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

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

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):