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.
20 Feb 2017
Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam
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.
Bartoli has intimated in interviews that this European tour of a semi-staged
La Cenerentola could be the last time she sings Cinderella, real name
Angelina, one of her signature roles. Her bravura performance attested that she
is still a vocally great Angelina. Physically she was completely credible as
the mistreated stepdaughter whose unbridled optimism is rewarded with a
spectacular change of fortune. Perhaps Bartoli should not hang up her glass
slippers yet, though Rossini’s heroine loses none. Instead, Angelina
gives the prince one of two matching bracelets, inviting him to find out who
she is. La Cenerentola was composed for the 1817 Roman carnival and
librettist Jacopo Ferretti made sure the papal censor would not be offended by
women baring their feet. Neither is there a fairy godmother. The entirely
nonmagical task of bringing Angelina and Prince Ramiro together is entrusted to
the prince’s tutor, Alidoro. Instead of a cruel stepmother there is a
self-regarding stepfather, the impoverished aristocrat Don Magnifico. Angelina
falls in love with the prince while he is disguised as his valet, Dandini,
which twists the plot and underlines her goodness — she refuses
Dandini’s marriage proposal when he makes it disguised as the prince.
Happily, Rossini and Ferretti kept the viperish stepsisters. Sen Guo’s
Clorinda needled with her incisive soprano and Irène Friedli lent the
ungainly Tisbe her hooty mezzo. They shuffled to the ball as Fish and Fowl,
hideously got up as a squamous mermaid and a fuzzy peacock. The costumes, from
a 1992 production for Zurich by Cesare Lievi, were all over the place in terms
of fashion eras. Claudia Blersh directed the singers around a squat sofa with
minimal intervention. She scored a couple of comedic goals, but baritones
Alessandro Corbelli and Carlos Chausson as Dandini and Don Magnifico provided
the real humour. Corbelli’s voice is now dry and just a husk of its
former self. His comedic inflection and phrasing, however, are impeccable. His
Dandini was stylistically exemplary and hugely entertaining. Chausson, rich and
sonorous, savoured every word of Don Magnifico’s splenetic recitatives
and raced through his rat-a-tat patter with facility. In the hands of two such
ace Rossini comedians, the duet “Un segreto d’importanza”, in
which Dandini reveals his true identity to Magnifico, was a standout number.
The chorus of the Monte-Carlo opera gave the third outstanding male
performance, displaying great dynamic finesse and tonal shine.
Sounding constricted at first, bass Ugo Guagliardo as Alidoro took some time
to find his vocal footing before revealing an attractive bass with limpid
legato. Edgardo Rocha has an exquisite light lyric tenor and a flair for the
Rossini idiom. It is a shame that his Prince Ramiro seemed restrained
throughout most of the evening, both in volume and animation. Maybe he needed
more theatrical direction than was available. He certainly can light up the
stage, as he did during his showpiece aria "Sì, ritrovarla io giuro",
singing ardently and hitting one silvery high C after another. Conductor
Gianluca Capuano kept up a constant rhythmic momentum, building up the
ensembles like a master patissier stacking a multitiered cake. Les Musiciens du
Prince, of which Bartoli is artistic director, played with loads of pep,
whipping up a robust storm in the Temporale, under flashing house
lights. Even allowing for the wildness of period brass, there were several
skidded entrances, but the beautiful woodwinds were a great asset and the
orchestra as a whole kept the music fizzing.
Then there was Bartoli herself, whose task as the primadonna was to outshine
all others, just like Cinderella at the ball. This she did. Bartoli’s
voice has lost a little of the gleam of her younger years, but none of its
distinctive colours or its stupefying agility. Her lower notes have deepened
and her top A’s and B’s are as pinging as ever. Cinderella’s
first words at the royal palace, a series of intricate runs spanning two
octaves, were executed with breathtaking fluency. The glittering technique and
infectious elation of the final rondo, “Nacqui all’affanno e al
pianto” worked the audience up to a joyous roar. People cheered Bartoli
in her ivory wedding dress as they would a real bride. The way she throws off
her head-spinning runs is mightily impressive, but Bartoli also puts her heart
and soul into every word. Her Angelina, far from being a dull goody two shoes,
is disarmingly determined. In the end, one cheers her on not because she is a
paragon of integrity, but because she is a real, suffering, hoping, rejoicing
Cast and production information:
Angelina: Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Prince Ramiro: Edgardo Rocha,
tenor; Dandini: Alessandro Corbelli, baritone; Don Magnifico: Carlos Chausson,
baritone; Alidoro: Ugo Guagliardo, bass; Clorinda: Sen Guo, soprano; Tisbe:
Irène Friedli, mezzo-soprano; Mise en scène: Claudia Blersh.
Costume Design: Luigi Perego. Chœur de l’Opéra de
Monte-Carlo, Les Musiciens du Prince. Conductor: Gianluca Capuano. Heard at the
Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Wednesday, 15th February, 2017.