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

Photo © Utah Opera/Dana Sohm
28 Jan 2018

Utah’s New Moby Dick Sets Sail

It is cause for celebration that Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s epic Moby Dick has been realized in a handsome new physical production by Utah Opera.

Utah’s New Moby Dick Sets Sail

A review by James Sohre

Photos © Utah Opera/Dana Sohm

 

The original premier’s set design by Robert Brill seemed to me not only definitive, but almost inextricable from the work’s success. Problem is that only the largest, most solvent companies could accommodate its demands.

The new, streamlined version on display in Salt Lake City not only keeps all of the fluid changes and atmospheric background for the monumental story, but actually also improves the stature of the work. With fewer eye-catching bells and whistles in the visuals, the ear is freed to pay closer attention to the bells and whistles in the score, and I was surprised how much richer I found Mr. Heggie’s accomplishment to be. More on the success of the design will follow.

I wholly admired the original conception, but on this occasion I came to believe this is the composer’s finest work to date. The score is wonderfully colored; the sea effects are sometimes lulling, sometimes wrenching; vocal writing is grateful and characterful; and the imposing, monumental, goose bump-inducing orchestral and choral writing that sweeps listeners along to the shattering climax are effectively balanced with moments of camaraderie and infectious humor.

UtahOpera_1801-7982.png

Conductor Joseph Mechavich displayed equal flair for both the rhapsodic and intimate extremes in this varied score, and he shaped the evening’s musical arc with a firmly controlled reading. It helps that he has a seasoned ensemble of players under his baton, playing with a polish and unity of purpose that comes from having full-time employment as an orchestra. This fine band is one of the few in America that are employed 52 weeks a year and that approach pays big dividends in musical quality and cohesiveness.

Maestro Mechavich is aided mightily by Michaella Calzaretta’s superb choral preparation. Her large chorus was flawless in tonal beauty, dramatic engagement, and clarity of diction, even when performing busy stage movement. The musical excellence carried over to the principal singers who proved a top tier collective of singing actors.

Roger Honeywell doesn’t so much sing the role of Captain Ahab as inhabit it. Mr. Honeywell prides himself on being a committed actor first, and a suave vocalist second. In many of my memorable experiences viewing his performances, he has struck a bargain and offered tonal beauty and theatrical fire in equal measure. In this role assumption, Roger tilts the scale decidedly to the dramatic side, coloring his substantial, heroic tenor with ire, fanaticism and fateful determination.

While this makes for chilling dramatic effects, there are times that the voice turns hard, or even a mite unsteady. I have no doubt that this is his intent. His anguished, raspy moans as he dozes, are emitted with a huskiness of vocal production that would send most singers into apoplexy. But there is no question that Roger Honeywell, with his perfect diction and total emotional investment anchored (pun intended) the show.

As Starbuck, the strapping baritone David Adam Moore threatened to run off with the vocal honors. His beautiful, easily produced tone was even throughout the range, and his sensitive phrasing and dramatic understanding made a most appealing case for this sympathetic character. He found his equal in Joshua Dennis’ polished, mellifluously sung Greenhorn. Mr. Dennis’ well-schooled lyric tenor is not exceptionally large, but it is so well focused, and so limpidly produced that he made a resounding impression. He also embodied real pathos in his moving final scene.

Musa Ngqungwana brought a winning persona and orotund, rolling bass-baritone to the exotic character Queequeg. He not only impressed with his distinctive solo moments, but also made solid contributions in his touching duets with Mr. Dennis’ Greenhorn. Indeed the two created a magical, infectious relationship that was most appealing, and the major subplot in the story.

UtahOpera_1801-8049.png

Joseph Gaines turned in his usual high quality performance as Flask, marked by a well-defined characterization, a good sense of fun, and a securely deployed tenor. His buddy, Stubb was enthusiastically impersonated by Craig Irvin, who showed off a shining, meaty baritone that was steady even as he was called upon to simultaneously do a sprightly jig. Indeed both Mssrs. Gaines and Irvin were delightfully fleet of foot in their animated performances.

The sole female voice, serving the role of the boy Pip, was the vibrant soprano Jasmine Habersham. The diminutive performer was suitably juvenile and her well-controlled, silvery tone had an alluring presence. Perhaps her voice is too “womanly” to utterly convince as the hapless lad, but this was an impressive role assumption, delivered with fierce commitment. Jesús Vicente Murillo did admirable double duty as Captain Gardiner and a Spanish Sailor; Babatunde Akinboboye made the most of his stage time as Daggoo; and the role of Tashtego was well-served by Keanu Aiono-Netzler. Anthony Buck was the firmly intoned Nantucket Sailor.

As impressive as all of these demonstrably fine singers were singly, they were most remarkable for their impressive ensemble work, thanks to inspired direction from Kristine McIntyre. Ms. McIntyre thrives on large cast extravaganzas, managing to move masses of singers meaningfully about the playing space, all the while effectively focusing attention on solo moments as required. She crafted richly detailed character relationships, and seemed to effortlessly manufacture one telling stage picture after another.

Having recently marveled at her Billy Budd at Des Moines Metro Opera, I am wondering if she is entering the nautical phase of her career? What’s next Kristine? Pinafore? Dutchman? I would sail well out of my way to see anything this talented director undertakes. She is especially adept at synchronized gestures, steps, and percussive effects, and there were many potent passages of unison group movement, with effective choreography incorporated by Daniel Charon.

Set designer Erhard Rom is celebrated not only for his artistic gifts but also for mounting attractive multiple sets with economy of means. His evocative, practical solutions here are praiseworthy indeed. Mr. Rom has borrowed a page from Wieland Wagner and placed a disc/platform center stage. Decorated with what suggests a compass, it spins to create multiple effects, with stairs, sleeping cubicles, and even a prow.

A large totem of a mast, with a perilous looking crow’s nest dominates the visuals dead center. The backdrop looks like someone took an old nautical map and subjected it to an imaginative paper cutting. The resulting silhouette with its swooping dip in the top center and large panoramic “window” suggests a colosseum. It turns out that opening can be closed by four separate panels, a device masterfully used in various combinations.

Mr. Rom meets the other requirements of varying locations by adding or subtracting furniture, angular insets flown in and out, and simple set pieces like the whaling boat. The grand drape not only sets the mood with its depiction of turbulent waves but is used for a startlingly good effect near opera’s end.

UtahOpera_1801-8383.png

Lighting Designer Marcus Dilliard has provided one superb effect after another, from an azure starry sky to the fiery glow below deck to the mottled light of late afternoon to a gathering storm to a stylized whale hunt. Mr. Dilliard’s general washes always create just the right ambience, and his use of tightly focused areas and specials was highly proficient. Jessica Jahn’s spot-on costume design and Yancy J. Quick’s comprehensive wig and make-up design completed the look by so ably defining the characters and their stations.

The one important moment neither the original design nor this one fully mastered was the critical climactic moment of Ahab’s fateful confrontation with the whale. Rom, McIntyre, Dilliard and company have definitely come very very close. I will not spoil the surprise but I can say a truly menacing suggestion of the killer whale comes about in a surprising fashion. Ahab is suitably terrified, the music churns, the tension builds inexorably and then. . .the scenery takes an easy way out.

Still, this was such a stunning achievement full of so many memorable components, that it is easy to predict this winningly re-imagined Moby Dick will have a long and full run on national and world stages.

James Sohre

Cast and production information:

Captain Ahab: Roger Honeywell; Greenhorn: Joshua Dennis; Starbuck: David Adam Moore; Queequeg: Musa Ngqungwana; Flask: Joseph Gaines; Stubb: Craig Irvin; Pip: Jasmine Habersham; Captain Gardiner/Spanish Sailor: Jesús Vicente Murillo; Daggoo: Babatunde Akinboboye; Tashtego: Keanu Aiono-Netzler; Nantucket Sailor: Anthony Buck; Conductor: Joseph Mechavich; Director: Kristine McIntyre; Set Design: Erhard Rom; Costume Design: Jessica Jahn; Lighting Design: Marcus Dilliard; Choreographer: Daniel Charon; Wig and Make-up Design: Yancey J. Quick; Chorus Master: Michaella Calzaretta

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):