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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

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):