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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

'Aspects of Love': Jakub Józef Orliński at Wigmore Hall

Boretti, Predieri, Conti, Matteis, Orlandini, Mattheson: masters of the Baroque? Yes, if this recital by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is anything by which to judge.

Otello at Covent Garden: superb singing defies Warner’s uneven production

I have seen productions of Verdi’s Otello which have been revolutionary, even subversive. I have now seen one which is the complete antithesis of that.

Solomon’s Knot: Charpentier - A Christmas Oratorio

When Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned from Rome to Paris in 1669 or 1670, he found a musical culture in his native city that was beginning to reject the Italian style, which he had spent several years studying with the Jesuit composer Giacomo Carissimi, in favour of a new national style of music.

A Baroque Odyssey: 40 Years of Les Arts Florissants

In 1979, the Franco-American harpsichordist and conductor, William Christie, founded an early music ensemble, naming it Les Arts Florissants, after a short opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

Miracle on Ninth Avenue

Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday classic, Amahl and the Night Visitors, was the first recorded opera I ever heard. Each Christmas Eve, while decorating the tree, our family sang along with the (still unmatched) original cast version. We knew the recording by heart, right down to the nicks in the LP. Ever since, no matter what the setting or the quality of a performance, I cannot get through it without tearing up.

Detlev Glanert: Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch (UK premiere)

It is perhaps not surprising that the Hamburg-born composer Detlev Glanert should count Hans Werner Henze as one of the formative influences on his work - he did, after all, study with him between 1984 to 1988.

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):