Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

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):