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 Reviews

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

05 Aug 2017

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. . .?

The Golden Cockerel at the Santa Fe Opera

A review by James Sohre

Above: Brenda Rae as Lucia [All photos copyright Ken Howard, courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

 

The answer is a scintillating version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely performed The Golden Cockerel as lustrously presented by Santa Fe Opera, of course. To succeed with this sometimes knotty and often naughty piece you really need two stars that can carry the evening and boy, did SFO have them in spades.

The remarkable baritone Tim Mix sings and fidgets up a storm in a tireless vocal and physical tour de force as Tsar Dodon. His was just the right ‘Mix’ of buffoonery and bravado, and he skillfully used his sizeable instrument to create an indelible vocal characterization. But Mr. Mix is also capable of important moments that are not larger-than-life, namely, beautiful phrases that bring some humanity to the bumbling monarch. Later in the show, as power has corrupted him, Tim limns his rock solid pontifications with an arrogant cynicism. This is a beautifully schooled voice, a very musical performer, and a committed, inventive actor.

There cannot be a lovelier Queen of Shemakha on this planet, or any planet anywhere, than the delectable Venera Gimadieva. She is a petite, poised, beautiful woman with an alluring physical presence. Is there any other soprano who could pull off (pun intended) a striptease, ending up looking ravishing in a brief two-piece harem get up? And she sings, too!!

Ms. Gimadieva has a sparkling lyric soprano that falls very warmly on the ear on a cool desert mountain night. She has a splendid sense of line and soars above the staff ‘with’ ease, and ‘to’ E’s. Her coloratura is faultless, and her playful way with comic phrases infuses her singing with obvious joy. Moreover she immerses herself into the drama with gusto.

Her shameless, uninhibited vamping of the Tsar was a sensual laff riot. As she invited him over to “her place,” she lustily extolled her tight tent that would enfold him, and promoted the comforts of her furry rug. Guilty (musical) pleasures, indeed. But there was far more to her Queen than shimmies and breast jokes. Venera could turn deadly serious and downright sadistic when called for, whence she successfully weighted her generous soprano with ominous shadings. With this starry match of two stars made in heaven, we truly were in a land of enchantment.

Barry Banks was born to play the Astrologer. The extremely high tessitura of the part holds no terrors for him, and Mr. Banks sang the stratospheric declamations with assured beauty of tone. Coming down from the heavens as Amelfa, Meredith Arwady reveled in vocalizing in the basement. Hers is a nonpareil contralto voice, which is as big as all outdoors: She could be probably be heard in Albuquerque. Happily, Ms. Arwaday is a superb musician, and she weaves her registers and phrases together seamlessly. As the earthy housekeeper, Meredith immerses herself into a bawdy interchange with the Tsar that finds no erogenous zone unmentioned and untouched, all the while singing with potent beauty.

Kevin Burdette can always be counted on to bring his secure bass singing and complete dramatic investment to the proceedings. His assertive, doomsday spouting General Polkan captured just the right combination of wiry physicality and solidly voiced predictions. Apprentice Singers Richard Smagur (Prince Guidon) and Jorge Espino (Prince Afron), more than held their own, imbuing these roles with far more than the usual comprimario natterings. Mr. Smagur has an attractive lyric tenor with a vivid presence, and Mr. Espino sports a virile, ringing baritone. Another Apprentice, Kasia Borowiec, heard but not seen, offered assertive, secure soprano pronouncements as the Golden Cockerel.

Conductor Emmanuel Villaume worked wonders in the pit. The composer was, of course, a master orchestrator and Maestro Villaume mined every ounce of color and excitement out of this diverse score. The ensemble work was ravishing, with the solo work also notable for its characterful flair. The first chair winds were especially exceptional, and their zesty licks added much to the evening’s exotic charms. Villaume led an expansive romp of a reading, sensitive to his soloists and skillful in his handling of the amassed forces, including Susanne Shelton’s suave chorus.

Past successfully met present in the design concept, with Gary McCann’s set a metallic stylized playing space that was a handsome sculpture. A raked square extended and swept up toward the loft stage right, suggesting a high-toned skateboard ramp. For Act II, a massive series of rings and girders was placed upstage suggesting a vertical stacking of roller coaster loops interpreting a rooster’s tail. Smart, eye-catching and effective.

McCann the costume designer created Russian folk (and royalty) wear that provided a riot of color and Old World Atmosphere. The Queen’s afore-mentioned peacock blue diaphanous gown with gold accents, peeled away in layers to reveal a flattering two-piece nod to orientalism. The Tsar was presented as the emperor that has no clothes, caped but beer-bellied in his red BVD’s, an inspired touch. There is a clever costume reveal near the very end with a complete change in tone and period, which I can commend without giving away.

Paul Hackenmueller has provided the premiere lighting design of the festival, with changeable color washes, dramatic use of down and side lighting, discreet deployment of spotlights, and excellent sensitivity to the variable moods. Driscoll Otto devised remarkably apt projections that were really the glue that holds all the elements together. One moment witty and cartoonish, the next lavish folk patterns, the next a swirling galaxy, Mr. Otto’s sterling work was critical to the evening’s impact. But inherent in the skewed placement of the sweeping stage-within-a-stage is the difficulty that the projections requiring the upright “screen” of the stage right “skateboard” to function, are unable to be seen by the 20% of the patrons fanning out house left. Pity that such tremendous work imposed that limitation on itself.

Director Paul Curran has dreamt up a plethora of exhilarating stage business. The Tsar, in BVD’s, is first revealed rising up from a trap, legs splayed sitting on an oversized red velvet and gold throne. If you’re old enough, think Edith Ann on the rocking chair on Laugh In. Nutty, nutty stuff. The King, his doltish sons, General Polkan, and even housekeeper Amelfa scampered on and off this huge piece, ducking under armrests, standing on the seat, jumping to the floor, and climbing back up on the rungs of the braces over and over again. I think the cast must have had to pass a physical exam at a climbing gym. It was as constantly entertaining as it must have been exhausting.

The Queen of Shemakha was announced and accompanied by a bevy of white clad showgirls brandishing white ostrich plume fans, a visual occurring twice in the week’s festival line-up (Fledermaus was the other). What are the odds of two shows in a five opera festival utilizing copious ostrich plume fans? Wish I had had the ostrich plume fan concession. Mr. Curran not only used the chorus creatively to fill longer orchestral passages with meaningful visualization, but also devised lively interplay between the principals that became more sedate as the stakes were raised.

The abundant delights of The Golden Cockerel were such that I didn’t want the noisy bird to wake me up from a production that was a true midsummer night’s dream.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Astrologer: Barry Banks; Tsar Dodon: Tim Mix; Prince Guidon: Richard Smagur; General Polkan: Kevin Burdette; Prince Afron: Jorge Espino; First Boyer: Adam Bonanni; Second Boyer: Simon Dyer; Golden Cockerel: Kasia Borowiec; Amelfa: Meredith Arwady; Queen of Shemakha: Venera Gimadieva; Conductor: Emmanuel Villaume; Director: Paul Curran; Set and Costume Design: Gary McCann; Lighting Design: Paul Hackenmueller; Projection Design: Driscoll Otto; Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston

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):