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

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

Agrippina at the Bavarian State Opera

And still they come. The opera world’s obsession with Handel’s operas shows no sign of abating. The Bavarian State Opera has, since Peter Jonas’s Intendancy, stood at the forefront of Handel staging; this new production of Agrippina was dedicated to him. As ever, I was pleased to see one of these operas for the first time in the theatre – how could I not be pleased to see almost anything in Munich’s wonderful Prinzregententheater – but again, as ever, I was left unable ever quite to put to one side the dramaturgical difficulties/problems/flaws/inadequacies. (Call them what you will.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

(L to R) Cecelia Hall and Laura Wilde [Photo by Ken Howard]
27 Jun 2017

Titus Lightens Up in Saint Louis

Mozart’s opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito, performed in English at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis did something I did not think possible.

Titus Lightens Up in Saint Louis

A review by James Sohre

Above: (L to R) Cecelia Hall and Laura Wilde [Photos by Ken Howard]

 

It made me laugh (and in a “good way”).

Productions of this least performed of Mozart’s mature operas usually are stiffly formal, with somber recitatives serving mostly as a respite from one extended aria after another, often posing as more a costumed concert than a viable dramma per musica.

Director Stephen Lawless and a witty translation by Daniel Dooner may have changed all that forever. Political intrigue still looms large in the telling of the story (how could it not?), but the plot twists hinge on a sex-kittenish Vitellia leading Sesto around by his . . .da capo aria. Have you ever laughed out loud as this villainess vamps the conflicted patrician? Has anyone? We did!

TITUS_0758a.pngRené Barbera

This does not mean to suggest that Mr. Lawless has encouraged gratuitous schtick. No, rather he has rooted the character relationships in truthful interaction, underscoring the naughty, lethal game being played out by a vengeful, power hungry daughter of the deposed emperor. He also understands that there is much about the piece that is uncompromisingly dramatic, infused with profound human emotions. He trusts that those moments will take care of themselves and be even better for some light-footed balance. His effective use of the playing space included having the chorus positioned in the house aisles for the more formal court scenes.

The director has been gifted with a cast that is nigh unto perfection. As Vitellia, Laura Wild seems well on her way to becoming the Mozart soprano of choice. Her creamy, evenly produced tone had outstanding presence in every register and she colored it beautifully to reflect her changing moods, starting out teasing and urging, and ending up repentant and confessorial. Ms. Wild is also highly adept at executing the florid writing and ornamentations, suggesting a woodwind-like quality that illuminated every extended melisma. Her dramatic gifts equal her splendid instrument, most especially her deft, subtle comic timing.

The title role can often be eclipsed by the musical machinations swirling around him, but not so here. René Barbera returned to OTSL, having scored early career successes here in comic roles in The Daughter of the Regiment and The Elixir of Love. Happily, Mr. Barbera found just as congenial a fit with the clement, benevolent emperor, his gleaming tenor ringing out with alluring, stylish aplomb. His is one of the most easily produced, engagingly warm male voices currently before the public, and his ingratiating charisma makes his every performance a joy.

TITUS_1346a.pngMonica Dewey and Emily D’Angelo

Whereas many practitioners of this role limit themselves to projecting the high-handed nobility of the emperor, René also incorporates all of the conflicted humanity, the deep hurt of his betrayal, and a convincing personal debate of whether or not to execute his beloved friend. You simply won’t see a more persuasive, well-rounded performance of the titular hero than that by René Barbera.

The two trouser roles were uncommonly well cast. Sesto has much of the opera’s very best material, and Cecelia Hall was more than up to the task. Her pliant, plangent mezzo created a convincing case for a lovesick, gullible youth, blind to the fast that he is being manipulated not only to betray his best friend, but also to commit a heinous crime. Ms. Hall made Parto, parto into a finely detailed musical journey as she mused and debated her inevitable course of action.

Emily d’Angelo was a potent match with her assured traversal of Annio. Her vibrant, focused tone was flexible and expressive, but also had a nice hint of metal in it that convinced us Annio was a headstrong foil for Sesto. Ms. D’Angelo’s demonstrative reading of her dramatically florid aria won one of the show’s biggest ovations. Icing on the cake: Both ladies-as-boys were lanky and trim, and were utterly convincing as two juvenile men.

TITUS_1723a.png(L to R) Laura Wilde, René Barbera, Monica Dewey, and Emily D’Angelo

Rounding out the soloists, Monica Dewey was a jewel of a Servilia. Ms. Dewey doesn’t have as much stage time, but her gleaming, poised soprano and delightful stage manner immeasurably enhanced every scene she was in. As Publio, Matthew Stump’s solid bass-baritone and imposing stature provided a welcome balance.

Leslie Travers has provided a handsome set design that suggests ancient Rome, counter-balanced with a luxurious costume design that is more rooted in the time of the opera's composition. The rather severe formal attire for the chorus and most principals was rather severe, with black and white waistcoats, capes and tri-corn hats for the men (of both sexes) and chorus, and formal gowns for Servilia. Titus and Vitellia were afforded luxurious, red raiment, although Titus' costumes straddled both color palettes.

The environment includes a huge rectangular platform, subtly painted with a Roman street map, presided over by an immense suspended eagle sculpture suggestive of the Roman SPQR standard, with olive branch and arrows in its respective talons. This eagle de-constructs remarkably as the city is consumed by fire, and crumbles to the floor in four separate pieces as black “ash” confetti falls from the flies. Adding to the dramatic effect was Christopher Akerlind’s masterful lighting design.

Last but most certainly not least, this performance of Titus marked Stephen Lord’s last appearance on the podium as longtime Music Director. Maestro Lord has given us a lot to be grateful for over his tenure, but none more so that this lovingly rendered, stylistically correct, and dramatically propulsive reading of a Mozartean gem. His rapport with the singers and instrumentalists alike was remarkable and his inspired leadership was of the highest order. Bravo, Maestro, e buona fortuna!

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Vitellia: Laura Wild; Sesto: Cecelia Hall; Annio: Emily d’Angelo; Publio: Matthew Stump; Tito: René Barbera; Servilia: Monica Dewey; Conductor: Stephen Lord; Director: Stephen Lawless; Set and Costume Design: Leslie Travers; Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind; Wig and Make-up Design: Tom Watson; Choreographer: Seán Curran; Chorus Master: Cary John Franklin

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):