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

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

20 Sep 2017

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

The Magic Flute at Opera Philadelphia

A review by James Sohre

Above: Jarrett Ott as Papageno [All photos courtesy of Opera Philadelphia]

 

The O17 festival has appropriated Barry Koskie’s acclaimed eye-popping production and cast it from strength with some of the finest young singers to be found on today’s opera stages. Mr. Koskie has co-directed with Suzanne Andrade and the pair has collaborated closely with the prodigiously gifted animator Paul Barritt to create a non-stop display of morphing projections that are both the production’s unique achievement and ultimately, its weakness.

Ben Bliss was a sweet-voiced Tamino, his pliant lyric tenor a perfect match for the Prince’s vocal demands. Mr. Bliss soared above the staff with an ingratiating ease of expression. Rachel Sterrenberg had a slower start as Pamina, her substantial soprano feeling its way through Bei Männern. As the show went on, Ms. Sterrenberg warmed to her task and settled in to provide a limpid, affecting Ach, ich fühl’s. In the final quartet Ben and Rachel’s intertwined lofty phrases fell quite wondrously on the ear.

Flute_OT2.pngQueen of the Night and Tamino

Jarrett Ott had all the wit and presence one could want in a Papageno, and you won’t often hear the role this well sung. Mr. Ott’s shining baritone has real star power and beauty. Olga Pudova was an audience favorite as a highly musical and secure Queen of the Night. Her pleasing tone and technical accomplishment made for two memorably accurate arias. Bass Peixin Chen did double duty as the Speaker (sung offstage) and Sarastro (sung mostly onstage). His weighty, orotund bass was darkly imposing, although it had a tendency to lumber a bit from note to note. Brenton Ryan’s well-projected, sizable tenor served Monostatos well, and his insinuating coloration of key phrases made for some inspired villainy.

The Three Ladies were a pleasantly compatible trio, with soprano Ashley Milanese a sprightly First Lady, mezzo Siena Miller holding her own in a solid turn as Second Lady, and mezzo Anastasiia Sidorova grounding the group with a firmly intoned Third Lady. The Three Spirits were a delight in their every appearance: AJ Owens, Damian Ferraro, and Patrick Corcoran were well schooled, pure-toned and cherubic. Ashley Robillard was such an appealingly pert soprano that she managed to score big as Papagena even though her role in this cutting was nearly non-existent.

The Armored Men are often cast with more mature singers so it was a pleasure to hear two fresh young vocalists bring brightness and poise to their ‘choral prelude’ and, especially, the quartet. Roy Hage (First Armored Man) sports an engaging, ringing tenor, and Marcus Deloach (Second Armored Man), serves up a vibrant baritone. Elizabeth Braden’s chorus was stirring in their brief, but important appearances.

In the pit, conductor David Charles Abell led an assured overture, in what would be the only visually unanimated music of the performance. Once the “fun” began, Maestro Abell did his considerable best to keep reminding us that the opera is really about sublime music and immortal characters, not just shock and awe video effects. He was sometimes stymied by the distraction. Perhaps owing to placement of singers, the ensembles (only) occasionally got ahead of the beat, with the Three Ladies being the most challenged in their tricky banter.

Flute_OT3.pngJarrett Ott as Papageno

This animated, manic concept seems to have given a good deal of pleasure to the vast number of audience members. It is certainly unlike any other. There is no doubt that the non-stop coordination of effects was a challenge, one that was always meticulously achieved. Papageno must siphon a pink lady out of a cocktail glass by “sucking on a straw” as it empties. Pamina must act threatened by a pack of snarling dogs that Monostatos has tethered, straining on a leash. Tamino must “pop” heart balloons floating above his head with his pointed index finger just at the right time. All tricky stuff, admirable to behold. But here’s the thing:

The characters were never allowed to interact with each other or, more critically, with the audience. They were mostly required to stand stock still in a prescribed spot, and everything happened to them or around them, but not with them. Do we really want the Queen of the Night vocalist to be reduced to a disembodied head while the animation attached to that head bombards us with an overused image of an attacking spider? There was so much cute commotion of appearing children during Papageno and Papagena’s duet that Mr. Ott and Ms. Robillard could have had a sparkler in their teeth and we would have been hard pressed to notice them.

Consequently, these appealing characters were never allowed to bond with each other or the audience. This was not like the integrated animation of say, Mary Poppins, where the imagery was a clever party trick that enhanced the live characters. In this Flute (which, by the way had no flute at all!), I had the feeling the whole shebang could have been animated with these wonderful singers in the pit without much change in the experience. For the record, Esther Bialas’ stage and costume design were manic and colorful; Christopher J. Hetherington’s lighting design complemented (read: stayed out of the way of) the projections; and David Zimmerman’s wig and make-up design provided fanciful whimsy.

With the dialogue completely eliminated and the plot advanced by projected blunt silent movie exclamations, the humanity of Mozart’s masterpiece seemed limited to the level of a complicated video game, albeit with superlative background music. Remember the music? Remember when The Magic Flute had, well, a magic flute? Me, too. . .

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

The Magic Flute
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Emanuel Shikaneder

Tamino: Ben Bliss; Pamina: Rachel Sterrenberg; Queen of the Night: Olga Pudova; Sarastro/Speaker: Peixin Chen; Papageno: Jarrett Ott; Papagena: Ashley Robillard; Monostatos: Brenton Ryan; First Lady: Ashley Milanese; Second Lady: Siena Miller; Third Lady: Anastasiia Sidorova; First Armored Man: Roy Hage; Second Armored Man: Marcus Deloach; First Spirit: AJ Owens; Second Spirit: Damian Ferraro; Third Spirit: Patrick Corcoran; Conductor: David Charles Abell; Co-Directors: Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky; Production: Suzanne Andrade and Barry Kosky; Animation: Paul Barritt; Stage and Costume Design: Esther Bialas; Lighting Design: Christopher J. Hetherington; Wig and Make-up Design: David Zimmerman; Stage Director: Tobias Ribitzki

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):