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

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

27 Apr 2018

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.

Angel Blue in La Traviata

A review by Holly Harris

Above: Angel Blue as Violetta

Photos by R. Tinker

 

However rising American superstar soprano Angel Blue, notably marking her Canadian debut with Manitoba Opera from April 14th -20 th, 2018 also ensured that the timeless classic became a lesson in nobility and grace even against the dying of the light, as witnessed through the lens of her ill-fated heroine Violetta.

The 45-year old company closed its season with Giuseppe Verdi’s three-act masterpiece sung in Italian (with English surtitles), based on Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto, in turn inspired by Alexandre Dumas's play, La Dame aux Camélias. MO principal conductor Tyrone Paterson led the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra throughout the 19 th century composer’s iconic score with aplomb.

Last staged here in 2008, the 170-minute show (including two intermissions) directed by Montreal’s Alain Gauthier (MO debut) is notably the first offering co-produced by a consortium of five Canadian opera companies, including: MO, Edmonton Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, Vancouver Opera and L’Opéra de Montréal, with the (mostly) re-cast production slated for each of the five respective cities throughout next season.

MB-Opera,-La-Traviata,-Angel-Blue-(Violetta),-2018,-Photo---R.-Tinker.png

Typically set in the 1850s, this particular staging transports the story to 1920s Paris, with Violetta’s character, originally a courtesan dying of consumption, a.k.a. tuberculosis, inspired by real-life American cabaret dancer Josephine Baker, whose risqué performances lit up the “City of Light” during the Roaring Twenties.

However in the end, this noble premise ultimately becomes a moot point (albeit the decadent, art-deco sets and fringed flapper costumes created by Christina Poddubiuk, and built by Edmonton Opera and Pacific Opera Victoria, respectively, provide serious eye candy). Any allusion to Baker quickly slips away, with the Los Angeles-born Blue, a protégé of Placido Domingo praised by the New York Times as “the clear star” during her Metropolitan Opera debut as Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème last September (and also sings the lead character with Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company in April 2019), and performs Violetta during her Royal Opera House Covent Garden premiere in January 2019, firmly stamping this role as her own.

Her luscious vocals were immediately apparent as she made her first grand entrance down the sweeping, wrought iron staircase, bathing the ear in shimmering beauty while always perfectly controlled and consistent throughout her expansive range, including her knack for shading her uppermost notes to a barely-there pianissimo.

But Blue’s vocal gifts are matched equally by her innate acting skills, with her nuanced portrayal seemingly growing more luminous with each passing scene. She begins her emotional trajectory as a bon vivant who gaily sings of life’s pleasures, morphing before our eyes into a woman of honour who sacrifices her own happiness in the name of love.

MB-Opera,-La-Traviata,-2018,-Photo---R.-Tinker.png

Her delivery of opera’s quintessential ode to freedom, “ Sempre Libera” nearly stopped the show with her character growing more defiant, even punctuating her own vocal line by slamming her champagne bottle at one point, that provided fascinating sub-text. She capped her aria with an enthralling final high E-flat; made even more astounding when delivered lying nearly horizontal on her velvety chaise longue while swilling bubbly.

Another highlight – of many – came during Act III, in which her Violetta grows increasingly desperate as death whispers at the door. Her heartrending “Addio del passato,” sung while tenderly cradling her former cabaret bustier like a babe in arms, followed by a deeply moving duet “Partigi, o cara” sung with Newfoundland-born tenor Adam Luther’s Alfredo elicited sobs in the opening audience, as further testament of her empathic compassion for her character.

Luther in his MO debut also possesses magnetic stage power, as dashing as a matinée idol unafraid to dig into his role, crafted as a passionate hothead in love with Violetta. He also proved a real-life hero for soldiering on despite being under the weather on opening night (as announced from the stage after the first intermission), that nonetheless played havoc in his upper range during Act II’s “ De' miei bollenti spiriti...O mio rimorso,” and did not allow him to fully project at all times.

Despite these challenges, Luther still displayed buttery smooth phrasing in Act I’s “Un dì, felice, eterea" sung with Blue including ringing high notes, and it’s a credit to his artistry he can still sound so good when not at his vocal best. And in a curious, “life-imitates-art way,” his subdued vocals mirrored the dying Violetta’s faltering utterances, viscerally bonding their characters as organically, simpatico lovers.

Another standout proved to be Canadian baritone James Westman as Alfredo’s father Germont, with his booming voice immediately establishing his imperious character during Act II’s “ Di Provenza il mar, il suol,” as well as showcasing his resonant, expressive vocals. He then proceeded to peel back the emotional onion layers of his character, showing us he is not a villain, but hapless victim of societal norms and expectations, until finally wracked by remorse at the end as he realizes Violetta’s inner goodness.

The all-Canadian cast – save for Blue – also included Violetta’s faithful dresser Annina sung by mezzo-soprano Shannon Unger (MO debut), who made every moment of her relatively brief stage time count, as did tenor Michael Barrett’s Gastone and baritone Andrew Love’s eye-patched Baron Douphol, who squires Violetta to Flora (mezzo-soprano Barbara King, MO debut), and the Marquis d’Obigny’s (baritone Howard Rempel) party.

It’s a joy to see Winnipeg baritone David Watson back onstage – this time as Doctor Grenvil - who always adds gravitas whether performing comedic or tragic fare.

The 40-member Manitoba Opera Chorus proved in its usual fine fettle, prepared by chorus master Tadeusz Biernacki notably celebrating his 35th year with MO, including their rousing opening number, “ Libiamo ne’lieti calici,” popularly known as “The Drinking Song” sung with gusto.

Several curious directorial choices included having the female chorus members, garbed in their flapper finery, performing unison choreography that evoked more a country line-dance hootenanny than free-spirited gypsy twirls during Flora’s party scene. The women’s subsequent donning of bullhorns to their male counterparts’ puffed-up, machismo matadors (wearing crisp tuxedos) also just felt plain bizarre – with any presumed parallels attempted to being made between gay Parisian nightlife and life-and-death bullrings lost in translation. Designer Kevin Lamotte’s unusually dim lighting during this scene helped mitigate the oddness of it all, and once we got past this section, proved highly effective, including several stunning, stylized lighting effects highlighting Blue and her series of white costumes visually underscoring her character’s purity of heart.

Just as there is inherent risk involved when offering edgy new contemporary operas – and this company has been there, done that – there’s also peril when producing an audience-pleasing favourite that can teeter towards predictability. This production happily marries a fresh take with a more traditional approach, but in the end, it is Blue’s show – surely one of this generation’s great opera artists in the making - with Winnipeggers now able to proudly boast, “I saw her when.”

As expected, the artists received a standing ovation with loud cries of bravo and prolonged applause by the clearly moved crowd.

Holly Harris

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):