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 Reviews

Cooperstown and the Hood

Glimmerglass Festival continues its string of world premiere youth operas with a wholly enchanting production of Ben Moore and Kelly Rourke’s Robin Hood.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

La pietra del paragone in Pesaro

Impeccable casting — see photos. Three new generation Italian buffos brought startling new life to Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 2002 production of Rossini’s first major comedy (La Scala, 1812).

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

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.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

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.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

03 Aug 2017

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.

Alcina at the Santa Fe Opera

A review by James Sohre

Above: Daniela Mack as Bradamante, Elza van den Heever as Alcina [All photos copyright Ken Howard]

 

One unwavering element in this long (3-1/2 hour) evening was the excellence of the musical execution. Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led a magnificent instrumental ensemble who responded with a richly detailed reading that was as diverse in its colorful effects as it was supple in its rhythmic propulsion. Maestro Bicket is justifiably renowned for his way with this genre of course, and his baton inspired all concerned to music making of the highest order. The cast of singers was also decidedly first tier.

In the title role, the elegant soprano Elza van den Heever has conquered another Everest role in her growing reputation and repertoire. Her well-modulated voice has just a hint of steel in it that serves her well in the sorceress’s furious outbursts. Sometimes though, her dramatic immersion turns otherwise creamy tone a tad shrill. Her soft singing was wonderfully controlled and she could skillfully draw us in with a messa di voce that scaled down to a near whisper, even if in the process of these melting piano phrases she did sometimes dispense with consonants. Ms. van den Heever’s phrasing and breath control, her meticulous passage work, her passionate dramatic investment, and her fluid physical movement, all combined to create an impactful musical characterization.

Daniela Mack was a dynamo (dynama?) as the conflicted Bradamante. Ms. Mack is a major talent with a luminous mezzo that easily encompasses the divergent demands of this challenging part. Her astonishing, fearless coloratura fireworks threaten to out-Cecelia the great Bartoli. Her melting laments pierce the heart. Her dramatic commitment informs her distinctive vocalizing to create a memorable role traversal.

Paula Murrihy, a witty Orlovsky in Fledermaus, turned on a stylistic dime to offer a superlative account of another trouser role, Ruggiero. Her splendid phrasing, enchanting timbre, and meticulous technique proved a bewitching combination, allowing her to spin out wondrously sustained vocal lines, and toss off beautifully calculated melismas, peppered with florid ornamentations and even surprising staccato effects. Ms. Murrihy’s plush, vibrant treatment of her arias was rewarded with some of the evening’s most sustained ovations.

As expected, soprano Anna Christy was once again her delightful self as Morgana, animated in her stage presence, and singing with soaring lyricism and absolute precision. Ms. Christy has to be one of operadom’s most endearing soubrettes, possessed of an impeccable technique and a vocal quality characterized by an agreeable silvery glow. Anna seems to be having the time of her life and is happy to take us along for the ride.

Handel does not give Melisso a great deal to do, but we were grateful that Christian Van Horn was on hand to do it. Mr. Van Horn’s solid, individualized bass was a welcome occasional balance to all the higher voices, and his accusatory aria was fluidly and powerfully delivered. Alek Schrader’s characterful tenor was deployed to create a distinctive Oronte. Past roles have proven Mr. Shrader can be an inspired physical comedian, and his proclivity for pratfalls and manic movement was on ample display here. He must also be the only tenor in history who, in one performance, is required to sing beautifully while a) holding a cigarette in his mouth; b) executing a repetitive dance step recalling “The Pony;” and c) jumping up and down in an ape suit. The role of the boy Oberto seems almost an after thought, but Jacquelyn Stucker performed it most charmingly, showing off a winsome demeanor and a honeyed soprano.

Alcina_SantaFe2.pngAnna Christy as Morgana


I eschewed LSD in the 60’s, preferring clearheaded operatic studies to an acid trip. Thanks to stage director David Alden, I may have now made up for missed hallucinogenic experiences. Mr. Alden is well known for his post-modernist takes on opera, and he seems to delight in raising more questions than he answers. Together with his design team (set and costumes, Gideon Davey; lighting, Malcolm Rippeth), he has redefined “sensory overload” with a cornucopia of images that would cross Hieronymus Bosch’s eyes. I suppose a magical island can be anything it wants to be, but does it have to be anything and everything? In this case, we are supposedly “in an abandoned theatre.” (Sort of presaging the Crosby Theatre after the second intermission.)

Sure enough, there is a small, ornate white proscenium frame and platform down right, and a long wall of doors the width of the stage just above it. Soon after the downbeat, a few Roxy-like ushers appear (one of them will be Morgana), bizarre Night-of-the-Living-Dead acrobats start clambering over the house walls, and Bradamante (in brown business suits and fedora) and Melisso (as flash camera wielding paparazzo) stroll from the back of the house down the left aisle to the pit railing. All of this was very difficult to see, and impossible to figure out. It did establish the level of clarity for the evening! Not to say that there were not many entertaining moments. Many.

The row of doors came and went, often amusingly deployed with a Keystone Kops chase effect. A performer would disappear through the far left door during an instrumental break, a befuddled character would be left to ponder the colleague’s exit, then the character would re-enter in time to sing again through the far right door, “surprising” the befuddled colleague. You get the drift. This running gag was actually well used, and some of Mr. Rippeth’s trapezoidal lighting effects were wondrously moody.

Once the wall of doors retreated off right, we got into more problematic collages of imagery. It seemed we were now perhaps trapped at A Night in the Museum. Primal artifacts like dinosaur skeletons, fossilized remains, primate extras in ape suits and the like dotted the expansive stage. A “chandelier” suspended over center stage consists of a spinal column culminating in a bony claw from which a bare bulb ghost light is hung. Just try and get that image out of your head now.

And wait a minute, there is a diagonal wall running from down left to up center, on which is reproduced Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Adding to the confusion, panels soon part in this mural to reveal another stage, with green grand drape, on which action will be played. So we are in an abandoned theatre that “may” be a museum that has a stage of its own, but hold on, let’s throw in an oceanic image to suggest the original island setting, and add a whole lot of evolution-of-the-species implications. And let’s sing Handel while doing it! Too bad George didn’t write Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Oh wait, one George was involved in that. . .

Designer Davey also had a field day with his costumes. Yes, Oronte is in and out of a Planet of the Apes suit. Bradamante trades in “his” well-tailored business drag for a handsome cocktail dress and later, in Act III, wears a multi-colored 50’s sitcom ‘mom frock’ with bandana. Morgana is a bespectacled usher, before a wannabe siren, before a Vegas showgirl, before . . .well, how can I be expected to remember? Alcina is most usually in a becoming, slinky black gown, with her “magic wand” signified by her right hand sporting a long neon pink satin glove. This is oddly (and I am sure intentionally) phallic. During Alcina’s tour de force aria closing Act II, Mr. Alden has extras poke pink gloved hands out of the cracked doors in choreographed precision, then they appear over the wall of doors, and then pink gloves begin to trickle from the flies, before raining down on the poor dear, pelting her into a mad cackle at aria’s end.

Did I mention the frequent, tightly performed choreography devised by Beate Vollack? I have to concede this whole lengthy evening was extremely well rehearsed, no more so than Ms. Vollack’s eclectic dances which ranged from Steve Martin “Happy Feet” pattering, to line dancing, to ballroom pairings, to Ms. Christy’s lavish peacock-fanned parody of All I Care About is Love.

Along this Magical Mystery Tour, we were at one point in a science laboratory, with the upstage “stage” backdrop now covered with cave paintings as might have been created by Keith Haring. Aluminum appointments included a sink, which I would like to believe is the “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” that was now not missing in the eclectic mix after all. Favorite goof of the night found a gorilla-suited extra as Atlas bearing a disco ball “globe.”

Surprisingly, very little of this (mostly) inspired lunacy was a distraction to the musical excellence, and the game performers found a way to commit to the physical staging demands while still singing very effectively. Too, there were several still moments that were arresting in their simplicity. In fact, there may have arguably been a few too many slow, wispy, introspective passages. In a long evening, a bit more pace and presence might have improved what is already quite a good thing.

Of future consideration for producers should be the length of productions, especially one with repetitive arias like these. The parking lot was notably emptier after the second intermission. Perhaps some judicious pruning, and combining the evening into two acts (as is often done in Europe) is an answer to not only keep audiences engaged in the performance at hand, but also to keep them coming back for similar offerings. This Alcina was an entertaining, musically rewarding, and thought provoking evening, which for many reasons will be recounted for years to come.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Bradamante: Daniela Mack; Melisso: Christian Van Horn; Morgana: Anna Christy; Oronte: Alek Schrader; Alcina: Elza van den Heever; Oberto: Jacquelyn Stucker; Ruggiero: Paula Murrihy; Conductor: Harry Bicket; Director: David Alden; Set and Costume Design: Gideon Davey; Lighting Design: Malcolm Rippeth; Choreograpy: Beate Vollack

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):