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

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

Don Giovanni at Garsington Opera

A violent splash of black paint triggers the D minor chord which initiates the Overture. The subsequent A major dominant is a startling slash of red. There follows much artistic swishing and swirling by Don Giovanni-cum-Jackson Pollock. The down-at-heel artist’s assistant, Leporello, assists his Master, gleefully spraying carmine oil paint from a paint-gun. A ‘lady in red’ joins in, graffiti-ing ‘WOMAN’ across the canvas. The Master and the Woman slip through a crimson-black aperture; the frame wobbles.

A brilliant The Bartered Bride to open Garsington's 2019 30th anniversary season

Is it love or money that brings one happiness? The village mayor and marriage broker, Kecal, has passionate faith in the banknotes, while the young beloveds, Mařenka and Jeník, put their own money on true love.

A reverent Gluck double bill by Classical Opera

In staging this Gluck double bill for Classical Opera, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, director John Wilkie took a reverent approach to classical allegory.

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Puccini’s Tosca at The Royal Opera House

Sitting through Tosca - and how we see and hear it these days - does sometimes make one feel one hasn’t been to the opera but to a boxing match. Joseph Kerman’s lurid, inspired or plain wrong-headed description of this opera as ‘a shabby little shocker’ was at least half right in this tenth revival of Jonathan Kent’s production.

A life-affirming Vixen at the Royal Academy of Music

‘It will be a dream, a fairy tale that will warm your heart’: so promised a preview article in Moravské noviny designed to whet the appetite of the Brno public before the first performance of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the town’s Na hradbách Theatre on 6th November 1924.

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Claggart (Zachary James, right) falsely accuses Billy (Craig Verm, left) and Vere observes (Roger Honeywell). [Photo by Duane Tinkey]
13 Jul 2017

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

A review by James Sohre

Above: Claggart (Zachary James, right) falsely accuses Billy (Craig Verm, left) and Vere observes (Roger Honeywell).

Photos by Duane Tinkey

 

In the intimate Blank Performing Arts Center space, we are not so much observing a wrenching drama as we are participating in it. Set Designer R. Keith Brumley has outdone himself (or anyone else) with a massive prow of a hulking wooden warship that engulfs the entire playing space right up to the edge of the front row of the crescent of spectators.

Cannons poke through and point down the aisles. There are two black Jacob’s (rope) Ladders left and right allowing actors to clamber precariously above the action below, and the audience behind. A large wooden grate on the forestage has openings to allow the cast to “scurry below.” Masts feature ropes tied off in various ways so that the audience is looking through them as if part of the action. Upstage is filled with a two-tiered structure, the top of which serves as an upper deck flanked by stairs. Below, the structure contains Vere’s office, which moves forward and is revealed by the removal of four panels. To suggest the sailors’ cramped quarters below deck, two side pieces advance as though suggesting “arms” that enclose the action. A large hanging grate is positioned above the scene to replicate the one the sailors crawled through down center.

DSC_0225.pngCaptain Vere (Roger Honeywell) is confronted by Claggart (Zachary James)

The excellence of Barry Steele’s remarkable, moody lighting design was surpassed only by his exquisite projections. Jonathan Knipscher’s distinctive costumes greatly illuminated the characters, and aptly defined the caste system of the differing military strata. Brittany Crinson’s detailed make-up effects, including wounds and scruffily dirt-smudged sailors contributed much to the successful look.

I had never experienced an opera this large and active in such an intimate space, and director Kristine McIntyre did a masterful job filling every nook and cranny with meaningful action and carefully rehearsed “spontaneity” without putting us on sensory overload. Having successfully negotiated this huge group around that limited space, I think Ms. McIntyre is ready to be a traffic controller at O’Hare. But she also knew when to let her forces be still. When Lisa Hasson’s impeccable chorus and the soloists stood and poured out their climactic, overwhelming war cry in Act Two, it was electrifying in its raw emotion.

Kristine also knows how to wring every conceivable variation out of well-motivated blocking, usage of levels, and meaningful character relationships. Each of the principals clearly understood the dynamic and arc of their roles, and the monologues were coached and crafted like one act plays. This was a remarkable directorial realization, one that nurtured faultless ensemble playing as well as encouraging stand-alone personal bests.

DSC_4745i.png“Now Is the Moment”

Craig Verm was first a playful, then a powerful Billy Budd. Mr. Verm possesses a burnished, rolling baritone that has a particularly inviting timbre. He also has such a vibrant, handsome, guileless presence that “Oh, beauty, handsomeness, goodness” is an understatement. From his first, naïvely eager statements, through his affecting bouts of stammering, to his exultant "king of the world" arioso perched on the rope ladder, to his gradual disbelieving betrayal and assumption of a tragic stature, Craig was every moment the star vocal and theatrical presence that galvanized the performance.

He had the audience in the palm of his hand the entire opera. When he is falsely accused, and cannot answer the charge owing to his stammer, patrons actually leaned forward in their seats, wishing they could help him. When he desperately pleaded with Captain Vere to “save him,” I wish I had had the Kleenex concession. His final prison monologue was heart wrenching, even if he tired just a bit by its end. Never mind, you just won’t see a finer Budd than that on view from Craig Verm.

Much the same could be said for bass-baritone Zachary James as the evil John Claggart. His imposing stature, his bad boy good looks, and most of all, his searing, orotund vocal production combined to make him a definitive Master at Arms. While he is consistently insistent in enforcing his discipline, Mr. James finds astonishing nuance in his delivery, as he is both physically and intellectually attracted to Billy, all the while disgusted by it. You will likely never hear Claggart’s aria more passionately performed with compelling tortured feelings, yet with rock solid vocalism. And Zachary’s death spiral after the fatal punch, ending fallen flat on his face, was beyond any physicality I have ever seen in this critical plot moment.

DSC_4266i.pngBilly Budd (Craig Verm on ladder): “Billy Budd, king of the world.”

Completing the principal triangle, Roger Honeywell gave the performance of his life as Captain Vere. I have enjoyed any number of memorable, conscientious performances by Mr. Honeywell over the years but none has engaged him this completely. The part was written for the sometimes precious crooning of Britten’s life partner, tenor Peter Pears. Well, Roger was having none of that! He waded in to this troubled, challenged character with grit and a feisty self-awareness, and he deployed his potent tenor with skill and precision.

These days, Roger pulls a few tricks to negotiate a few of the uppermost, soft passages, but he puts every utterance in service of the drama. His tortured, internalized debate of how to do the right thing was anguishing in its dichotomy of duty versus ethics, correctness or compassion. He began and ended the show as a clouded soul, doddering barefoot in his bathrobe, almost a spectral presence. His was a mesmerizing interpretation, uniquely his own.

The entire cast was so uniformly splendid that it may be odious to single out any smaller roles, but I must commend at least a few. Michael Adams utilized his commanding baritone to great effect as Donald. His interplay with Billy in the rough housing musical challenge in the sailors’ quarters was delightful, and impetuously kissing Billy at its end was a sassy touch. Thomas Hammons’ mature baritone proved a real asset as a touching Dansker. Christian Sanders’ clear, shining tenor served the role of the Novice well, and Emmet O’Hanlon was his wonderfully sung Friend. Ryan C. Connelly had just the right, bright sound in his well-schooled tenor to succeed as Squeak. Dennis Jesse (Mr. Redburn) and Federico de Michielis (Mr. Flint) were distinctive vocal personalities, as was the smoothly sung Lieutenant Ratcliffe from Kristopher Irmiter.

DSC_4920.png Dansker (Thomas Hammons) visits imprisoned Billy (Craig Verm)

Finally, in the pit, David Neely conducted a brilliant, insightful performance of Britten’s masterpiece. Make that “Monster Piece.” Billy Budd is scored for a virtuoso orchestra, and the DMMO musicians rallied to meet every challenge. Maestro Neely, his cast and band have delivered unto us as great a musico-dramatic achievement as is possible.

I have seen six other good productions of this piece over my years of opera going and I have always thought that, when all its planets align, it should make me weep but it never quite did. Well, Mission Accomplished. When Vere sang his final, diminishing statements, and the “sail” descended from above with its projection of rolling waves; and when the final projections first showed a silhouette of Billy’s hanging corpse, then morphed to Billy’s wrapped body floating to the depths, and then to Billy’s handsome face dissolving into the waves; well, this was a moment of surpassing beauty. And damn if the tears aren’t streaming again right now. . .

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Billy Budd: Craig Verm; Edward Fairfax Vere: Roger Honeywell; John Claggart: Zachary James; Mr. Redburn: Dennis Jesse; Mr. Flint: Federico de Michelis; Lieutenant Ratcliffe: Kristopher Irmiter; Red Whiskers: Steven Sanders; Donald: Michael Adams; Dansker: Thomas Hammons; Novice: Christian Sanders: Novice’s Friend: Emmett O’Hanlon; Squeak: Ryan C. Connelly; Bosun: Timothy Bruno; Maintop: Chris Carr; Arthur Jones: Ted Pickell; 1st Mate: Brandon Hendrickson; 2nd Mate: Jesse Stock; Cabin Boy: Benjamin Sarvis; Conductor: David Neely; Director: Kristine McIntyre; Set Design: R. Keith Brumley; Costume Design: Jonathan Knipscher; Lighting and Projection: Design: Barry Steele; Make-up and Hair Design: Brittany Crinson for Elsen and Associates; Chorus Master: Lisa Hasson

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):