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

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

<em>Turandot</em> at San Diego Opera
02 Mar 2018

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

A review by James Sohre

Above: Soprano Lise Lindstrom (Turandot)

Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson

 

Lise Lindstrom has been performing her signature title role in all of the world’s leading houses and it is easy to see why she is in demand. Ms. Lindstrom has all the stamina, range, and vocal quality required to succeed in this fiendishly difficult “sing.” Her searing upper range is steady and full without ever becoming acidic. Her low and middle ranges have a round, warm appeal that help humanize the icy princess to a certain degree.

Lise is also a lovely presence on the stage, dramatically committed and exuding an unerring musicality. That the voice still sounds fresh and free after so many outings with this punishing part (and others) attests to her rock solid technique. That she still communicates spontaneity and truthfulness in her portrayal attests to her intelligent artistry. I’m not Guinness, but I am guessing that the diva is setting a world record with her career totals of singing this part.

She was well matched by the solid tenor Carl Tanner. The role of Calaf in general and the aria Nessun dorma in particular are weighted with the baggage of expectations. Corelli, Carreras, Del Monaco, Domingo and most especially Pavarotti scored legendary successes in the role. Luciano’s famed rendition of the aria was nearly inescapable in its popularity. Mr. Tanner (who has performed the part over 100 times) makes the part his own sporting a sturdy, engaging instrument that is even throughout the range.

While his voice has considerable weight, he can soar above the staff with skill and an easy power. He embodies all the pathos required inNon piangero Liu, and checks all the blocks with an assured Nessun dorma. If he doesn’t have quite the final Italianate ping and sheen we are accustomed to, his knowing portrayal is nonetheless immensely affecting.

Tanner Calaf.jpg Tenor Carl Tanner (Calaf). Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

As can happen, Liu threatens to run away with the show. Part of the reason is that she is the only sympathetic character in this oft troublesome piece of writing. But she still has to deliver the goods and in a role debut, the buoyantly appealing Angel Joy Blue does all that and more. Ms. Blue has an uncommonly alluring spinto soprano, limpid and secure, and she knows just how to caress a phrase and touch the soul. Her two famous arias are served up with heartfelt investment in every utterance, and her floated high notes were particularly ravishing.

Brian Kontes offered a notably well sung Timur. Mr. Kontes has a rolling, charismatic bass with dusky overtones and wonderfully weighted presence. He found every inch of measured pathos in a part that sometimes gets short shrift. His assured stage presence made a substantial contribution to the evening’s success.

Brian Kontes Timur.jpgBass Brian Kontes (Timur). Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

Ping, Pang and Pong were enthusiastically embodied by respectively, Marco Nistico; Joseph Gaines, and Joel Sorenson. Mr. Nistico’s Ping was warm-voiced and stylistically secure, although his substantial baritone sometimes seemed a bit covered in the upper middle. Mr. Gaines, as Pang, showed off his well-schooled, poised tenor all the while investing the part with his usual animation and dramatic commitment. Pong was well taken by Mr. Sorenson, who has a lean, shining tenor that admirably rounded out the trio.

While the three meshed beautifully as a team, at times functioning like a manic Commedia troupe, they found fully-realized, personalized characterizations. Their introspective yearnings for home in the Act II opening scene, were spell-binding in their melancholy and vocal beauty. Rounding out the cast, Chad Frisque’s plaintive, steady tenor made a good impression as the Emperor, and Scott Sikon’s stentorian bass-baritone made the most of the Mandarin’s declamations. Bruce Stasyna’s well-tutored chorus proved a powerful presence and their nuanced vocalizing was another potent element in the night’s musical arsenal.

Ping Pang Pong SD.jpgTenor Joseph Gaines (Pang), tenor Joel Sorensen (Pong) and baritone Marco Nistico (Ping). Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

In the pit, conductor Valerio Galli whipped up a rousing reading , delighting in the detailed, angular chinoiserie, and eliciting a fine sense of ensemble that fully supported the singers without ever once overwhelming them. Maestro Galli’s winning grasp of the verismo style was evident throughout, and he ably coaxed and encouraged the talented orchestra to cover itself in glory.

The physical production was all one could wish. Allen Charles Klein has used a huge, snaking Chinese dragon as the basis for his set design and it was a strikingly effective solution. Mr. Klein borrowed a page from Wieland Wagner and has a large raked disc center stage, from which steps of circles spill downstage and to the sides, creating other playing spaces. With the addition of steps up to a higher stage right platform (for Altoum), and steps to an upturned “claw” that reaches right, giving us a wonderful playing space that offers plenty of levels. At one point a giant crystal ball is being held by said “claw.” A gong unit cleverly descends from the flies on cue.

Although this is the basis for the design, it never feels like a unit set. In Act One, grids of oversized, criss-crossed pick up sticks frame the action. Act Two begins with a black scrim isolating part of the downstage “discs” which become the library for the ministers of state, with the simple addition of chests/desks that contain their scholarly scrolls. For Act III, a mid-stage foliage-like arch hovers over the stage, obscuring the basic structure until the re-entrance of the full cast for the climax.

San Diego scene from Turandot.jpgScene from San Diego Opera’s Turandot. Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz Johnson.

All of this was made to look atmospheric and sumptuous thank to the vibrant, well-judged lighting design from Lucas Krech. Mr. Krech calibrated a full palette of color washes, created good area definition, and utilized effective isolated specials to marvelous effect. The transition from the ominous bluish night of fear and threats, to the dawn of love and absolution was particularly striking. Willa Kim’s colorful, lavish costumes were a visual delight. Ms. Kim manages to dazzle the eye even while dressing the commoners in rich earth tones befitting their station. Steven W. Bryant’s skillful wig and make-up design completed the total success of the physical production.

Keturah Stickann has staged the epic with care and imagination. There are long stretches of massed ensemble singing, and Ms. Stickann manages to move the traffic to ever more interesting groupings and stage pictures. She makes excellent use of the levels to suggest the shifting power between the principles.

Although Puccini and his librettists have not given a wealth of detailed background to the characters (Calaf is especially undefined if tuneful), this director has worked with her cast to provide as much specificity as possible, while creating believable character relationships. Keturah has found a wealth of humor in the lively antics of the ministers, and created a truly moving moment after Liu’s suicide. I won’t completely give it away but it evokes a sort of touching “walk to paradise garden.”

This commendable production does exactly what any fine rendition must do: maximize the substantial musical excellences and successfully distract from the vagueness of characters’ individual emotional journeys. As the rafters rattled with some pretty thrilling singing, you knew you were at the right address.

It is hard to believe that a company capable of such a top tier assemblage of internationally acclaimed talent almost slipped from the opera scene two years ago. I hope that that problem is firmly behind SDO, since there is decidedly no problem with high quality of the product.

James Sohre

Puccini: Turandot

Mandarin: Scott Sikon; Liu: Angel Joy Blue; Calaf: Carl Tanner; Timur: Brian Kontes; Ping: Marco Nistico; Pang: Joseph Gaines; Pong: Joel Sorenson; Emperor Altoum: Chad Frisque; Princess Turandot: Lise Lindstrom; Prince of Persia: Felipe Prado; Handmaidens: Sarabeth Belon, Caroline Nelms; Conductor: Valerio Galli; Director: Keturah Stickann; Set Design: Allen Charles Klein; Costume Design: Willa Kim; Lighting Design: Lucas Krech; Wig and Make-up Design: Steven W. Bryant; Chorus Master: Bruce Stasyna.

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):