.
Morris Robinson as Osmin fails to tame So Young Park as Blonde
So Young Park was a brunette “Blondie.” Perhaps the art of bleaching had not yet reached Istanbul. Park’s comic timing was right on cue and her well focused sweet tones carried well in the auditorium. Brenton Ryan as her lover, Pedrillo, showed signs of having been beaten into submission by Osmin and his thugs, but he sang his tuneful aria with abandon.
The crucial role of the Pasha who eventually releases the two couples is reserved for an actor. Tall and athletic looking Hamish Linklatter spoke these lines: “Nothing is as ugly as vengeance, whereas the quality of great souls is to be humanely kind and forgive without selfishness.” With this speech, he sent Belmonte back to his father, the man who had robbed the Pasha of his property in Spain.
Music Director James Conlon not only conducted the performance but also gave the pre-curtain lecture for this seldom-performed Mozart gem. A show of hands in the lecture hall told me that a large majority of the audience had never seen Abduction before, so this well-cast, interesting production did a great deal for the future of the opera. Conlon led the performance with propulsive tempi that never lagged and presented Robinson’s comedy at a brisk pace. The Abduction from the Seraglio is a fascinating show and opera lovers in the Los Angeles area should not miss it.
Cast and production information:
Conductor, James Conlon; Director, James Robinson; Set Design, Allen Moyer; Costume Design, Anna R. Oliver; Lighting Design, Paul Palazzo; Chorus Director, Grant Gershon; Konstanze, Sally Matthews; Pasha Selim, Hamish Linklatter; Belmonte Joel Prieto; Osmin, Morris Robinson; Pedrillo, Brenton Ryan; Blonde, So Young Park; Solo Quartet: Christina Borgioli, Elizabeth Anderson, Omar Cook, James Martin Schaefer; English Titles, Houston Grand Opera.