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

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alexandra LoBianco (Aida). Jacob Lucas photo
21 May 2018

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

A review by Roger Downey

Above: Alexandra LoBianco (Aida). [Photo by Jacob Lucas]

 

Despite all that, the production was greeted with general applause from audience and critics alike as a sensitive and thoughtful updating of Verdi’s 1871 grand opera. (Read my Opera Today colleague James Sohre’s review here .)

What a difference four years can make. The Zambello Aïda which opened in San Francisco in 2016 was graced by the same kind of multi-culty, anti-violence program notes that accompanied Glimmerglass’s. But the ideological edge had vanished. True, Radamès gave a Fascist salute at the climax of the Triumphal scene; but that edgy moment had vanished by the time the show arrived at the Kennedy Center last year.

Further softenings ensued before touch-down in Seattle: what we saw wouldn’t have troubled a 1950 audience, apart from the absence of elephants.

2018_SO_Aida_JL_240.pngElena Gabouri (Amneris) and Daniel Sumegi (Ramfis). [Photo by Jacob Lucas]

War and its agonies had been pretty much painted over, rendering Verdi’s stuffy but memorable opera as anodyne as a Midwestern Christian college musical: at the cost, granted, of depriving it of any dramatic impact at all.

That left us with half a dozen of Verdi’s most memorable tunes to occupy us for three and a half hours. We were diverted (or not) strictly to the extent the performers were capable of overcoming the incoherence of the staging and the faint but pervasive aroma of bad faith.

Most prepossessing of the Saturday evening cast I saw was David Pomeroy as Radamès. His voice is not particularly beautiful or powerful, but his stamina convinces one he could go on popping off ringing high As and Bs all night, and his youthful, open demeanor earns necessary sympathy for one of the most clueless heroes in the whole repertory.

Alfred Walker scored points for his dignity and dramatic declamation as the heroine’s prisoner father Amonasro. The same goes for bass Daniel Sumegi as the high priest Ramfis, towering over everybody else like the very incarnation of high dudgeon.

2018_SO_Aida_JL_245.pngAlexandra LoBianco (Aida) and David Pomeroy (Radamès). [Photo by Jacob Lucas]

As the title character Alexandra Lobianco sang the tender music of acts three and four with sweetness and warmth; in the first two acts, she was inaudible whenever the orchestra rose above mezzo piano. Burdened with silent-movie heroine make-up and blocking which kept her hovering timidly on the edge of the action, she seemed feebleness personified. It seemed impossible that fierce divas like Leontyne Price and Birgit Nilsson could have achieved fame in such a mousy role.

No such doubt could be felt in Elena Gabouri’s Amneris, Aïda’s rival for the hero’s love. Amneris is a severly conflicted woman; Gabouri made her a thoroughly disagreeable one as well. Her first appearance, marching around Egyptian military HQ and blaring with bad temper, set the tone for her whole performance.

John Fiore appears to be a “singer’s friend” type of opera conductor, giving telegraphic cues and pacing generously, at the cost of dramatic tension Jessica Lang’s choreography, most prominent in the Triumphal scene, is pretty, graceful, and cloying.

“Cloy” doesn’t cover the substitution of a covey of red-beret-wearing Cub Scouts for the libretto’s dancing Moorish slave-boys. They also feature in the climax of the Triumphal scene, along with a blizzard of gilded-vinyl confetti. Cute kids and confetti: that’s what I’ll remember from this production. Whatever the political incorrectness of Verdi’s original, it didn’t deserve this.

Roger Downey


Cast and production information:

Ramfis: Daniel Sumegi; Radames: David Pomeroy; Amneris: Elena Gabouri; Aida: Alexandra Lobianco; King: Clayton Brainerd; Messenger: Eric Neuville; High Priestess: Marcy Stonikas; Amonasro: Alfred Walker; Stage Director: E. Lauren Meeker, after the original staging by Francesca Zambello; Set Design: Michael Yeargen; Projections hangings, set pieces: RETNA (Marquis Duriel Lewis); Costumes: Anita Yavich; Lighting Design: Mark McCullough and Peter W. Mitchell; Choreographer: Jessica Lang; Chorus Master: John Keene. Seattle Opera Orchestra, John Fiore, conductor.

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):