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

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

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.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

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.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

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!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

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.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

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.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

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.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca and Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi [Photo by Michael Cooper]
14 May 2017

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

A review by James Sohre

Above: Adrianne Pieczonka as Tosca and Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi [Photo by Michael Cooper]

 

Adrianne Pieczonka has one of the most beautiful, best-schooled soprano voices in the world. Her technique is rock solid, and she is capable of producing thrilling, pointed high notes, freely and effortlessly hurled over the full orchestra, pinging off the back wall with stunning resonance. Ms. Pieczonka also sports a delectably creamy, lustrous middle voice and descends effortlessly into a secure chest register. She is a sensitive and committed interpreter. And hers is an attractive and poised stage presence.

While all of Adrianne’s significant gifts were on ample display as Tosca, there was a coolness of approach that did not adequately suggest the tempestuous, variable moods of the fictitious diva. Her beautifully voiced Vissi d’arte seemed to owe more to Mozart’s poised Porgi amor that to Puccini’s tormented title character. Still, I am always grateful for any chance to hear this distinguished soprano and it cannot be disputed that her tonal beauty and musicality place her among the top tier of current practitioners.

Marcelo Puente has all the right attributes for a first rate Cavaradossi: ringing tone, sensitive phrasing, handsome physique, and a rather endearing Corellian self-absorption. When Mr. Puente is singing beautifully, which is often, he sometimes conveys an assuredness that he knows you must know it too. There was an initial darkness to the tone that vanished as the show went on. The slight cover and rapid vibrato that characterized Recondita armonia were completely gone by the time E lucevan le stelle rolled around, when his beautifully rendered diminuendo effects made it the high point of the evening. I suspect we will be hearing much more about him, especially if he can concentrate more on collegial “acting” than “starring.”

Tosca-MC-0181.png(l-r) Marcelo Puente as Cavaradossi and Musa Ngqungwana as Angelotti [Photo by Michael Cooper]

Markus Marquardt did all the right things as Scarpia, and his interpretation was more nuanced than most. In a smaller European house, I would suspect Mr. Marquardt’s suave baritone would have more impact than it did in this large theatre, up against a tenor and soprano with more heft in their sound than his. Anyone (like me) who ever experienced a steamroller of a singer like Cornell MacNeil in this iconic villainous role has perhaps been spoiled forever. I admired Markus’s taste and intelligence, but I am not sure those are the prime requirements for a notable Scarpia.

Donato Di Stefano offered a nicely sung, if rather understated performance as the Sacristan, which was at least blessedly free of caricatured mannerisms. As Spoletta, Joel Sorenson’s bright tenor and wiry, animated stage deportment brought more (favorable) attention than usual to this comprimario role. Mr. Sorenson was well complemented by Giles Tomkins’ solidly sung Sciarrone. Bruno Roy was an uncommonly sympathetic Jailer, and Clara Moir’s pure-toned, off stage Shepherd Boy was serenely rendered. Musa Ngqungwana has an orotund, mellifluous bass-baritone that made quite an impression as Angelotti. However, Mr. Ngqungwana was unduly hampered by some awkward staging.

“Awkward staging” being the operative phrase. I have often admired director Paul Curran’s work. On this occasion, Mr. Curran seemed to be more concerned with manufacturing new and clever stage business than with developing character relationships. So, fine, Tosca tears up Cavaradossi’s paper ‘studies’ for the Attavanti Madonna, but does she have to throw them in the air like a giggly schoolgirl?

Tosca-GB-140.png(l-r) Markus Marquardt as Scarpia, Joel Sorensen as Spoletta, Donato di Stefano as a Sacristan and Giles Tomkins as Sciarrone [Photo by Gary Beechey]

The entire first encounter between the lovers was juvenile and shallow with no hint of the subtext that deception and jealousy will soon undermine the fates of both characters. Too often, singers faced front and sang to the balcony, when they should have been making a connection. When Mario sings of (I paraphrase) “seeing the world in Floria’s eyes,” he sings it to the parterre, when he should be, well, looking in her eyes. For all of the truly inventive touches, the sad fact is that Mr. Curran has failed to ignite any chemistry or passion.

And that is a pity, since the striking set and costume designs by Kevin Knight are all that could be desired. Monumental, striking scenery provided a visually fresh take on this operatic warhorse. I especially like the padded torture room that was revealed when a massive cabinet was pulled out from the wall in the Farnese Palace. Mr. Knight’s costumes were also spot-on, although I could have done with one less shawl on Tosca’s Act Two gown. Shedding one was illuminative of her character’s situation. Shedding two somewhat smacked of molting. David Martin Jacques’s well considered lighting design was all that could be wished. His isolation of Tosca in Act Two and Cavaradossi in Three for their big solos was subtly effective.

Best for last: In the pit, Maestra Keri-Lynn Wilson provided the real drama of the night. Ms. Wilson inspired this fine ensemble to fill in all the conflict, emotion and color that were missing from the stage. Whether playing solo or collectively the orchestra produced a stylish reading of a score, rich with detail and infused with dramatic fervor. Sandra Horst’s chorus contributed mightily with their full-throated Te Deum.

There were many elements to admire in this well-intended performance of a reliable classic. In the end, it left me wishing for much more inspired ‘shock and awe’ from this capable assemblage.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Cesare Angelotti: Musa Ngqungwana; Sacristan: Donato Di Stefano; Mario Cavaradossi: Marcelo Puente; Floria Tosca: Adrianne Pieczonka; Baron Scarpia: Markus Marquardt; Spoletta: Joel Sorenson; Sciarronne: Giles Tomkins; Shepherd Boy: Clara Moir; Jailer: Bruno Roy; Conductor: Keri-Lynn Wilson; Director: Paul Curran; Set and Costume Design: Kevin Knight; Lighting Design: David Martin Jacques; Chorus Master: Sandra Horst

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):