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

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Vanessa Vasquez (Liu) and Jonathan Burton (Calaf) [Photo by Duane Tinkey]
11 Jul 2017

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

A review by James Sohre

Above: Vanessa Vasquez (Liu) and Jonathan Burton (Calaf)

Photos by Duane Tinkey

 

The leading roles were deluxe casting , the envy of any world opera house. There are few roles with more baggage than Turandot and Calaf. The legendary pairing of Nilsson and Corelli is still discussed in opera circles, and even if we never heard them live, their voices are still in our head. Too, Pavarotti owned the aria Nessun dorma, and even thought he didn’t do all that many performances of the full role, interpreters are judged against that gold standard. Happily, our title role interpreter and her princely suitor were up to the task.

Alexandra Lobianco is well remembered here for her feisty Minnie in a recent season. If Fanciulla is a Big Sing for the soprano, Princess Turandot is a Big Sing on Steroids. The fiendishly high, clarion singing required is balanced with the need for controlled delicacy after her conversion to a loving mindset. Ms. Lobianco is short of physical stature, but makes up for it with potent spinto vocalizing that has its own towering presence. As she kept pouring out laser-focused riddles, rising in pitch as well as intensity, we sat wondering: “Where is all that glorious voice coming from”?

DSC_0525.pngAlexandra Lobianco (Turandot) and kneeling, Jonathan Burton (Calaf)

Later, after she is vanquished, Alexandra’s Princess was able to lighten and mellow her legato phrases to convey first crushing defeat, then willing acceptance. From hostility to acquiescence, from fortissimo to pianissimo and all points between, nothing about this taxing role eluded her. She has recently successfully debuted at the Vienna State Opera, and further stardom is surely to follow.

Jonathan Burton is a match made in heaven, having previously paired so wonderfully with this soprano in the Golden West. Mr. Burton sings this role as successfully as anyone around, with a firm, substantial tenor that has plenty of buzz and boom. When he is called upon to ride the full orchestra, stand back! He can pin your ears to the back wall. But he can also rein in his large voice to suggest a glowing lyricism that is irresistibly charismatic. Could lightning strike a third time, and could DMMO lure this perfectly paired duo back for yet another collaboration? Please, Opera God?

As the one sympathetic character in the love triangle, and with two memorable arias, Liu can often run off with the show, and Vanessa Vasquez gave her co-stars a run for their money. Ms. Vasquez is a major “find,” with a stunningly rich lyric soprano, leaning into the spinto territory. Her poised pianissimo flights above the staff were heart stopping in their beautiful timbre. Combined with her impeccable musicianship and endearing presence, Vanessa’s star is on the rise.

DSC_2581.pngFrom Left, Pang: Brian Frutiger; Ping: Michael Adams; Pong: Chris Carr

Ping (Michael Adams), Pang (Brian Frutiger) and Pong (Chris Carr) were particularly well sung, with polished flair, and consummate beauty of line. While their movements and gestures were cleverly coordinated, and while they functioned beautifully as a unit, each proved an accomplished, distinctive soloist. Mr. Adams showed off an ample baritone with lustrous tone; Mr. Frutiger sported a gleaming, incisive tenor; and Mr. Carr’s pointed lyric tenor instrument provided much pleasure. As Timur, Federico de Michelis’ authoritative, freely produced bass suggested a gravitas beyond his years. Similarly, young Ryan C. Connelly, decades too young for Emperor Altoum, successfully colored his pleasantly reedy tenor to cunningly suggest an aged monarch. As the Manadarin, Timothy Bruno chanted his pronouncements with solid authority.

Lisa Hasson’s superb chorus was the last major “cast member” and they sang with wondrous character and musical sweep. In such a modest sized house, this was the closest to operatic Surround Sound we might ever experience. The goose bumps are returning even as I write.

Music Director David Neely conducted his amassed forces with a loving, knowing baton. DMMO populates its pit with highly accomplished professional musicians from throughout the region (and beyond) and their incisive playing is second to none. The orchestra was a compelling partner in the musical drama, and they rose to meet every challenge.

DSC_0573.pngJonathan Burton (Calaf) sings “Nessun Dorma”

We have come to expect so much from DMMO that is innovative and forward looking, that it is a gentle surprise to find that this production of Turandot was more an homage to a glorious past. R. Keith Brumley’s handsome set design was wholly functional, suitably Chinese, and cleverly varied. A long set of stairs and platforms bisected the main stage from high up left to stage level stage right. Towers, drapes, and insets were moved in and out to suggest other locales, but his was one of those basic ‘unit foundation’ sets necessitated by budget realities in the 70’s. The effective costumes were courtesy of Mary Traylor and Lyric Opera of Kansas City, while Barry Steele contributed a straight-forward, well executed lighting design.

Director Stephanie Sundine has done a good job managing traffic (no small feat), and underlining the important Big Moments. Liu’s suicide had an admirable clarity and focus. But (pace Puccini) Turandot is not always dramatically propulsive, and there are stretches of (albeit beautiful) music where nothing of consequence is happening. Ms. Sundine did not completely solve the visuals of these slack moments, and too often the chorus was posed in pleasant rows, with principals left to look ‘interested.’

Small matter perhaps, as in a prima la voce mind set, this Turandot was a night to remember, and cherish.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Princess Turandot: Alexandra Lobianco; Emperor Altoum: Ryan C. Connelly; Timur: Federico de Michelis; Calaf: Jonathan Burton; Liu: Vanessa Vasquez; Ping: Michael Adams; Pang: Brian Frutiger; Pong: Chris Carr; Mandarin: Timothy Bruno; Prince of Persia: Nate Carter; Executioner: Paul Schmidt; Conductor: David Neely; Director: Stephanie Sundine; Set Design: R. Keith Brumley; Lighting Design: Barry Steele; Costume Design: Mary Traylor, Lyric Opera of Kansas City; 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):