Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Valer Sabadus (Il Giasone) et Kristina Hammarstöm (Médée) (© GTG / Magali Dougados)
04 Feb 2017

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Giasone in Geneva

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Valer Sabadus as Giasone, Kristina Hammarström as Medea [All photos courtesy of the Grand Théâtre de Genève, copyright GTG / Magali Dougados]

 

Meanwhile with Medea’s help (as you know) Jason steals the Golden Fleece which happens, in this telling, to be a vagina. He must also deal with the wrath and suicide of his wife Isifile, and in turn he must deal with the wrath of Medea. Jason is, however, a mere counter-tenor (soprano) who produces very lovely straight tones in a beautiful warm voice

It was a long evening, very long, at the Opera des Nations in Geneva, a new, all wood stadium-like theater with minimal public spaces by the suburban UN complex, the temporary home of Geneva Opera. Almost improvisatory this slight theater would likely not withstand the vandalism incurred last year on the city’s opera house, the magnificent Grand Théâtre (closed now for two years of repairs), after budget cuts to alternative arts motivated a demonstration against this “bourgeois culture site with prices out of reach for most people.”

The proceedings of this 1649 Venetian opera unfolded slowly and methodically with the help of a bevy of licentious servants and the deus ex machine intrusion of Medea’s husband Egeo. It all worked out finally to everyone’s satisfaction — hardly the Medea outcome you’re used to — but in 17th century Venice and now in twenty-first century Geneva both sets of twins could now look forward to comfortable roofs over their heads.

You already may have the idea that Italian stage director Serena Sinigaglia went for broke in sexual matters. Indeed there was humping of Jason’s wife’s retinue by the Argonauts. Not to forget a sadomasochism (bondage and whipping) scene or watching Argonauts taking advantage of Medea’s countertenor wet nurse Delfa’s grotesque tits. Note that the Argonauts and Isfile’s retinue were non-singing as there is no chorus in Venetian opera. Besides intermittent posturing and sex acts they moved the props and scenery on and off the stage.

The Baroque orchestra Capella Mediterranean was presided over by Argentine born, Swiss early music conductor Leonardo Barcía Alarcón. As well Mo. Alarcón created this lengthy performance edition. There was a well-endowed double continuo plus a few viols and recorders to add occasional color and heft to the orchestral interludes. And of course just enough percussion to create a cute storm. Cavalli’s limited, antique musical language and these minimal orchestral resources could not begin to sustain all this bawdy violence and accompanying sexual extravagance, even with the one Baroque oboe that chimed in from time to time.

Giasone_Geneva2.pngPhoto: Kristina Mkhitaryan as Isifila (on right)

Thus the charm of the performers was all there was to carry the evening — and this was limited.

Geneva Opera apprentice artist Mary Freminear (born in Alabama) enchanted us in her very cute cupid body suit and mask. Charming also was Geneva Opera apprentice artist Migran Agadzhanyan (born in Tbilisi, former L.A. Opera apprentice artist) who sang Demo, the hunch-backed, stuttering servant to Egeo. The un-self-conscious energy of these two young artists created a perfect balance of character to the Cavalli music. A similar energy flowed from Isifile’s maid Alinda sung by Argentine soprano Marianna Florès.

Of the four principals (the two married couples) Russian soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan, a resident artist at the Bolchoï Opera was indeed charming. She brought both beautiful singing and a nicely balanced pathos to Isifile, finding a pleasing innocence and true sincerity in Cavalli’s splendid suicide lament, floating pure toned high notes into her death wish. The sorceress Medea, sung by Swedish soprano Kristina Hammarström had the difficult task of being an aggressive queen while seducing us with Cavalli’s meltingly beautiful Poppea/Nero-like love duets with Jason, sung by Romanian counter tenor Valer Sabadus. This male soprano had the difficult task of balancing his youth and voice with the heroic demands of his character.

Giasone_Geneva3.pngPhoto: The goddess Sole in prologue

The remaining cast, fine singers, all clashed in various ways with Cavalli’s need for sophisticated and pleasing personalities to complement the sophisticated, not-at-all bawdy directness of his music. Some of the casting however was inexplicable, like veteran bass Willard White as Oreste.

Stage director Sinigaglia’s concept of extravagant sex representing an easy seventeenth century Venetian morality was scenically represented by a potpourri of images and styles, from Baroque quotes to Japanese puppets conjured by veteran designer/stage director Elio Toffolutti who also envisioned costumes that echoed styles from then until now.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Giasone: Valer Sabadus; Medea: Kristina Hammarström; Isifile: Kristina Mkhitaryan; Ercole: Alexander Milev; Besso; Günes Gürle; Egeo: Raúl Giménez; Oreste / Giove: Willard White; Demo / Volano: Migran Agadzhanyan; Delfa / Eolo: Dominique Visse; Alinda: Mariana Flores; Amore: Mary Feminear. Cappella Mediterranea. Conductor: Leonardo García Alarcón; Mise en scène: Serena Sinigaglia; Décors et costumes: Ezio Toffolutti; Lumières: Ezio Toffolutti et Simon Trottet. Théâtre des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, February 1, 2017.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):