Recently in Performances
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.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of
Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
13 Mar 2017
AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
Although the original story may have been French, the libretto as acted out in Scottsdale was as hot as the Calabrian sun.
Felix Mendelssohn visited Italy on a tour of the continent that lasted from 1829 to 1831 At that time he wrote, “This is Italy! ... and I am loving it.” Later, he wrote his sister Fanny saying, “The Italian symphony is making great progress. It will be the jolliest piece I have ever done, especially the last movement.”
Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings, Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4, the Italian, has four movements. The opening A Major Allegro Vivace is light, airy and joyful, but it leads into a Bach-like D Minor second movement that reminded me that it was Mendelssohn who had done so much to revive interest in the music of Johan Sebastian Bach. Listening to Robert Moody and the Arizona Musicfest Orchestra play that second movement could bring tears to the coldest eyes. The following Con Moto Moderato is again in A Major but the final movement, marked Presto, is in A Minor and it gives the conductor license to drive his orchestra as fast as possible. With an excellent orchestra containing the first chairs of many other orchestras, Maestro Moody played it Prestissimo and it brought down the house.
Since the Musicfest Orchestra took up most of the stage area, there was only a narrow platform at the back for Stage Director Michael Scarola and his Pagliacci cast to use in staging the opera's action. Composer and librettist Ruggiero Leoncavallo said his story of raw sexuality was based on a case that his father, a judge, handled when the composer was a child. Although that is possible, French author Catulle Mendès thought it resembled his 1887 play La Femme de Tabarin. The French author sued Leoncavallo, only to drop the charges when he, himself, was sued for copying a Spanish play.
The dramatic strength that Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot. Although the original story may have been French, the libretto as acted out in Scottsdale was as hot as the Calabrian sun. Although no costumer was credited, the cast wore clothing from the second half of the twentieth century.
Arizona Musicfest’s choristers were raucous townspeople with children who loved being part of the show. Conductor Robert Moody maintained tight control of his players and never let them drown out a singer while he moved the dramatic aspect of the work forward without a nanosecond’s pause. This performance was a thriller.
Gordon Hawkins was a voluminous voiced Tonio who sang the prologue from the middle of the audience. It worked well in that rotund church and he sang “Incominciate” on his way to the stage. Tonio is often played as a hunchback but here he was good-looking bully.
Canio, played by tenor Carl Tanner, was a suave circus owner whose hair trigger temper quickly turned to violence. He considered Nedda his property and he did not intend to share her with anyone. Singing with a huge enveloping voice, he told us the story of the unhappy clown with resonant dramatic tones that flowed like waves over the audience. Jonathan Blalock sang Beppe, Canio’s drinking partner, with easy lyric tenor tones.
Nedda knows she is tied to Canio for life even though she is unhappy as his wife. At the beginning of the opera she reclines on a trunk looking up at the sky and envying the freedom of the birds. Elisabeth Caballero allowed us to be part of Nedda’s dream world as the birds she loved flew into the ether. Her golden middle tones and opulent high notes bloomed above the audience as she sang her lyrical aria. She made listeners sympathize with Nedda but she did not let her her situation control her.
Smooth voiced baritone Alexy Lavrov played Nedda's lover, Silvio, a stable young man with a job in the town. The fact that he was not a member of the touring circus attracted Canio' wife, but she knew she and Silvio could never settle down safely in a town where Canio could find them. Her marriage vows would be not only her death sentence, but his as well. This was one of the most thrilling renditions of Pagliacci I have ever seen.
Cast and production information:
Robert Moody, Conductor; Carl Tanner, Canio; Elizabeth Caballero, Nedda; Gordon Hawkins, Tonio; Alexey Lavrov, Silvio; Jonathan Blalock, Beppe; Arizona Musicfest Chorus; Michael Lewis, Chorus Master; Members of Phoenix Children's Chorus; Michael Scarola, Stage Director.