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

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock (Maria) and baritone Paul La Rosa (El Payador) [Photo by Karli Cadel]
10 Feb 2018

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

Astor Piazzolla: Maria de Buenos Aires

A review by James Sohre

Above: Mezzo-soprano Audrey Babcock (Maria) and baritone Paul La Rosa (El Payador)

Photos by Karli Cadel

 

This dramatically intense production fairly exploded off the intimate stage of the Lyceum Theatre, and its slight thrust proved a congenial playing space for this highly personal character study.

The titular character of Maria is a streetwalker, born to public squalor (as the script says) “one day when God was drunk … with a curse in her voice.” She embraces the alluring beat and sinuous melody of the tango, however her “fatal passion” prompts the ire of other street denizens who kill her. Maria, now pregnant after death, descends into a murky Purgatory where she is challenged by spectral visitors who torment her soul. Eventually, she returns to the haunt the sordid streets of Buenos Aires as a spirit (Shadow Maria) and give birth to a new young Maria (which may be her own self).

If the libretto sounds more knotty than naughty, director-choreographer John de los Santos has embraced the macabre imagery and dramatic non-sequiturs and devised a richly varied, vividly theatrical, high energy staging that swept us along in willing abandon. His total belief in the scattering of images and intertwining of subplots allowed us to suspend our disbelief, making satisfying order out of the chaotic jumble of religious artifacts, rituals, skulls, masks and metaphors.

KarliCadel-SDOpera-MariaBuenosAires-8990.png(L-R) Baritone Bernardo Bermuda, bass Walter DuMelle, and tenor Rodolfo Ruiz-Velasco (male ensemble)

Mr. de los Santos is ably supported by his accomplished design team. Liliana Duque Piñeiro has crafted multi-purpose scenery, replete with gritty texturing, that can be turned, moved and unfolded like a morbid oversized retabla. Lighting designer Jason Bieber has effectively lit the proceedings with brooding, sultry illumination that achieves the dual effect of being by turns gaily colorful and soberly suffocating. Ingrid Helton’s inspired costumes ran the gamut from homely peasant wear to fantastical tribal wear, making full use of an orgy of color and patterns

The overwhelming element that makes all of this disjointed story-telling not just comprehensible but ingratiating is the masterful score. Conductor Bruce Stasyna led an assured reading, full of color and undulating fire. He not only coaxed beautifully authentic ensemble playing from his accomplished ensemble, but also allowed the skilled bandoneon, piano, and guitar soloists all the room they needed to perfume the instrumentation with a heady individuality.

Having seen this piece in two different incarnations, I have come to the belief that it does not really take a trained opera singer to succeed in the title role. The lovely Audrey Babcock immersed herself in the part, proving to be dramatically compelling. Her list of credits in the program documents that she has had national success in major traditional singing roles. The range of Maria seems to lie mostly in chest voice, and Ms. Babcock certainly sings with polish and assurance. The other interpreter I saw did the same. But I wonder if a young, unabashed outright belter might not bring even more zing to the mix. That said, Audrey was a riveting stage presence and anchored the show.

KarliCadel-SDOpera-MariaBuenosAires-9309.png(L-R) Soprano Sarabeth Belon (ensemble), mezzo-soprano Sandra Camarena (ensemble), actor Celeste Lanuza (seated, El Duende), and mezzo-soprano Laura Bueno (ensemble)

As her sometime lover, El Payador, strapping and handsome Paul La Rosa sings with a burnished, throbbing tone of considerable beauty, and earns his Barihunk credentials in a steamy bedroom encounter with Maria. El Duende is an impish character that drives the narrative. Diminutive actress Celeste Lanuza gives quite a tour de force traversal of the role, morphing easily from one mischievous, meddling, scolding personage to another.

The excellent chorus meticulously executed some of the score’s trickiest passages, chanting in irregular rhythms, coloring vocal solos with dramatic variety, and switching back and forth effortlessly to portray a panoply of characters of wildly differing stations. The ensemble included Laura Bueno, Sarabeth Belon, Bernardo Bermudez, Sandra Camarena; Walter DuMelle, and Rodolfo Ruiz-Velasco. The appealing twin dancers Laurence Gonzalez and Lester Gonzalez (of California Ballet) added immeasurably to the evening, especially in their featured turn as tango-dancing skeletons (I am not making this up!).

I heartily commend San Diego Opera for such a daring and artistically satisfying fresh new production, which, if the sold-out houses are any indication, is generating new audiences for the operatic art form.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Maria: Audrey Babcock; El Payador: Paul La Rosa; El Duende: Celeste Lanuza; Ensemble: Laura Bueno, Sarabeth Belon, Bernardo Bermudez, Sandra Camarena; Walter DuMelle, Rodolfo Ruiz-Velasco; Dancers: Laurence Gonzalez, Lester Gonzalez; Conductor: Bruce Stasyna; Director: John de los Santos. Set Design: Liliana Duque Piñeiro; Costume Design: Ingrid Helton; Lighting Design: Jason Bieber.

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):