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 Performances

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Isouard's Cinderella: Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square

A good fairy-tale sweeps us away on a magic carpet while never letting us forget that for all the enchanting transformations, beneath the sorcery lie essential truths.

A Winterreise both familiar and revelatory: Ian Bostridge and Thomas Adès at Wigmore Hall

‘“Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” the wanderer asks. If the answer were to be a “yes”, then the crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again. This could explore a notion of eternal recurrence: we are trapped in the endless repetition of this existential lament.’

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2018

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, given during last weekend, was both a tribute to the many facets of opera and a preview of what lies ahead in the upcoming repertoire season.

Dorothea Röschmann at Wigmore Hall: songs by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms

One should not judge a performance by its audience, but spying Mitsuko Uchida in the audience is unlikely ever to prove a negative sign. It certainly did not here, in a wonderfully involving recital of songs by Schumannn, Wolf, and Brahms from Dorothea Röschmann and Malcolm Martineau.

The Path of Life: Ilker Arcayürek sings Schubert at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall’s BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert 2018-19 series opened this week with a journey along The Path of Life as illustrated by the songs of Schubert, and it offered a rare chance to hear the composer’s long, and long-germinating, setting of Johann Baptist Mayrhofer’s philosophical rumination, ‘Einsamkeit’ - an extended eulogy to loneliness which Schubert described, in a letter of 1822, as the best thing he had done, “mein Bestes, was ich gemacht habe”.

Heine through Song: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau open a new Wigmore Hall season

The BBC Proms have now gone into hibernation until July 2019. But, as the hearty patriotic strains rang out over South Kensington on Saturday evening, in Westminster the somewhat gentler, but no less emotive, flame of nineteenth-century lied was re-lit at Wigmore Hall, as baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Malcolm Martineau opened the Hall’s 2018-19 season with a recital comprising song settings of texts by Heinrich Heine.

Prom 74: Handel's Theodora

“One of the most insufferable prigs in a literature.” Handel scholar Winton Dean’s dismissal of Theodora, the eponymous heroine of Handel’s 1749 oratorio, may well have been shared by many among his contemporary audience.

Landmark Productions and Irish National Opera present The Second Violinist

Renaissance madrigals and twentieth-century social media don’t at first seem likely bed-fellows. However, Martin - the protagonist of The Second Violinist, a new opera by composer Donnacha Dennehy and librettist Enda Walsh - is, like the late sixteenth-century composer, Carlo Gesualdo, an artist with homicidal tendencies. And, Dennehy and Walsh bring music, madness and murder together in a Nordic noir thriller that has more than a touch of Stringbergian psychological anxiety, analysis and antagonism.

The Rake's Progress: British Youth Opera

The cautionary tale which W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman fashioned for Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 opera, The Rake’s Progress - recounting the downward course of an archetypal libertine from the faux fulfilment of matrimonial and monetary dreams to the grim reality of madness and death - was, of course, an elaboration of William Hogarth’s 1733 series of eight engravings.

Prom 71: John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique play Berlioz

Having recently recorded the role of Dido in Berlioz' Les Troyens on Warner Classics, there was genuine excitement at the prospect of hearing Joyce DiDonato performing Dido's death scene live at the BBC Proms. She joined John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for an all-Berlioz Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 5 September 2018. As well as the scene from Les Troyens, DiDonato sang La mort de Cleopatre and the orchestra performed the overture Le Corsaire and The Royal Hunt and Storm from Les Troyens, and were joined by viola player Antoine Tamestit for Harold in Italy.

ENO Studio Live: Paul Bunyan

“A telegram, a telegram,/ A telegram from Hollywood./ Inkslinger is the name; And I think that the news is good.” The Western Union Boy’s missive, delivered to Johnny Inkslinger in the closing moments of 1941 ‘choral operetta’ Paul Bunyan and directly connecting the American Dream with success in Tinseltown, may have echoed an offer that Benjamin Britten himself received, for the composer had written expectantly to Wulff Scherchen on 7th February 1939, ‘(((Shshshsssh … I may have an offer from Holywood [sic] for a film, but don’t say a word))).’ Ten days later he wrote again: ‘Hollywood seems a bit nearer - I’ve got an interview with the Producer on Monday’.

Young audience embraces Die Zauberflöte at Dutch National Opera

The Dutch National Opera season opens officially on the 7th of September with a third run of Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, an unqualified success at its 2012 premiere. Last Tuesday, however, an audience aged between sixteen and thirty-five got to see a preview of this co-production with English National Opera and the Aix-en-Provence Festival.

Prom 67: The Boston Symphony Orchestra play Mahler’s Third

Mahler and I, at least in the concert hall, parted company over a decade ago - and with his Third Symphony it has been an even longer abandonment, fifteen years. Reviewing can nurture great love for music; but it can also become so obsessive for a single composer it can make one profoundly unresponsive to their music. This was my tragedy with Mahler.

A Landmark Revival of Sullivan's Haddon Hall

With The Gondoliers of 1889, the main period of Arthur Sullivan's celebrated collaboration with W. S. Gilbert came to an end, and with it the golden age of British operetta. Sullivan was accordingly at liberty to compose more serious and emotional operas, as he had long desired, and turned first to the moribund tradition of "Grand Opera" with Ivanhoe (1891).

Die Meistersinger at Bayreuth

Famously, controversy is the stuff of Bayreuth, be it artistic, philosophic or political. As well occasionally a Bayreuth production can simply be illuminating, as is the Barrie Kosky production of Wagner’s only comedy, Die Meistersinger.

The BBC Proms visit Ally Pally

On 25th March 1875, Gilbert & Sullivan’s one-act operetta, Trial by Jury, opened at the Royalty Theatre on Dean Street, in Soho. 131 performances and considerable critical acclaim followed, and it out-ran is companion piece, Offenbach’s La Périchole.

Prom 64: Verdi’s Requiem

“The power of sound” wrote Joseph Conrad, “has always been greater than the power of sense.” Verdi’s towering Requiem is all about the power of sound, not least because of all the great sacred works this is the one that least obviously seems sacred when you hear it.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jonas Hacker (Prince) and Vanessa Becerra (Cinderella) [Photo by Bob Shomler]
22 Dec 2017

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

A review by James Sohre

Above: Jonas Hacker (Prince) and Vanessa Becerra (Cinderella)

Photos by Bob Shomler]

 

This was a stunning achievement from one so young, and announces a prodigious talent has entered the world of opera. The mere fact that Miss Deutscher has the concentration and skill to not only craft a two-and-a-half hour stage piece, but also to score it effectively for a full orchestra is nothing less than astonishing.

Ms. Deutscher has a fine ear for melody, although at this stage in her development, musical ideas are on the pleasantly generic, if tuneful side. Still, there was plenty of invention in the overlapping phrases in the duets and ensembles, and she has a real innate skill for comic invention. Vocal writing was grateful, and orchestral colors were richly layered, only lacking that final measure of detailed solo opportunities that might provide more musical commentary and depth.

Alma has absorbed many influences in her young life and they are readily apparent in this score: a bit of Wagner here, Rossini there, now Lehar, then Strauss (both of them). Indeed, with its light-hearted tone and copious dialogue, this felt at times like the best new operetta of 1895. While Cinderella is far too skillfully constructed to label it derivative, the composer is nonetheless currently speaking through a fresh pastiche of other composers’ voices. It will be intriguing to follow her development as she now matures and develops her own voice.

The young miss is also an accomplished keyboardist and violinist and while she performed nobly at select moments in the show, these extraneous passages seemed to me a somewhat cloying interruption. That said, the story of her youthful achievement has emphatically captured the public imagination, and the producers were perhaps wise to capitalize on it and give her max exposure since it resulted in added performances and SRO attendance.

177c_6320s.pngFull cast, with Vanessa Becerra as Cinderella, and Jonas Hacker as Prince in foreground center. (Note, composer Alma Deutscher is in shot, performing organ on stage.)

If the “Alma Deutscher Experience” was the leading reason for the successful run, the second most extraordinary achievement was the musical execution, starting with a nonpareil cast of some of the country’s best singers. Vanessa Becerra was perfection in the title role, her silvery, secure soprano by turns radiant and touching. Ms. Becerra has such a warm, engaging presence that when she beams your heart leaps, and when she laments, your heart breaks. Vanessa’s extended, sorrowful scena late in Act I was ravishingly sung and deeply moving. This aria is the best, most emotionally specific writing of the evening, and this talented singer made the most of the opportunity.

Jonas Hacker’s sweetly appealing, freely produced lyric tenor was a fine complement to his co-star, with his slight, boyishly appealing stature proving very sympathetic. Nathan Stark not only brought his richly resounding bass to his portrayal of the aging King, but also unleashed an inventive barrage of comic business to the mix. As the over-taxed Minister, Brian Myer was Mr. Stark’s willing cohort in the comic antics, and the duo kept the audience rapt with attention. Curiously, while Mr. Myer is a winning baritone, well loved by the San Jose public, on this occasion he sang not one solo note! Never mind, Brian is one of the best actors in opera today and his Minister is another memorable portrayal.

The luxury casting continued with the spiteful stepfamily. Mary Dunleavy made hay with the mean-spirited Stepmother, offering such suavely spirited vocalizing and committed acting that we rejoiced that this celebrated Violetta Valery brought so much alluring, polished singing to this secondary role. It is fascinating that Stacey Tappan (Griselda) and Karen Mushegain (Zibaldona) could sing so beautifully while chewing mouthfuls of scenery as the stepsisters. While they conveyed unrestrained comic abandon, every piece of business was meticulously calculated. Moreover, Ms. Tappan’s crystalline, poised soprano, and Ms. Mushegain’s robust, shining mezzo were delectable to experience singly or in tandem.

As Emiline, Claudia Chapa is first seen in disguise as a beggar woman, then turns out to be the fairy godmother figure. Her first phrases did not seem to lie comfortably for her, with ascending figures that repeatedly bridged the break. Happily, Ms. Chapa came into her own in the finale of Act I, when her earthy, distinctive mezzo first caressed lush passages, then at last roared and soared. Alma’s sister Helena Deutscher had a scene stealing turn as a flower girl at the wedding. Andrew Whitfield’s well-schooled chorus performed admirably.

Continuing the incredible roster of major practitioners, internationally renowned conductor Jane Glover led a sensitive, responsive performance in the pit. Maestra Glover clearly relished the material and the sense of “occasion,” and her sure baton drew magical results from even the more naïve portions of the score.

The physical production was easily the most lavish I have yet experienced in San Jose. Steven Kemp’s sumptuous scenery was a riot of color and invention. Whether a backstage view of an opera auditorium, a coolly atmospheric forest of birches, the king’s handsome chambers, or the ornate ballroom with a massive, movable staircase, this was a triumphant use of the relatively limited stage space. Just when you thought the visual feast was over, the curtain rose on the final scene to reveal an imposing, stained glass windowed chapel replete with choir stalls and organ.

Matching Mr. Kemp’s over-the-top sets, costumer Johann Stegmeir seems to have been spared no expense in creating admirably detailed attire. Opulent court attire was rife with pastel and cream hues; pre-ball Cinderella, the disguised Prince, and the beggar woman were clothed in mostly earth-toned, roughly textured fabrics; the step-sisters were tastefully garish; and Stepmom was given an eye-popping red ball gown. No detail was overlooked, including well-considered footwear and characterful wigs. David Lee Cuthbert lit the proceedings with consummate skill, and his well-integrated projections were effectively complementary.

Director Brad Dalton devised effective stage pictures, practiced cleverly varied stage movement, and had the characters interact with broad clarity of purpose that carried to the top tier. He managed to not only enliven the proceedings, but also successfully kept the pace going in a rather-too-long evening. At this point in her acclaim, I am not sure how receptive Ms. Deutscher (and her family) are to having a seasoned eye shape the piece further, but there are opportunities to trim and focus that could make this charming first success be even more engaging.

At the end of the day, the total package of a young talent’s sensational burst to prominence, and a buoyant production of the highest professional standard combined to make this the once-in-a-lifetime opera-going event that had audiences standing and cheering. The Packard Humanities Institute and Opera San Jose should be justifiably proud of their achievement in presenting this high profile English language and US premiere.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Cinderella: Vanessa Becerra; Prince: Jonas Hacker; King: Nathan Stark; Griselda: Stacey Tappan; Zibaldona: Karin Mushegain; Stepmother: Mary Dunleavy; Emeline: Claudia Chapa; Minister: Brian Myer; Flower Girl: Helena Deutscher; Conductor: Jane Glover; Director: Brad Dalton; Set Design: Steven Kemp; Costume Design: Johann Stegmeir; Lighting and Projection Design: David Lee Cuthbert; Dance Director: Richard Powers; Chorus Master: Andrew Whitfield

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):