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

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

Agrippina at the Bavarian State Opera

And still they come. The opera world’s obsession with Handel’s operas shows no sign of abating. The Bavarian State Opera has, since Peter Jonas’s Intendancy, stood at the forefront of Handel staging; this new production of Agrippina was dedicated to him. As ever, I was pleased to see one of these operas for the first time in the theatre – how could I not be pleased to see almost anything in Munich’s wonderful Prinzregententheater – but again, as ever, I was left unable ever quite to put to one side the dramaturgical difficulties/problems/flaws/inadequacies. (Call them what you will.)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Daniela Mack (Isabella) and Jack Swanson (Lindoro) [Photo © Ken Howard]
05 Aug 2018

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

A review by James Sohre

Above: Daniela Mack (Isabella) and Jack Swanson (Lindoro)

Photos © Ken Howard

 

The original production directed by the late Edward Hastings with scenery designed by Robert Innes Hopkins and costumes by David C. Woolard has been well traveled (15 North American companies) since its acclaimed debut in 2002. Updated to 1920 or so, Mr. Hopkins has devised a pop-up of a set, with the large raised stage platform floor opening up to form a back wall and revealing a 3-D greeting card of a Moorish palace. Set pieces are similarly cleverly created by cast members magically unfolding them from the floor.

The visual delights were continued as Mr. Hopkins had a field day summoning up colorful “Algerian” attire that defined a political power structure with its wide variety of social stations. Elvira and Zulma were lavishly decked out in richly detailed harem dress. Only Isabella and “uncle” Taddeo were in period Italian dress, she as a sleek, independent aviatrix who crash-landed her plane (vice: arriving during a shipwreck) in an attempt to rescue her love, Lindoro from the imprisoning Bey.

Isabella’s bi-plane was an added character in the comedy, first appearing in miniature “flying” through the audience (held aloft by a stagehand on a stick) during the famous overture, disappearing behind a concessions stand, then reappearing on stage “flying” on wires in progressively larger versions, until it is clear it has struck land offstage. A life-sized model is revealed together with the title heroine during the introduction to Cruda sorte.

Algiers02.jpegCraig Verm (Haly) and Suzanne Hendrix (Zulma)

Daniela Mack has every bit the assured star presence needed to carry the show. From her opening aria to her last note, Ms. Mack lavished the role with virtuosic singing worthy of a grand tradition. The sparkling ease of her rapid-fire coloratura was characterized by a distinctive, glowing tone that was even from top to bottom.

If anything, the extremes of the writing liberated her to hurl fusillades of thrilling top notes, counter-balanced by persuasive, imposing chest tones. Moreover, the accomplished mezzo is a poised actress and cuts a beautiful, lanky figure as the strutting, self-assured pilot. No wonder Mustafa is attracted to her. We all are.

Jack Swanson (Lindoro) can be added to the short list of top tier Rossini tenors. His brilliant, focused lyric instrument has a captivating color, and his effortless execution of endless racing melismas was jaw dropping in its elan and artistry. Mr. Swanson is enthralling not only for his assured, stylish vocalizing but also for his amiable, boyishly handsome stage presence. He brought the house down with his first aria, capturing our hearts, and then came back for the rest of us with a wonderfully detailed interpretation. Watch this talented young man’s star rise rapidly in coming months.

Scott Conner is a refreshingly different Mustafa, his substantial, pointed bass eschewing the more usual blustery, fussing buffo take on the role. Mr. Conner has a pompous, insinuating presence and his insistent vocalizing brought great determination and depth to the character. His fleet-tongued patter was astounding in its accuracy and clarity. He was ably complemented by Patrick Carfizzi as Taddeo. Mr. Carfizzi has a substantial, mellifluous bass that shone splendidly in his Act II aria, which was a virtual feast of sonorous tone and characterful nattering. As a shameless, rubber-faced, loose-limbed comedian, Patrick also evinced some of the evening’s best laughs.

algiers03.jpegScott Conner (Mustafa) and Craig Verm (Haly)

Giving him close competition, Craig Verm clearly relished his hijinks (and low jinks) as a highly excitable Haly. Mr. Verm is possessed of one of the finest, most mellifluous baritones of his generation and his pronouncements rang out with great presence in the house. His generous rendition of Haly’s aria was one of the evening’s many highlights. But he is also not afraid of coloring his fine voice in service of the comedy and his obvious enjoyment of his assignment is infectious.

Apprentice Stacey Geyer more than held her own among this stellar group, her polished, glistening soprano sailing above the staff with an easy beauty. As her confidante Zulma, Suzanne Hendricks had a wicked sense of fun, and revealed an accomplished, substantial mezzo with a luscious sheen.

Corrado Rovaris reigned supreme in the pit, leading a fizzy, propulsive, idiomatic reading that found the responsive orchestra in fine form. Maestro Rovaris found a good balance between breathless patter and sustained phrases, and ensured the all-important Rossini crescendo effects were served up with a rising tension and increasing excitement. If his gusto occasionally challenged his singers’ breakneck elocution, the effect was that it galvanized them to pick up the gauntlet, and the high energy result was exhilarating.

I did not see Mr. Hastings’ fondly remembered original production, but I can attest that Shawna Lucey has staged an endlessly varied, wildly inventive, flat out rib-tickling rendition that capitalizes on the strengths of the original concept. The comic business was character specific and well executed. I might have done without the trickery that the telegrams Mustafa was typing turned out to be anachronistic tweets. Ditto the overlord putting his name all over the buildings. And posing for a photograph with a lion he shot. And damn if I didn’t laugh at it all!

Ms. Lucey has not only done fine, illuminating work with the solos and small ensembles, but most remarkably she has peopled the stage with interesting groupings and interaction from the entire cast. Susanne Sheston’s chorus goes from strength to strength this summer, and they not only sang with rousing accuracy, but also threw themselves into the staging.

Several of the best massed numbers required great personal investment from each and every person on stage. The Act I finale espoused three times as much energy as any dance number in Mamma Mia! and with far better music. If you didn’t bop along in your seat as the entire cast uninhibitedly busted moves as they shimmied and boogaloo’d and twerked and jerked, well, you must have been at the wrong address.

In a festival where we have seen the tragedy of a geisha, the test of a nuclear bomb, a sardonic sampling of Voltaire’s cynicism, and a “dramedy” that pointedly pontificates the value of high art over entertainment, it is perhaps fateful that I ended my time in Santa Fe with a mightily classy form of amusement.

L’Italiana in Algieri sets out to entertain, albeit with first class musical values in service of a masterful score, and entertain it does. We don’t have to choose. We can simultaneously have high art “and” belly laughs.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Elvira: Stacey Geyer; Zulma: Suzanne Hendrix: Mustafa: Scott Conner; Haly: Carig Verm; Lindoro: Jack Swanson; Isabella: Daniela Mack; Taddeo: Patrick Carfizzi; Conductor: Corrado Rovaris; Director: Shawna Lucey; Set Design: Robert Innes Hopkins; Costume Design: David C. Woolard; Lighting Design: Duane Schuler; Chorus Master: Susanne Sheston; Original Production: Edward Hastings

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):