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.
08 Feb 2017
Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia
In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the
Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in
a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.
Never has it touched
me so deeply nor have I heard it resonate so fiercely in the Great Hall.
Following the performance of the Berliner the night before, the luxurious
transparency of the RCO made for a stunning contrast to the BPO’s
thickened sound in Verdi’s Requiem.
Ahead of the tour to Shanghai, Beijing, and for the first time, Singapore,
Gatti led in the programmes at home in Amsterdam. The first included the crowd
pleasers Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un
faune and La Mer followed by Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du
Printemps. Gatti combined the three works together for the first time in
RCO’s history. I did not attend this performance, but instead opted for
the second. These classical blockbusters the RCO might as well play in the
dark, and are practically impossible for the orchestra to perform
In a change of seating, I situated myself on the fourth row a few seats
inward so I had a close up vision of Mr. Gatti and Ms. Jansen elevated on
stage. It was a fascinating position, albeit problematic to observe the entire
orchestra, but that was not my purpose tonight. First Berg, then Bruckner, but
let me start with the Bruckner’s Romantic.
Gatti hummed along as the horns awakened the morning in Bruckner Symphony
No. 4 in E-flat major. Balding his fist, Mr Gatti turned out the celli, revving
like a luxurious engine. Wind instruments resonated in lighthearted bird calls.
He held his hand in front of his chest, as the violas tugged on your
heartstrings. Gatti already had a go around with Bruckner’s Fourth
Symphony earlier this season on tour, so perhaps it was the long interval
between performance that made tonight’s performance feel fragmented.
The momentum that surged through the early Berg tapered off somewhere in the
third movement of Bruckner, which then simmered without a forward propulsion.
As a result the last movement lacked its burning potential. I had hoped for a
more thunderous climax. A coughing spree took over the audience, which marked a
break in the musical tension that lingered inspired by the synergy in Berg.
Next season he will see his debut with Bruckner’s Ninth.
So his collaboration with Janine Jansen before the intermission made for the
unforgettable experience. Berg’s work, To the memory of an
Angel, is dedicated to Manon, Alma Mahler’s daughter with Walter
Gropius. A muse for Berg, she died from Polio at eighteen. Like
Wozzeck, the work thrives in live performance as space elucidates the
layers and transparency. Berg’s work also grows on you the more you
listen to it. Brilliant colours and mysterious sadness seduce deeply.
Gatti masterfully brought out sparkling details, while Jansen impelled
Berg’s meandering twelve tone passages without ever losing intensity:
poignant and shrill, but full of warmth. I have heard her Tchaikovsky, Bruch,
and Mendelssohn, but in Berg tonight a new mature confidence emanated from her.
Don’t get me wrong, she still has her youthful playfulness, but her
commitment (from up close) radiated with an aged wisdom in her intent…a
calibrated force of nature.
Almost a member of the orchestra, she has performed over forty times with
them. Each concert is basically a sell-out. A powerful inspirator, the RCO
flourishes when she solos. And it was interesting to observe how she
consistently looked around and made eye contact with the concertmaster.
On the other hand, a strange dynamic unfolded as she sought contact with
Gatti. They never seemed to have eye contact, it was felt in the music though.
As she looked at him, he was busy bringing about Berg’s colour and life in
the orchestra, but when he looked at her, well, he just glanced at her, knowing
she was the star. As a supportive uncle, who doesn’t doubt nor dare
interfere with niece’s talent.
His lack of flashy showmanship here made way made for significant more
orchestral intensity, though never overshadowing her. Gatti created a rich
tapestry, and kept the pianissimo moments ever so delicate and suspenseful.
Those ruffling timpani! He had dazzled my ears before with Berg’s
concerto with Leonidas Kavakos's refined approach, but with Janine’s
intense ferocity and romantic subtlety, this rendition became the most
memorable I have heard.
Gatti is a different from Haitink, Chailly, and Jansons.His theatricality stems from his inner child’s giddiness as he conducts with authentic curiosity and enthusiasm. He just
started, but he is as was evident in Berg (and Mahler’s Second earlier
this season), Gatti is already capable of rousing the RCO’s spirit like
his forefathers did. Sometimes he almost stares incredulously in response at
the orchestra’s beauty. In time he will realise, he’s the one
pulling the strings!