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

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Maria (Elise Quagliata) with El Payador (Ricardo Rivera) [Photo by Duane Tinkey]
11 Jul 2017

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Maria Visits Des Moines

A review by James Sohre

Above: Maria (Elise Quagliata) with El Payador (Ricardo Rivera)

All photos by Duane Tinkey

 

While its three main stage productions continue to be performed in Blank Performing Arts Center on the Simpson College campus, 30 minutes away in Indianola, DMMO systematically develops audiences by mounting innovative smaller productions of non-standard repertoire in the heart of Iowa’s capital city. The success of this outreach is attested to by consistent sold out runs of these innovative projects.

Maria was presented in the historic Temple for the Performing Arts, which proved to be a most congenial fit. Set designer Adam Crinson has created an effective environment to enfold the action, with large, framed rectangular collages of distressed wooden window shutters spaced throughout the sides of the auditorium. Selected front row seating was at tables and chairs, with some also spilling up onto stage left, suggesting a tango nightclub venue. Mr. Crinson carried the distressed wood look into the backdrop, which was constructed of vertical slats topped by a wide, textured fabric wall hanging. A matching proscenium treatment, and rolling bar unit stage right completed the simple, limited, but eminently practical playing space.

Nate Wheatley has contributed an inventive lighting design that beautifully serves the dramatic, brooding text and music. The afore-mentioned ubiquitous panels each had individual lights installed at the top, which could alter the color wash to suit the mood. Above the stage hung variations on white globe ceiling lights, which could also change hue. Mr. Wheatley managed to alter the general area lighting with good success, although he was likely restrained from adding more specials by the limited number of instruments I counted. One effect that paid off handsomely was the tight center aisle spot that allowed Maria to wander into the audience during her penultimate number.

DSC_5742.pngAstor Piazzolla’s “Tango Opera”

Heather Lesieur and Atlanta Opera are credited with the spot-on, character-specific costumes, a stunning array of jewel tones and reds. The selective use of masks and primitive props added to the gritty ritualistic tone of the storytelling, which was staged with inventive mischief by director Octavio Cardenas.

Mr. Cardenas embraced the composition, and acknowledged that it is decidedly not a linear tale. He created a 90-minute series of constantly morphing impressions, characterized by fluidity of motion and variety of theatrical effects. He seized on the rampant symbolism and distilled it into comprehensible dramatic points. Octavio used the entire space as his canvas, with actors entering and exiting from every nook and cranny, meticulously coordinated, but nevertheless suggesting a spontaneous, immersive theatrical experience.

The distinctive score was conducted with aplomb and incisive rhythmic propulsion by Stefano Sarzani, who numbered several Piazzolla “specialists” in his small orchestra: Daniel Binelli (Bandoneon) Polly Ferman (Piano) and Scott Mateo Davies (Guitar). All of the instrumentalists performed with real distinction for Maestro Sarzani, whether as part of a tightly knit ensemble or as featured soloist, often playing with raw energy. That said, I sometimes wished the subtle, tasteful solo violinist had summoned a little more zesty sass in the jazzy licks.

DSC_5799.pngTango Dancers Jairelbhi Furlon and Guillermo Merlo

The band was stage right of the proscenium, and was sometimes part of the action. The interplay between bandoneonist Binelli and the narrator was especially witty. The sound palette of this unique musical world was consistently on point, and the band partnered exceptionally well with the singers and dancers. I only wish that the actors hadn’t been miked. The volume was half again as much as was needed, if it was indeed really needed at all. No matter where a performer was sanding on stage, the voice seemed to be coming from the top center of the proscenium. Perhaps this could be adjusted for remaining shows.

Even with that caveat, from her first appearance the stunningly attractive Elise Quagliata owned the title role. The part mostly lies in the low register, where Ms. Quagliata’s searing chest voice made a powerful effect. It may have been the amplification, or the mix, but in the first scene she sounded just a bit pressed, the tone tending to harden as she took a belting approach to the writing. However as the evening went on, Elise quickly relaxed the delivery, finding increasingly more legato that showed off her poised tone to perfection in a wide range of demanding emotional states. Dramatically and musically, she does not so much perform the part as inhabit it. A remarkable star turn.

Rodolfo Nieto’s El Duende (The Goblin, as narrator) is marked by a sensitive, impassioned delivery that too, is hindered a bit in his effect by the volume knob. That Mr. Nieto nonetheless makes an imposing, invaluable narrator is owing to his charisma and dramatic stature. As El Payador (Cantor or Minstrel) baritone Ricardo Rivera made the most of the diverse vocal demands, offering suave vocalism of the first rank whether investing introspective phrases with a haunting grainy quality; slamming out declamations above the staff with ferocious power and accuracy; or spinning out creamy melodies with a melting arch of gorgeous sound.

This piece is billed as a tango opera, and there are plenty of such moments to savor as a lithe pair of dancers, Jairelbhi Furlong and Guillermo Merlo, found a diverse array of effects with which to engage and delight us. Performing their own inventive choreography, the duo skillfully incorporated select props into their routines including a red scarf, an A-frame ladder, and best, a man’s suit jacket which they kept passing back and forth by inserting arms in empty sleeves. Yahaddabethere! Their every duet was rapturously received.

With this memorably stylish, cheered-to-the-rafters production of a seldom performed jewel, DMMO reminds us yet again why they are one of the most invaluable regional companies in the nation.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Maria: Elise Quagliata; El Duende: Rodolfo Nieto; El Payador: Ricardo Rivera; Young Maria: Lauren Verm; Dancers: Jairelbhi Furlong, Guillermo Merlo; Conductor: Stefano Sarzani; Bandoneon: Daniel Binelli; Piano: Polly Ferman; Guitar: Scott Mateo Davies; Director: Octavio Cardenas; Set Design: Adam Crinson; Lighting Design: Nate Wheatley; Make-up and Hair Design: Brittany Crinson for Elsen and Associates; Costumes: Heather Lesieur, Atlanta Opera

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):