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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 Salome to Remember
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 18, 2017, Los Angele Opera presented Richard Strauss’s Salome backed by a set originally designed by John Bury for Peter Hall’s 1986 production at the Music Center. Its newly refurbished version directed by David Paul featured a dark platform that held the necessary cistern. The sky was filled with clouds surrounding a pale moon that crept almost imperceptibly across the sky during the course of the opera. Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes encased Salome in layers of jewel-toned chiffon, wrapped Herod and Herodias in bright brocades and clothed the soldiers in stiff, braid-trimmed jackets and skirts.
Allan Glassman (center front) as Herod, with Gabriele Schnaut (second from left) as Herodias [Photo by Larry Ho / LA Opera]
Issachah Savage, a promising young dramatic tenor, sang Narraboth’s lines with shining bronze tones. Reports of his Otello in Mexico make him a tenor to watch. As the Page, Katarzyna Sadej sang with a sweet sound that could barely be heard over the eighty-four-piece orchestra. Tómas Tómasson was a rough and rugged Jokanaan, physically and vocally. Unfortunately, he seemed to lack any semblance of romanticism that might have made him attractive to the teenage princess. Other cast members who added measurably to the value of this performance were: Nicholas Brownlee as the First Soldier and Kihun Yoon as the First Nazarene. Rodell Rosel, Josh Wheeker, Brian Michael Moore, Carlos Enrique Santelli, and Gabriel Vamvulecu were most energetic as the Five Jews.
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. Having grown from lyric to dramatic status by way of Puccini and Verdi rather then Wagner, Racette’s voice has a different sound for Strauss than the ones we heard from Nilsson, Rysanek, or Mattila. Great Salomes can also come from the Italian dramatic tradition and Racette isn’t just a sex kitten. She has the dramatic vocal ability to surmount Strauss’s huge orchestra and project her silver-toned soprano throughout a huge hall.
Patricia Racette as Salome [Photo by Ken Howard / LA Opera]
Her character managed to tantalize Herod who was sure she could be satisfied with a large jewel or, at most, a small province to rule. Racette danced Peggy Hickey’s intricate, rhythmic choreography with four bare chested male dancers who lifted her on to their shoulders as she released veils. When they put her down, she snatched a cover from the prompter’s box and wrapped it around her body after the few seconds of its complete revelation.
As Herod, veteran tenor Allan Glassman was a most credible politician who wanted to be on the winning side of the religious debacle. Gabriele Schnaut was an officious, self-serving Herodias who did not intend to lose her position to anyone. When Herodias took the ring from Herod’s hand and relayed it to the executioner, the tetrarch momentarily lost his power. Salome had won for the few minutes she used to cavort with the head and sing her monumental Final Scene. Racette sang all the highs with lustrous tones and connected artistically with the score’s most difficult lows.
The most important aspect of the opera Salome is its huge orchestra and Richard Strauss’s opulent orchestration. One of the main reasons for attending Salome at Los Angeles Opera is James Conlon’s conducting. He brought out the composer’s leitmotifs and his symbolic use of musical color while engulfing listeners in the score’s unusual modulations, chromaticism, extended tonality, and tonal ambiguity. Best of all, Conlon did it without ever covering any of the principal singers. Salome will be at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through March 19. If you are in the Los Angeles area you don’t want to miss it.
Cast and production information:
Conductor, James Conlon; Production, Peter Hall; Director, David Paul; Set Design, John Bury; Costume Design, Sara Jean Tosetti; Lighting Design, Duane Schuler; Choreographer, Peggy Hickey; Salome, Patricia Racette; John the Baptist, Tómas Tómasson; Herod, Allan Glassman; Herodias, Gabriele Schnaut; Narraboth, Issachah Savage; Page, Katarzyna Sądej; First Soldier, Nicholas Brownlee; Second Soldier, Patrick Blackwell; First Nazarene, Kihun Yoon; Second Nazarene, Theo Hoffman; First Jew, Rodell Rosel; Second Jew, Josh Wheeker; Third Jew, Brian Michael Moore; Slave / Fourth Jew, Carlos Enrique Santelli; Cappadocian / Fifth Jew, Gabriel Vamvulescu.