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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.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
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 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.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
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.
17 Feb 2017
Billy Budd in Madrid
Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.
And always mean at least something to everyone.
Case in point — the new Deborah Warner production of Billy Budd at the Teatro Real in Madrid where Billy is ambitious and assertive, where his nemesis Claggart is a sadistic brute and where his alter ego Captain Vere is a weak, uncertain young man. Mme. Warner does indeed make the case, sort of, that Billy Budd may be read in such light.
Forsaking the intrinsic naturalistic and psychological impressionism of Britten’s muse Mme. Warner and her designer Michael Levine created an expressionistic world, the specific location was an actual aircraft carrier of 1940’s rather than Britten’s man-of-war (frigate) of the 1790’s, both ships in fact named the HMS Indomitable. Thus the spaces were wide open, there were huge platforms that moved up and down. The copious ropes and webs were metaphors of human entanglement and imprisonment rather than the essential tools of sailors — the means they used to move their ship and their lives.
While the officers were of the 1940’s, the sailors, a massive number (possibly a hundred), were interpreted as grubby galley slaves (the rowers of the quick, old Mediterranean ships), forced to work (here usually scrubbing the decks) by brutes with clubs and whips.
Officers and sailors of the HMS Indomitable
There was impressive scenographic rhetoric, the deck of the aircraft carrier (the full stage) rose to reveal a hundred or so suspended hammocks (a reference to the 18th century), the suspended command bridge of the ship was swung back and forth in a brutally thwarted mutiny, and finally Billy Budd disappeared up a ladder into the fly-loft for the hanging (one heard the clicks of the safety lines being attached).
There was impressive musical rhetoric emanating from the pit as well, Teatro Real music director Ivor Bolton incising precise musical shapes from his excellent players. The flute solos of the Billy death oration eschewed the mystical pull of death, invoking instead nervousness and certainty. And the maestro brought the full, massive orchestral force to a shattering fortissimo that made the presaged death of Billy a truly huge, indeed monumental moment. His was an impressively powerful reading of the Britten score in detached, mannered moments rather than in a flow of emotional atmospheres.
Musically the effect was somewhat like the Janacek of Jenufa.
Billy Budd was sung by South African baritone Jacques Imrailo in a very physical performance. There were spine tingling moments like when he heaved himself up on a downstage rope to sing his farewell to his former ship the Rights o’Man, like the viper-strike punch that felled Claggart, and like the confident, frightening ascent to his death. It was a beautifully sung, total performance that alone was the soul of this evening.
Above: Captain Vere, below: Billy Budd
There was, strikingly, no soul to be found in Captain Vere, sung by British tenor Toby Spence, and perhaps this was the intention of metteur en scène Deborah Warner. There was no intimation of the intense, human conflicts that torment Claggart, well sung by British bass Blindlay Sherratt but in absolutely one-dimensional tones.
The Teatro Real is one of the world’s major stages. The casting, mostly British, of Billy Budd was uniformly top notch, evidently fulfilling the needs and wishes of the production. The orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Real are estimable, its aspirations to producing fine opera were palpable. This Billy Budd is a co-production with Paris, Rome and Helsinki.
Cast and production information:
Billy Budd: Jacques Imbrailo; Edward Fairfax Vere: Toby Spence; John Claggart: Brindley Sherratt; Mr. Redburn: Thomas Oliemans; Mr. Flint: David Soar; Lieutenant Ratcliffe: Torben Jürgens; Red Whiskers: Christopher Gillet; Donald: Duncan Rock; Dansker: Clive Bayley; Un novicio: Sam Furness; Squeak: Francisco Vas; Bosun: Manel Esteve; Oficial primero: Gerardo Bullón; Oficial segundo: Tomeu Bibiloni; Amigo del novicio: Borja Quiza; Vigía: Jordi Casanova; Arthur Jones: Isaac Galán. Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real. Conductor: Ivor Bolton; Stage Director: Deborah Warner; Set Design: Michael Levine; Costumes: Chloé Obolensky; Lighting: Jean Kalman; Choreography: Kim Brandstrup. Teatro Real, Madrid, February 12, 2017.