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

Cave: a new opera by Tansy Davies and Nick Drake

Opera seems to travel far from the opera house these days. Alongside numerous productions in community spaces and pub theatres, in the last few years I’ve enjoyed productions staged on the shingle shore of Aldeburgh beach, at the bottom of the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe, and in a renovated warehouse in Shoreditch on the roof of which perch four ‘creative studios’ in the form of recycled Jubilee line train carriages and shipping containers.

Götterdämmerung in San Francisco

The truly tragic moments of this long history rich in humanity behind us we embark on the sordid tale of the Lord of the Gibichungs’s marriage to Brünnhilde and the cowardly murder of Siegfried, to arrive at some sort of conclusion where Brünnhilde sacrifices herself to somehow empower women. Or something.

Siegfried in San Francisco

We discover the child of incestuous love, we ponder a god’s confusion, we anticipate an awakening. Most of all we marvel at genius of the composer and admire the canny story telling of the Zambello production.

Boris Godunov in San Francisco

Yes, just when you thought Wotan was the only big guy in town San Francisco Symphony (just across a small street from San Francisco Opera), offered three staged performances of the Mussorgsky masterpiece Boris Godunov in direct competition with San Francisco Opera’s three Ring des Nibelungen cycles.

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

L to R: Aleks Romano as Aurelio, Adrian Timpau as Eustachio de Saint-Pierre, Makoto Winkler as Pietro de Wisants, Leah Crocetto as Eleanora, and Chaz'men Williams-Ali as Giovanni d'Aire in The Glimmerglass Festival's 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti's
23 Aug 2017

Glimmerglass: Well-Realized Rarity

It is hard to believe that an opera by Donizetti is receiving its American premiere at the 2017 Glimmerglass Festival, but such is the case with The Siege of Calais.

Glimmerglass: Well-Realized Rarity

A review by James Sohre

Above: L to R: Aleks Romano as Aurelio, Adrian Timpau as Eustachio de Saint-Pierre, Makoto Winkler as Pietro de Wisants, Leah Crocetto as Eleanora, and Chaz'men Williams-Ali as Giovanni d'Aire

Photos © Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

 

It is a welcome discovery, chock-full of soaring melodies and surging phrases that recount the moving tale of the six burghers of Calais willing to sacrifice their lives in order to save the city and citizens they love from isolation and destruction. Rodin immortalized the burghers in his famous sculpture, of course, but Donizetti and his librettist Cammarano have also crafted a compelling work of art that is no less impressive. Perhaps its neglect is owing to the extreme interpretive demands on its trio of principal soloists, and here the company outdid itself, peopling its cast with thrilling vocalists.

Soprano Leah Crocetto stars as Eleonora, devoted wife to Aurelio, the mayor’s son missing in the swirling military action. Ms. Crocetto announced herself as a major talent in Rossini’s Maometto II at Santa Fe just a few short years ago. Since then, she has taken on Puccini and Verdi to ever-growing acclaim. With Eleonora, she returns to bel canto with riveting results.

KarliCadel-GGF17-Siege-GeneralDress-3818.pngLeah Crocetto as Eleanora and Aleks Romano as Aurelio

Not only can she sing accurate and meaningful coloratura with utmost ease, but she also has an expressive range that effectively spans from hushed whisper to raging fury and all points in between. Her generous, creamy spinto has an uncommonly fine luster and appeal, and it is wedded to a simple, sincere acting style, evoking the gifts of the great Caballe. Based on this outing, Leah Crocetto seems poised to be a major international star.

While she may be the recognizable “name” of the cast, the leading role is the activist son Aurelio, and mezzo Aleks Romano matched Crocetto note for note in virtuosity and tonal allure. First, I have never seen a woman in a trouser role look so believably manly. The petite singer is as convincing in her gender-bending as Hilary Swank in her Oscar winning turn as Brandon Teena (Boys Don’t Cry).

Ms. Romano has a searing vocal delivery, her exciting, focused tone appealingly colored by a somewhat urgent vibrato. When Aurelio is riled up (which is often), she hurls inflammatory declamations that ring thrillingly throughout the house. But when she shares loving, concerned duets with Eleonora, Aleks can hone her secure tone to a tender filigree of sound that is heart stopping in its emotional effect. There are two duets in which these two remarkable vocalists sing melting phrases in thirds that are not meant merely for human ears. As their inimitable instruments tumble over each and urge each other to ever greater emotional engagement, well, this is as good as it gets.

KarliCadel-GGF17-Siege-GeneralDress-4264.pngMichael Hewitt as Edoardo III

The role of mayor Eustachio de Sainte-Pierre is exceedingly well served by the imposing bass baritone, Adrian Timpau. His dark, pointed instrument served notice that a major talent has arrived on the scene. Mr. Timpau exuded vocal authority and stylistic acumen, and he mastered every trial of this difficult, lengthy assignment. Mr. Timpau joins the Met’s Lindeman program next year, and his future stardom seems all but assured. Chaz’men Williams-Ali’s ringing, plangent tenor brought much joy to the proceedings as Giovanni de Aire. His sound contributions to the extended ensembles were noteworthy.

Andres Moreno Garcia has a very pleasant, rolling baritone that made much of his brief stage time as Edmondo. Michael Hewett, a memorable Jud (Oklahoma!) the night before, successfully impersonated King Edoardo III. Mr. Hewett has a burnished baritone, which easily served up fine Donizettian style. On this occasion, his very upper register didn’t always turn over to match the ease of his upper-middle. Helena Brown’s imperious, generous soprano made a major impact as Queen Isabella. Talented young bass Zachary Owen was dramatically vested in the cameo of the English Spy, but his potent delivery sometimes pressed to veer off pitch. Joseph Leppek (Giacomo de Wisants), Carl DuPont (Armando), and Rocky Lasky (Filippo) all made solid efforts with their focused, steadfast performances.

In the pit, Joseph Colaneri whipped up a rousing interpretation of this rarity that found his orchestra responding with a vigorously theatrical, stylistically rich reading. Under Maestro Colaneri’s knowing baton, the band was a collaborative partner in the engrossing story, pairing flawlessly with the soloists and urging David Moody’s well-tutored chorus (excellent diction!) to great heights. While the entire orchestra was rightly cheered to the rafters, I have to single out the extended clarinet solo introduction to one of the major set pieces that was a thing of luminous beauty.

KarliCadel-GGF17-Siege-GeneralDress-4380.pngMichael Hewitt as Edoardo III and Adrian Timpau as Eustachio de Saint-Pierre

So what does this piece have to say to us in today’s context? If you are director Francesca Zambello, the answer is “plenty.” She has found great resonance in raising the plight of refugees struggling in modern day Calais, and grounding it in the ruined setting of a war torn near eastern town. The first image of James Noone’s evocative set design is seen as we take our seats: a high corrugated, jagged, barbed wire laced sheet metal barrier with “Calais” boldly graffitied onto it serves as an act curtain. A bombed out car lies in state down left.

Ms. Zambello sets her concept up effectively with a staged overture. First, soldiers patrol the fence. When the coast is clear, a desperate intruder clambers over the wall to steal food from the soldiers’ unattended knapsacks. After he is discovered and narrowly escapes, the soldiers regroup across the apron in time to sing the ringing opening chorus. The wall parts and recedes off left and right, revealing the bombed out shell of a three story building that is all too depressingly familiar a visual from the evening news.

Mr. Noone’s hulking set includes a large staircase that the director skillfully uses to create meaningful levels and stage pictures. The turntable is put to good use as it spins the structure to suggest different locales. Costume designer Jessica Jahn’s carefully selected, character specific street wear for the downtrodden, and tailored uniforms and business wear for the privileged were aptly inspired by today’s front page photos. Mark McCullough’s austere lighting design was calculated to highlight important dramatic moments, balancing well-selected specials with murky shadow effects. This was a most convincing feat of story telling, making a potent case for a forgotten 19th century opera by making it all too relevant in today’s world. By making the character relationships so intensely believable and their predicament so universally human, Francesca has even managed to gloss over the pretty big flaw in the denouement.

Edoardo has adamantly refused over and over to spare the burghers’ lives and indeed, soldiers point assault rifles menacingly at the intended targets throughout the extended penultimate ensemble. Queen Isabella has pleaded with husband Edoardo to spare them, but he unceremoniously rejects her. Musically, dramatically, the piece churns inexorably to certain tragedy. Then, in the briefest of moments that is the operatic equivalent of “honey, c’mon now. . .” Isabella gets Edoardo to say the shrugging equivalent of “Oh. . .okay.” And, basta, everyone is free. Never you mind. This talented group has such total commitment to the piece, and they believe in it so strongly, that damn if we don’t suspend our disbelief as well.

There is such a wealth of musical riches in The Siege of Calais (at least with this consummate team) that it is astonishing it has take so long to resurface. Now that the enterprising Glimmerglass Festival has emphatically demonstrated there are singers capable of handling it, and proven there are audiences ready to be thrilled by it, maybe it will find the widespread recognition it deserves.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Eustachio de Sainte-Pierre: Adrian Timpau; Eleonora: Leah Crocetto; Giovanni de Aire: Chaz’men Williams-Ali; Pietro de Wisants: Makoto Winkler: Aurelio: Aleks Romano; English Spy: Zachary Owen; Giacomo de Wisants: Joseph Leppek; Armando: Carl DuPont; Edmondo: Andres Moreno Garcia; Edoardo III: Harry Greenleaf; Isabella: Helena Brown; Filippo: Rocky Lasky; Conductor: Joseph Colaneri; Director: Francesca Zambello; Set Design: James Noone; Costume Design: Jessica Jahn; Lighting Design: Mark McCullough; Hair and Make-up Design: J. Jared Janas, Dave Bova; Chorus Master: David Moody

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):