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

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mariusz Kwiecień, Marina Rebeka, and Matthew Polenza [Photo by Andrew Cioffi]
06 Jan 2018

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Mariusz Kwiecień, Marina Rebeka, and Matthew Polenza [Photo © Andrew Cioffi]

 

The male lead characters Zurga and Nadir are sung by Mariusz Kwiecień and Matthew Polenzani. Leïla, the woman whom both men have sworn to forget, is Marina Rebeka. Nourabad, the high priest of Brahma, is sung by Andrea Silvestrelli. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is led by its music director, Sir Andrew Davis; the Lyric Opera Chorus is prepared by its chorus master, Michael Black. This production originated at San Diego Opera with sets and costumes by Zandra Rhodes, lighting by Ron Vodicka, and choreography by John Malashock and Michael Mizerany. Ms. Rhodes and Messrs. Malashock and Mizerany make their debuts at Lyric Opera of Chicago with these performances of The Pearl Fishers.

Before the start of the opera, a scrim covering the stage depicts graphically the fishers of pearls positioned on stilts and rendered in pastel shades suggesting a temperate climate. During the overture, marked by sensuous playing of strings and woodwinds, the scrim has raised allowing supernumeraries to indicate diving motions in the undulating band of simulated waters. The male chorus representing pearl fishers sings of their activities while dancers carry out spirited movements positioned in front of wildly colorful trees. All are interrupted by Zurga’s reminder of the current necessity to choose a leader with Mr. Kwiecień’s especially resonant description on “qui nous protège” (“one who will protect us”). Scarcely has Zurga accepted their acclamation as leader when Nadir returns from the wild. Mr. Polenzani initiates his reconciliation to Zurga and the others with excited pitches describing his encounters in the forest. Once the desire to remain is understood, Kwiecień urges Nadir with an optimistic rising intonation at “saluons le soleil” (“let us greet the sun”). Only when the chorus of fishermen retreats to leave the protagonists alone together can they recall frankly their previous discord. Both men offer to set aside rival emotions directed toward the same woman when Kwiecień declares “Mon coeur a banni sa folie.” (“My heart has banished its madness”) with a deep emotional pitch on the final word. Polenzani’s response introduces excellent, sustained legato phrasing when describing the final shared journey “aux portes de Candi” (“up to the gates of Candi”). Despite their reconciliation, these memories stir up past emotions, ultimately laying the foundation of the opera’s central conflict. Neither man has erased his attraction to the woman who is designated as “la déesse” in their subsequent lyrical display. This well-known duet, immediately following the scene and pledge of friendship, begins here softly as an evocation of individual, then shared memories. The sensory recollections for Kwiecień, “Je crois la voir encore” (“I can still see her”), and for Polenzani, “La foule … murmure tout bas” (“the crowd murmurs under its breath”), are declaimed with moving sensitivity. For both singers during the beautifully shaped duet a clear tension is sustained between oaths of fraternal loyalty and the varied repetition of “Oui, c’est elle, c’est la déesse” (“Yes, it is she, it is the goddess”). As if a premonition of the subsequent scene, a woman is visible during their singing, moving through the simulated water at stage rear.

Andrea-Silvestrelli_Marina-Rebeka_THE-PEARL-FISHERS_LYR171115b_0464_c.Todd-Rosenberg.pngAndrea Silvestrelli and Marina Rebeka [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]

Once the duet concludes, Zurga notes the approach of a narrow vessel carrying a veiled, unknown woman. As newly elected leader Zurga’s excited announcement, underlined by Kwiecień’s legato assurances on “nous protège” (“protects us”), stirs up the choral response of the pearl fishers. Leïla is carried onto the stage, while positioned on a sedan chair; she answers affirmatively the requisite questions concerning chastity and purpose. Ms. Rebeka’s simple, pure enunciations of the repeated, “Je le jure!” (“I promise”) are subsequently altered to incorporate emotional decoration when she sees Nadir. After such mutual recognition the two following musical numbers of Act One are both reflections on love and celebrations of intimate communication. In his romance, “Je crois entendre encore” (“I think I can still hear”), Nadir remains alone in front of the exotic trees which gradually darken in color. In this production such visual effect corresponds to the lyrics, “caché sous les palmiers” (“hidden beneath the palm trees”), as a description of the lush nocturnal scene in which he once heard Leïla’s song. Polenzani’s voice caresses the syllables of his lyrical panegyric to the priestess, the “espace” into which her song disappears being here declaimed with an illustrative diminuendo. Decorated with head tones on repetitions of “ivresse” (“elation”) and piano emphasis on “nuit enchanteresse” (“bewitching night”) Polenzani evokes the striking memory of Leïla, which has never left his heart.

At the start of the finale Nourabad gives instruction to Leïla before she commences her prayer to Brahma with the intention of protecting the pearl fishers. Leïla’s prayer, as echoed by the chorus, is marked at first with Rebeka’s decorative melismas and subtle piano touches. Once Nadir awakens and declares, “Dieu, c’est elle!” (“God, it is she!”) Rebeka responds with excited, varying emphases after her lines of recognition, “Il est là …je chante pour toi” (“He is here …. I sing for you”). With a flood of trilled and further embellished top notes her assurances to Nadir conclude the act with anticipation.

In the opening scene of Act Two attendants strewing flower-petals among the cushions set up the sleeping chamber of Leïla. Nourabad’s instructions encourage the priestess for her night of watchful prayer. Before he leaves, Leïla relates the story of a fugitive who sought refuge in her childhood home. Despite threats of physical harm, she maintained silence and enabled the stranger’s escape. Rebeka relates this memory with dramatic, full top notes on “il est sauvé” (“he was saved”) and “prends cette chaîne” (“take this necklace”) in describing the fate of the stranger and the demonstrated gratitude of his gift. After Nourabad’s final warning and departure, Leïla confesses in her cavatina “Comme autrefois” (“As it once was”) that she senses the nearness of Nadir. Rebeka embellishes increasingly the line starting with “mon cœur devine sa présence” (“my heart feels his presence”), just as she settles into the cushions among the flower petals; her final repeat of “comme autrefois” adds a flourish to conclude the aria with gentle trills and a final diminuendo. The following solo for oboe, played here ravishingly as Leïla reclines, seems to function as her emotions leading Nadir into the chamber. In their dramatic duet Leïla seeks to resist while assuming a posture of prayer. Rebeka’s voice blooms again as she confesses her attraction and memories of their past together [“Ainsi, que toi, je me souviens” (“I remember, as well as you”)]. Scarcely have they promised to meet again at nightfall, when a storm prompts Nadir to flee. Nourabad’s return exposes their secret and forbidden meeting, which is chillingly cursed by Silvestrelli as a blasphemous desecration. Once both Nadir and Leïla are detained and held captive before the threatening populace, Zurga appears to pronounce judgement. In his authoritative declamation, “Arrêtez! C’est à moi d’ordonner de leur sort! (“Stop! It is up to me to decide their fate!”), Kwiecień introduces decorative pitches to suggest hope for the transgressors. When he learns that the priestess is Leïla, this tone changes to fury as both are cursed and led away in bamboo cages.

The friendship, so prominent in Act One yet shattered in Act Two, becomes the focus of Zurga’s introspective aria at the start of the final act. In his accelerating repetition of “O Nadir,” Kwiecień’s voices passes from dramatic to tenderly lyrical color, as he expresses regret for having submitted to a “folle rage” (“blind rage”) in condemning his friend. In the conclusion of the aria Zurga includes Leïla in his supplication of forgiveness, with near-tenor top pitches decorating the line “Pardonnez aux transports d’un cœur irrité (“forgive the passion of an angry heart!”). In the following scene and duet between Zurga and Leïla, Rebeka’s insistent tone, expressed here with remarkable legato and extended pitches, causes Zurga to descend again to passionate anger. At the climax of their duet, the soprano line “Va, cruel” (“Take it, cruel man”) is here embellished with runs emphasizing her confident stance, so that Kwiecień’s Zurga cannot contain his “fureur.” Since he refuses to consider pity, Leïla faces her death with stoic beauty. Rebeka finishes the line, “Pour moi s’ouvre le ciel!” (“The heavens open up before me”), indicating her readiness with a piano top note. As Leïla is led away, she entrusts to a villager the necklace given her by the stranger whom she had saved long ago. When Zurga, as that stranger, realizes that he owes his life to Leïla, he experiences an apotheosis.

In the concluding scene beginning with a series of ballets, the dancers wear imaginatively designed heads of animals emphasizing the natural desire for vengeance. At Leïla’s entrance Rebeka shows even greater vocal determination; she then joins Nadir in his cage to face death. Zurga’s ultimate self-sacrifice becomes apparent when the villagers mistakenly perceive the light of dawn. The fire set to their dwellings by Zurga causes the villagers, instead, to scatter in fear and allow the escape of Nadir and Leïla. The final repetition of the friendship duet— now performed appropriately as a trio combining off- and onstage singing—echoes as Zurga is shot and left to die as punishment. At the close of the final scene in this production the tension of raw emotion and serene forgiveness was released by a cast that can scarcely be bettered in today’s world of opera.

Salvatore Calomino

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):