Recently in Reviews
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.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
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 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.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
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.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
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.
28 Mar 2017
Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden
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.
When I saw Jaho at the Barbican in November 2015, in Opera Rara’s
semi-staged performance of Leoncavallo’s
I was wowed by the ‘incredible commitment and vocal allure’ that the
Albanian soprano displayed as the charismatic chanteuse from the
backstreets. Here, similarly, she lived and breathed the role of the
culturally and sexually exploited naïf. Her voice may be quite light for a
part that demands great stamina and strength, but the power of her stage
presence and vocal impact was simply breath-taking. Soft, silky, sensuous,
her soprano throbbed with love. The gentleness of her pianissimo
captured the tragic naivety of Cio-Cio-San’s misperception of reality. Jaho
has a command of phrasing that imbues every melodic line with dramatic
meaning. The Act 1 love duet for Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton soared with a
passion so fierce that it seemed almost shocking, coming from one so slight
and mild. ‘Un bel dì’ was unbearably sweet, Jaho’s voice a tender wisp, as
faint as the puff of smoke she longs to see on the horizon. In Act 1
Butterfly charmed Pinkerton and all; in the second she was resolute through
heartbreak; and in the final Act she sank into terrible desolation with
Marcelo Puente (Pinkerton), Ermonela Jaho (Cio-Cio-San). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.
Leiser and Caurier focus less on Cio-Cio-San’s cruel exploitation and
abandonment and more on her selfless love; this truly is a fragile
Butterfly, not a playful or feisty one, and physically Jaho captures all of
her grace and delicacy of her airborne namesake, fluttering and hovering
with feathery lightness. The floating sleeves of her silk furisode
curve and glide; her long black tresses, or taregami, drape sensuously
across her form.
Jaho wholly embodied the delicate sensibility that flinches from danger
even as it embraces it. The newly married Butterfly shrinks from Pinkerton:
‘They say that in your country, if a butterfly is caught by man, he’ll
pierce its heart with a needle and then leave it to perish!’ But, at the
close, her frail wings broken, it is Cio-Cio-San’s own ornamental kaiken that delivers the fatal impalement. When, illumined by pale
moonlight, the sakura petals tumbled from the outstretched
branches of the lone tree, the tragic pathos was almost overwhelming.
Ermonela Jaho (Cio-Cio-San). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.
This was the third time that I have seen this production (
) and I found that my seat in the Amphitheatre offered new visual
experiences. The more distant perspective made Christian Fenouillat’s
faraway vistas, visible through and beyond the sliding shoji
screens, acquire an air of whimsical romance, while the blue-pink mist, or shūyū, which drifts through the ornamental garden infused
Butterfly’s entrance with fairy-tale romance. Similarly, the criss-crossing
shards of coloured light at the close of Act 1 created an even more
penetrating sense of restlessness and disorientation, while, the jarring
complementary colours of the lighting scheme seemed to suggest both a
dreamy otherworldliness and a disturbing unease.
Marcelo Puente (Pinkerton). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.
Marcelo Puente looked the part as Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton, though he
lacked the leering arrogance more common among interpreters - indeed, the
‘boos for the baddie’ at the curtain call seemed even more inappropriate
than usual. Despite some initial graininess in Act 1 and a little strain at
the top, by the end-of-act duet Puente had settled into what was a strong
performance, if a little stiff dramatically.
Making her ROH debut American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong exhibited a
wonderfully glossy lower register as a fierce, loyal Suzuki, animated of
manner and voice; Carlo Bosi’s self-important, guileful Goro suffered the
sharp end of her tongue. I’d like to see much more of DeShong at the ROH.
Carlo Bosi (Goro), Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.
Returning, like Bosi, to reprise their 2015 roles, Jeremy White as the
Bonze and Yuriy Yurchuk as Yamadori contributed to the consistent high
musical and dramatic standards. White harangued stentoriously; Yurchuk made
Yamadori a figure of noble pride. Scott Hendricks was a fairly light-weight
Sharpless but interacted well with Jaho. Jette Parker Young Artist Emily
Edmonds sang Kate Pinkerton with accomplishment.
Scott Hendricks (Sharpless). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.
Expertly propelling the drama along with surefooted ease and naturalness,
Sir Antonio Pappano made yet another remarkably vigorous contribution in
the pit, pushing the surging climaxes to their peaks and allowing the
tender moments to speak for themselves.
This is a stunning Butterfly. Grab a ticket if you can, or catch
it in cinemas when it is broadcast live on Thursday 30th March:
Puccini: Madame Butterfly
Cio-Cio-San - Ermonela Jaho, Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton - Marcelo Puente,
Sharpless - Scott Hendricks, Goro - Carlo Bosi, Suzuki - Elizabeth DeShong,
Bonze - Jeremy White, Kate Pinkerton - Emily Edmonds, Imperial Commissioner
- Gyula Nagy, Prince Yamadori - Yuriy Yurchuk; Directors - Moshe Leiser and
Patrice Caurier, Conductor - Antonio Pappano, Set designer - Christian
Fenouillat, Costume designer - Agostino Cavalca, Lighting designer -
Christophe Forey, Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House.
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Monday 27th March