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

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

O18 Lucia
24 Sep 2018

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

Lucia di Lammermoor, Opera Philadelphia Festival

A review by James Sohre

Above: The wedding guests catch Lucia (soprano Brenda Rae) as she collapses.

Photo credit: Kelly & Massa

 

As the more “traditional” offering in the O18 Festival, director Laurent Pelly has nonetheless helmed a potent, uniquely stylized staging of this perennial favorite with a decidedly sinister underbelly. With more contemporary resonance than is comfortable, Pelly emphasizes the subjugation of Lucia, forced into a politically expedient marriage by a mentally and physically abusive brother.

Lucia’s squirm-inducing confrontation with Enrico, followed by the lying, emotional manipulation by Raimondo portend her descent into madness with brutal clarity. This Lucia is visibly troubled from the outset, and Pelly/Rae have developed a physical manifestation for the girl that makes us fear for her well-being, long before the wedding.

BR Lucia.jpgLucia (soprano Brenda Rae) re-emerges at the wedding festivities, covered in Arturo’s blood. Photo Credit: Kelly & Massa.

The luminous soprano Brenda Rae was a Donizettian’s dream, singing with poised limpid tone, savvy musical execution, and flawless coloratura. This was an utterly perfect match of artist to role. I was already convinced that no one is singing this famously difficult part better when I saw her do it in Santa Fe last summer. But unlike that flaccid staging, Pelly and Rae have collaborated to realize a staggering theatrical portrayal to match its musical eloquence.

Ms. Rae’s hapless heroine is afflicted with alarming physical tics, a slight stoop to the side, uncontrollable pumping of the fists and arms, as if fending off physical violence such as is visited upon her in her duet with her brother. Her consistency in maintaining this physicality was a motivic visual, informing us of how relentlessly her brother must brutalize her. It also inexorably builds in intensity after her unwarranted rejection by Edgardo, and her forced wedding to another patriarchal bully, Arturo. “That” she is going to snap is certain, even if “when” is not. It is to the great credit of all concerned that this thrice familiar story throbbed with emotional spontaneity.

Brenda Rae is a wonder in this repertoire. Her attractive lyric instrument has good bite and power, and she never needs to push to make her effects. Her intelligent delivery of the text invests each phrase with truth and empathy, and her unerring sense of line is a joy to hear. Florid passages are not only technically flawless but also theatrically vital. Her alluring tone is even from top to bottom, and her stage demeanor exudes star quality. There is no finer Lucia in her generation of young singers.

I am also an admirer of tenor Michael Spyres, his solid, rolling tenor possessed of uncommon beauty and vitality. Mr. Spyres has all the goods to succeed in the notoriously daunting role of Edgardo. He has an enviably good extension at the top of the staff, and if one or two of the highest reaches were slightly veiled, he knows just how to use his gifts, and knit them together to make a splendid impression. He has also gained in stage presence since last I saw him, presenting a dramatic persona that had an engaging natural ease.

Spyres Edgardo.jpgMichael Spyres as Edgardo. Photo Credit: Kelly & Massa.

As Raimondo, Christian Van Horn’s very first portentous utterance announced: “Star bass!” This lanky singer not only cuts a handsome figure but also sings with laser-focused, persuasive intensity. Already hailed as a prodigiously promising talent, on the basis of this overwhelming performance, I would say the promise has been fulfilled. The excellent baritone Troy Cook has such a self-centered character to portray as Enrico, and he immerses himself into it with such convitcion, it is almost hard to stop hating him long enough to realize he is singing superbly. Mr. Cook’s buzzy, responsive baritone is a thing of great beauty, with a rock solid technique, thrilling in the exposed climaxes.

The minor roles were cast from equal strength. Andrew Owens’ bright, steady tenor made the most of Arturo’s brief assignment; tenor Adrian Kramer was a suitably brash presence as Normanno, his solid vocalizing having a hint of baritonal richness; and Hannah Ludwig’s Alisa was served by an unusually plummy, opulent mezzo that made an especially notable contribution to the famous sextet. Elizabeth Braden’s exceptional chorus not only sang with stylish elan, but also executed the complicated staging with aplomb.

Corrado Rovaris knows his way around every note of this atmospheric score, and he paced the show with stylistic acumen. Maestro Rovaris has a keen sense of theatre and he flawlessly partners the orchestra with the singers, ebbing and flowing as they live the drama together. The ardent vitality in the pit supports the unfolding tragedy with a characterful presence.

Chantal Thomas is a frequent collaborator with Mr. Pelly, often with playful, jocose set designs. On this occasion Ms. Thomas has crafted an eerie, almost spectral look, setting the tale first on a set of foreboding snow-covered hills, with a non-descript stage high structure stage right that loomed with foreboding. After a moody lighted cabin appears behind the cloud-filled scrim during Regnava nell silenzio, the up right edifice revolves to form the basis of the homestead, with more and more scrim-and-skeletal-frame walls flying in, always cutting off Lucia and forcing her forward, eventually onto the apron.

In a brilliant decision, Mr. Pelly plays the wedding scene cramped onto that forward space, blocking by the inch, and reinforcing the fact that Lucia is fatally trapped in a familial web. The Wolf’s Crag scene opens Act Two in a desolate ruin that recollects the squarish structure that opened Act One. The main hall of Lucia’s madness is a startling coup de theatre, a massive solid red wall, cut high up with arrow slits, and dressed with a single wonky row of akimbo black chairs. A red carpet lines the hill from the massive doorway to the forestage. Masterful.

The show began with an hallucination, with Lucia appearing in her wedding dress atop the largest hill, only to recede as huntsmen peopled the scene. At the end, the male chorus returned to the hill to observe Edgardo’s demise as the snow took up again. Throughout, poor Lucia’s wandering faculties were underscored with startling touches. For example, Edgardo exits upstage in an overcoat during the love duet, leaving Lucia in a down right position, then reappears in shirtsleeves to complete her imagined version of the “happy ending” of the duet, now bathed in a surreal light. In her climactic cabaletta, Lucia climbs to stand, tottering on a chair. After she releases her final high note, her cry of death, she falls into a mosh pit of choristers who hoist her aloft into a blazing special, a bloodied white flower in a sea of oppression.

The hauntingly effective lighting design was by the always commendable Duane Schuler. Mr. Pelly served as his own costume designer and his muted, texture suits, overcoats, and court wear were handsomely stolid. David Zimmerman’s hair and make-up designs were effectively austere and there were even surreal streaks of primitive facial marks in one scene if my eyes did not deceive me.

I have seen many another accomplished production of this showpiece in my day, but none other quite gripped me by the collar and never let go like this one. O18’s Lucia di Lammermoor is a nonpareil melding of engrossing theatre and stunning music.

James Sohre

Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia: Brenda Rae; Enrico: Troy Cook; Edgardo: Michael Spyres; Raimondo: Christian Van Horn; Arturo: Andrew Owens; Normanno: Adrian Kramer; Alisa: Hannah Ludwig; Conductor: Corrado Rovaris; Director and Costume Design: Laurent Pelly; Set Design: Chantal Thomas; Lighting Design: Duane Schuler; Wig and Make-up Design; David Zimmerman; Chorus Master: Elizabeth Braden

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):