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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

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):