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

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

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):