Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

The Maryland Opera Studio Defies Genre with Fascinating Double-Bill

This past weekend, the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS) presented a double-billed performance of two of Kurt Weill’s less familiar staged works: Zaubernacht (1922) and Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927).

Nash Ensemble at Wigmore Hall: Focus on Sir Harrison Birtwistle

The Nash Ensemble’s annual contemporary music showcase focused on the work of Sir Harrison Birtwistle, a composer with whom the group has enjoyed a long and close association. Three of the six works by Birtwistle performed here were commissioned by the Nash Ensemble, as was Elliott Carter’s Mosaic which, alongside Oliver Knussen’s Study for ‘Metamorphosis’ for solo bassoon, completed a programme was intimate and intricate, somehow both elusive in spirit and richly communicative.

McVicar's Faust returns to the ROH

To lose one Marguerite may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. But, with the ROH Gounod’s Faust seemingly heading for ruin, salvation came in the form of an eleventh-hour arrival of a redeeming ‘angel’.

A superb Semele from the English Concert at the Barbican Hall

It’s good to aim high … but be careful what you wish for. Clichéd idioms perhaps, but also wise words which Semele would have been wise to heed.

A performance of Vivaldi's La Senna festeggiante by Arcangelo

In 1726 on 25 August, Jacques-Vincent Languet, Comte de Gergy, the new French ambassador to the Venetian Republic held a celebration for the name day of King Louis XV of France. There was a new piece of music performed in the loggia at the foot of Languet's garden with an audience of diplomats and, watching from gondolas, Venetian nobles.

Matthew Rose and Tom Poster at Wigmore Hall

An interesting and thoughtfully-composed programme this, presented at Wigmore Hall by bass Matthew Rose and pianist Tom Poster, and one in which music for solo piano ensured that the diverse programme cohered.

Ekaterina Semenchuk sings Glinka and Tchaikovsky

To the Wigmore Hall for an evening of magnificently old-school vocal performance from Ekaterina Semenchuk. It was very much her evening, rather than that of her pianist, Semyon Skigin, though he had his moments, especially earlier on.

Hubert Parry's Judith at the Royal Festival Hall

Caravaggio’s depiction (1598-99) of the climactic moment when the young, beautiful, physically weak Judith seizes the head of Holofernes by the enemy general’s hair and, flinching with distaste, cleaves the neck of the occupying Assyrian with his own sword, evokes Holofernes’ terror with visceral precision - eyes and screaming mouth are wide open - and is shockingly theatrical, the starkly lit figures embraced by blackness.

La Pietà in Rome

Say "La Pietà" and you think immediately of Michelangelo’s Rome Pietà. Just now Roman Oscar-winning film composer Nicola Piovani has asked us to contemplate two additional Pietà’s in Rome, a mother whose son is dead by overdose, and a mother whose son starved to death.

Orfeo ed Euridice in Rome

No wrecked motorcycle (director Harry Kupfer’s 1987 Berlin Orfeo), no wrecked Citroen and black hearse (David Alagna’s 2008 Montpellier Orfée [yes! tenorissimo Roberto Alagna was the Orfée]), no famed ballet company (the Joffrey Ballet) starring in L.A. Opera’s 2018 Orpheus and Eurydice).

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel - a world premiere at English National Opera

Jack the Ripper is as luridly fascinating today as he was over a century ago, so it was no doubt sensationalist of the marketing department of English National Opera to put the Victorian serial killer’s name first and the true subject of Iain Bell’s new opera - his victims, the women of Whitechapel - as something of an after-thought. Font size matters, especially if it’s to sell tickets.

Tosca at the Met


The 1917 Met Tosca production hung around for 50 years, bested by the 1925 San Francisco Opera production that lived to the ripe old age of 92.  The current Met production is just 2 years old but has the feel of something that can live forever.

Drama Queens and Divas at the ROH: Handel's Berenice

A war ‘between love and politics’: so librettist Antonio Salvi summarised the conflict at the heart of Handel’s 1737 opera, Berenice. Well, we’ve had a surfeit of warring politics of late, but there’s been little love lost between opposing factions, and the laughs that director Adele Thomas and her team supply in this satirical and spicy production at the ROH’s stunningly re-designed Linbury Theatre have been in severely short supply.

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Samson et Dalila at the Met


It was the final performance of the premiere season of Darko Tresnjak’s production of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Four tenors later. 

The Enchantresse and Dido and Aeneas
in Lyon

Dido and Aeneas, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and Tchaikowsky’s L’Enchantresse, the three operas of the Opéra de Lyon’s annual late March festival all tease destiny. But far more striking than the thematic relationship that motivates this 2019 festival is the derivation of these three productions from the world of hyper-refined theater, far flung hyper-refined theater.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Brian James Myer as Ponchel and Ricardo Rivera as Lt. Audebert [Photo by Pat Kirk]
17 Feb 2017

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

A review by James Sohre

Above: Brian James Myer as Ponchel and Ricardo Rivera as Lt. Audebert

Photos by Pat Kirk

 

Happily, there is more than enough glory to go around. Certainly, substantial credit must go to director Michael Shell for having mastered all of the inherent staging challenges as he unlocked the profound riches of the piece that composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have crafted. Mr. Shell was well partnered in his pursuit by a design team operating at the top of its game.

Silent Night is based on the film Joyeux Noël, which captures a historical, spontaneous 1914 Christmas truce between partisan soldiers during World War One. Mr. Campbell’s affecting libretto follows personal journeys in three national camps, and is sung in English, German, and French, with some Italian and Latin (as the combatants pray together). Mr. Puts’ thrillingly eclectic score is at once character/culture-specific and embracingly universal. While much of the story takes place simultaneously in three battlefield trenches, there are important scenes in various localities that individualize the plight of the participants.

Set and projection designer Steven Kemp has wisely chosen to suggest locations, rather than attempting realism. Mr. Kemp’s most beautifully realized effect was to create three large wagons to serve as the bunkers for the Scots, Germans and French. These long but narrow platforms had a skeletal wooden enclosure “box” that was just tall enough to suggest a trench dug in the ground. The succinct look suggested at once a prison and an exposed asylum of emotionally conflicted warriors. This important major playing space was augmented by simple additions, a few period chairs here, a chandelier there, that simply conveyed the necessary place.

3.pngColin Ramsey as Father Palmer and Mason Gates as Jonathan Dale

Pamela Z. Gray’s moody, varied lighting design contributed very effectively to transition us seamlessly from spot to spot, and to point up every nuanced situation. The opening sequence is but one example: As an opening operatic duet is sung in a “theatre,” the singing is interrupted by an announcement (sound design, Tom Johnson) to say that war has been declared. As the curtain rises, upstage wagons of low, rolling fields with denuded trees advance from upstage to the apron, as lighting transitions from warm stage illumination to the bleak, moonlit reality of a battlefield. These talented designers thereby successfully set the tone and the story-telling style for the whole evening. The diverse costumes from designer Melisssa Nicole Torchia brought welcome color and necessary visual coherence.

Given these creative choices, director Shell managed the large cast against this sprawling canvas with commendable focus and economy of gesture. The entire concept was choreographed with great specificity. The bunker wagons were on casters, able to be re-positioned for visual interest, and even used menacingly in a “circling the wagons” moment. The glory of this piece lies in following the individual narratives and Michael never lost sight of these human stories. He proved to have an uncanny knack for creating naturally evolving stage pictures, and a refined skill for directing our attention to just the right character. Together with a superb ensemble of singers, he fashioned an inevitable ebb and flow of memorable dramatic revelations.

Librettist Campbell stated that the central message is that “war is not sustainable when you come to know your enemy as a person.” The cast assembled for Silent Night have proven to be gifted ambassadors in that pursuit. Anchoring the show, and first among equals, Kirk Dougherty ably embodied the conflicted stage tenor, conscripted against his conscience, who is offered, then rejects command privilege. Singing with his usual burnished security and acted with honesty, Mr. Dougherty adds another memorable role to his growing resume. As his love interest, and essentially the only female role, Julie Adams was the radiant diva Anna Sorensen. Her rich, creamy, agile soprano was of the highest quality, the kind that prompts excited “who-is-she?” intermission chatter (and beyond). Ms. Adams is entrusted to deliver a beautifully judged battlefield prayer, and boy, deliver it she did with heart-stopping effect. You read it here: We will be hearing much more from her.

10.pngKirk Dougherty as Nikolaus Sprink and Julie Adams as Anna Sorensen

As the French Lieutenant Audebert, Ricardo Rivera found just the right scope for his particular odyssey. Having had to abandon his pregnant wife Madeleine (a cameo warmly sung by Ksenia Popova), he struggles to make sense of his role in the conflict. This is not only because of his own moral compass, but also owing to the overbearing exhortations of his General (authoritatively performed by Nathan Stark), who surprisingly also turns out to be his father. Mr. Rivera began the evening quite lyrically, with his sensitive, well-modulated intentions occasionally becoming a mite diffuse. But as the tensions heightened, Ricardo turned up the heat and produced ringing, mellifluous vocalizing.

While the opera has been crafted to avoid weighting the focus too much to one character or another, Ponchel is the work’s pièce de résistance. Is there a sunnier, more appealing character in the entire operatic canon? This simplistic Frenchman lives to spread joy and longs for nothing more than daily coffee with his beloved mother. Ponchel proves to be a perfect vehicle for the considerable talents of Brian James Myer. Handsome, charming, stage savvy, and with a polished baritone to boot, Mr. Myer threatens to steal every scene he is in. Ponchel’s “big moment” is one of the most touching in all lyric theatre, and Brian mined every ounce of detail and pathos from it.

Conversely, Mason Gates is charged with engaging us in the plight of the evening’s most embittered character, Scotsman Jonathan Dale. Having seen his brother killed in front of his eyes, he relies on equal parts denial and thirst for vengeance to fuel his actions. The creators use him as somewhat a symbol of a “justified,” blind hatred that fuel and sustain many tragic conflicts. Mr. Gates is a focused, involved actor, possessed of a secure, intense tenor that he is able to weight with a single-minded pain and purpose. He makes us understand the character’s anguish, all the while he disturbs us with his potent hatred. Matthew Hanscom’s imposing baritone brought kind-hearted authority to Lieutenant Gordon, and bass Colin Ramsey’s wondrously sung Father Palmer showed once again that this accomplished Resident Artist is one the company’s major assets. Kirk Eichelberger made a fine impression as the German Officer, his sonorous bass sporting as much secure swagger as his character’s demeanor.

Tenor Christopher Bengochea was smugly efficient as a hectoring Kronprinz, with Vital Rozynko making the most of his stage time deploying his characterful baritone in service of the irritating British Major. Kyle Albertson was a solid Lieutenant Horstmayer, and Branch Fields offered some attractive singing as Jonathan Dale’s felled brother William.

There is no amount of direction, design, scripting, hype, or earnest performances that can make a case for an operatic work that doesn’t “sing” with a beating heart. And here is where Silent Night soars. Composer Kevin Puts has taken Mark Campbell’s inspired words and found voice for an impressive array of styles and musical idioms. Classical opera is paraphrased, there are nods to neo-romanticism and atonality, Berg and Strauss are suggested, and there are uses of quasi-folk songs. But in his restless, ever-morphing sound palette, Mr. Puts has emphatically fused his artistic views of these diverse influences into his own unique statement of dramatically urgent, gratefully constructed vocal lines that are integrated into a virtuosic musical fabric.

The musical writing encompasses everything from solo bagpipe to chamber music to full symphonic outpourings. Mr. Puts has a real champion in conductor Joseph Marcheso, who elicited mesmerizing musical results from the pit and the stage. Additional kudos must go to Andrew Whitfield’s well-prepared chorus. The scoring demands impeccable solo and ensemble work alike from the large orchestra and they did not disappoint. Maestro Marcheso lovingly built an inevitably unfolding arc in a performance of constantly evolving and enriching musical delights.

Silent Night just may prove to be the first enduring operatic masterpiece of the century. Time and history will prove me right or wrong. But I can promise you this: there is no better case to be made for Silent Night than the production currently on view at the California Theatre.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Anna Sorensen: Julie Adams; Nikolaus Sprink: Kirk Dougherty; German Officer: Kirk Eichelberger; Jonathan Dale: Mason Gates; Father Palmer: Colin Ramsey; William Dale: Branch Fields; Madeleine Audebert: Ksenia Popova; Lt. Audebert: Ricardo Rivera; Ponchel: Brian James Myer; Lt. Gordon: Matthew Hanscom; Lt. Horstmayer: Kyle Albertson; French General: Nathan Stark: Kronpriz: Christopher Bengochea; British Major: Vital Rozynko; Conductor: Joseph Marcheso; Director: Michael Shell; Fight Director: Kit Wilder; Set and Projection Design: Steven Kemp; Costume Design: Melisssa Nicole Torchia; Lighting Design: Pamela Z. Gray; Sound Design: Tom Johnson; Make-up and Wig Design: Christina Martin; Chorus Master: Andrew Whitfield

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):