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

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.’

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

18 Sep 2017

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Elizabeth Cree at Opera Philadelphia

A review by James Sohre

Above: Daniela Mack as Elizabeth Cree, Troy Cook as John Cree [All photos courtesy of Opera Philadelphia]

 

The duo’s first hit, Silent Night, was so highly acclaimed that it could have proven a hard act to follow. So, the pair decided not to try for another large piece of sweeping scope and profound emotional calculation, and opted instead to create a 90-minute chamber piece in which wickedly complex characters and lurid plot twists threaten to out-Sweeney Sweeney Todd.

No spoiler alert needed, the opus starts with the hanging of Elizabeth as punishment for the murder of her husband John. Set in London, 1887-1881, the tale subsequently unfolds in twenty-nine cogent scenes that go back and forth in time, narrating the murder mystery in mosaic fashion, interweaving titillating red herrings, finally revealing the truth in a shocking confession. Even better than Mr. Campbell’s often witty, always riveting text, Mr. Puts’ eclectic score falls tunefully on the ear one moment, and is eerily stomach-churning the next. Borrowing from several styles and influences, the talented composer re-invents them with excellent effect to present his own unique voice.

If one is going to make an effective case for a new opera, it does not hurt to have at your disposal the best cast imaginable. Daniela Mack is at the peak of her considerable powers in the title role, her rich, gleaming mezzo soaring into the house with lustrous beauty. The creators (including novelist Peter Ackroyd’s source material), have imbued this character with detailed layers that surpass even Lulu as opera’s most complex character. Is Cree merely a determined young woman pulling herself up into society from an impoverished beginning? Or are there more dynamics to consider?

Ms. Mack communicates many, if perhaps not all, of Elizabeth’s dimensions. The role is too complicated to unearth every nuance in the course of one production period. But Daniela has certainly conquered every subtlety and shading in the wide variety of styles she has been given to vocalize, from melting lyricism to music hall sass, to urgent dramatic declamations, to ecstatic arching phrases. Hers is an uncommonly fine instrument, and this definitive role creation has set the gold standard for all future productions.

Philly_OT2.pngLittle Victor Farrell (tenor Jason Ferrante), Doris the Wire Walker (mezzo-soprano Melissa Parks), Aveline Mortimer the Wide-Eyed Warbler (soprano Deanna Breiwick), and Uncle (bass Matt Boehler) entertain the crowd with a variety show.

Threatening to run away with the show, tenor Joseph Gaines is a tour de force as the wiry, wily Dan Leno. Mr. Gaines is arguably one of the finest, most complete singing actors in opera today, and he commanded attention whenever he was on stage. Assuming any number of guises (including uninhibited drag) as a headliner in the music hall segments, he is agile, fleet-footed, energetic and wickedly entertaining. When he drops his performer persona and becomes Leno the man, he is equally capable of engaging our attention with warmly communicated humanity. Moreover, Joe has a wonderfully schooled, innately appealing tenor that is capable of lyricism of considerable beauty.

Troy Cook was a powerhouse vocal presence as the duplicitous (or is he?) John Cree, who woos and weds Elizabeth. Mr. Cook lets loose with such a darkly powerful baritone that his singing is literally spine tingling in several rather malevolent moments, memorable for their uncompromising, laser like intensity. But is he indeed the victimizer, or might he be a victim? His well-modulated, charming vocalization in more lyrical passages not only provides a good measure of vocal allure, but also raises the stakes in a deadly and unpredictable game.

It is always a pleasure to encounter the gifted young baritone Daniel Belcher, and he predictably delivers all the goods as Inspector Kildare. Mr. Belcher finds an assertive smugness to color his ringing baritone, and his self-assured, poised singing was even and focused throughout the range. Moreover, he conveyed a seductive wit in his impersonation of the self-promoting detective. Deanna Breiwick deployed her alluring, silvery soprano to good effect as the ingénue, Aveline Mortimer, singing with utmost assurance, especially in several sublime stratospheric flights of fancy. Ms. Breiwick also injected some real grit and passion into the mix with her determined, vengeful testimony at Elizabeth’s trial.

Elizabeth begins her escape from poverty by getting a job as a prompter at the music hall, where other on- and backstage denizens include Uncle (firmly intoned by bass Matt Boehler), Doris (Melissa Parks, showing off an earthy and rock solid mezzo), and Little Victor Farrell (Jason Ferrante, with a sympathetic tenor of good presence). A prodigiously talented roster of soloists rounded out the cast, successfully doubling all of the other parts. Jonathan McCullough (Mr. Greatorex/George Gissing/Etcher) offered a baritone of solid accomplishment; Thomas Shivone (Mr. Lister/Karl Marx/Solomon) scored with his substantial bass-baritone; Daniel Taylor (Priest/Librarian/Mr. Gerard) proved a mellifluous bass talent you should watch for; and Maren Montalbano (Jane Quig/Annie the Serving Girl) completed the impressive cast with her pleasant, pliant mezzo.

Conductor Corrado Rovaris clearly relished his assignment and led the new composition with sweeping passion, dramatic investment, abundant lyricism, and great attention to detail. Mr. Puts’ lean orchestration utilizes an intriguing array of colors and inventive combinations of sound palettes and effects. Maestro Rovaris has wrung every last bit of variety out of the score, seguing effortlessly from neo-Romanticism to Grand Guignol to popular novelty numbers to wrenching scenas and back again. His total command of the musical effects yielded an eminently satisfying piece of lyric theatre.

Philly_OT3.pngThe inhabitants of the Reading Room continue their studies.

Mr. Campbell’s episodic hopscotch of a book jumped back and forth in time from courtroom to street, music hall (on stage and backstage), prison, home, police headquarters, well, you get the idea. Director David Schweitzer paced the show immaculately, investing it with fluidity and variety. For the music hall numbers,
Jesse Robb contributed simple, effective choreography. Mr. Schweitzer and his design team made some excellent choices in the simple floor plan, and bold choices in the omnipresent, often disturbing projections and stunningly wide-ranging lighting design by Alexander V. Nichols.

Designer David Zinn’s atmospheric sets were beautifully evocative, with a superbly textured arrangement of walls. A semi-circle of dipping streetlights is affixed to the one furthest upstage. This playing space was complemented by carefully chosen set pieces (desk, chairs, make-up tables, etc.). A platform with a rolling ladder has a perch atop that is at once imposing and frightening in its great height. A show curtain flew in and out to create the onstage world of the music hall. In the last third of the show, a wall surprisingly opened stage right to reveal the Cree’s rich, red Victorian parlor, while three tables were placed left to create the reading room of the British Library.

Director Schweitzer moved his actors meaningfully through their paces not only emoting and relating in these various short scenes but also carefully staged to seamlessly change the settings. Mr. Zinn also contributed sumptuous costumes running the gamut from ravishing upper crust eveningwear to garish parodies of variety show costumes. David Zimmerman did yeoman’s duty designing the varied hair and make-up looks required.

Opera Philadelphia’s Elizabeth Cree represented a thrilling collaborative effort from a dream team of some of the world’s most accomplished music and theatre practitioners. Their concerted efforts have made a compelling case for this highly anticipated piece, which assuredly deserves a bright future of subsequent productions.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Elizabeth Cree
Music by Kevin Puts
Libretto by Mark Campbell

Elizabeth Cree: Daniela Mack; John Cree: Troy Cook; Dan Leno: Joseph Gaines; Inspector Kildare: Daniel Belcher; Aveline Mortimer: Deanna Breiwick; Uncle: Matt Boehler; Doris: Melissa Parks; Little Victor Farrell: Jason Ferrante; Mr. Greatorex/George Gissing/Etcher: Jonathan McCullough; Mr. Lister/Karl Marx/Solomon Weil: Thomas Shivone; Jane Quig/Annie the Serving Girl: Maren Montalbano; Priest/Librarian/Mr. Gerard: Daniel Taylor; Conductor: Corrado Rovaris; Director: David Schweitzer; Set and Costume Design: David Zinn; Lighting and Projection Design: Alexander V. Nichols; Wig and Make-up Design: David Zimmerman; Choreographer: Jesse Robb.

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):