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.
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.
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.
Photo: 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.
Photo: 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.
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.