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 Reviews

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Sep 2018

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

Blythely After Hours: Opera Philadelphia

A review by James Sohre

Above: Stephanie Blythe as Blythely Oratonio

 

Subtitled as “The Ring Cycle of drag, tenors, and rock & roll, unfolding over three different nights,” I saw only the first, and was sated by the time Blythely After Hours came to a close with We Are the Champions sung in an Italian translation by Corrado Rovaris.

Starring one of the great operatic mezzos of our day, Stephanie Blythe uncompromisingly adapted the guise of star “tenor,” Blythely Oratonio. “He” begins the night singing upstage, back to us, intoning Pavarotti’s signature aria, Nessun dorma, in thundering chest tones, arms semaphoring, succeeding after a fashion, but somewhat hampered by initially tinny miking. (Daniel Perelstein’s sound design thereafter settled in to a good mix.)

When Mr. Oratonio finally turned to face us on the applause, “he” looked like Baba the Turk had wandered in from another opera. And it made me realize how much rather I would be hearing the mezzo in that or any other real opera role. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Blythe, er um, I mean Mr. Blythely can sing the phone book with artistry and compelling delivery. And while she-as-he never slums stylistically essaying the copious pop material, neither does the performer ever quite consistently come into her own. For all her confident showmanship, the evening simply did not show off the magnificent richness of Stephanie Blythe’s potent instrument, with the insistent chest voice sharply pointed without turning over into her warm, womanly, not tenorly coloring.

To her great credit, the diva seems to be having a great time, one moment the complete esthete, another calculatedly vulgar, always engaged, ever energized to entertain us, and the vast majority of the audience was eating it up. Operatic tradition put-downs: big laugh. Singers’ ego disses: ha ha ha. Mezzo singing Vesti la giubba alternating with Send in the Clowns: how does she change gears like that?

Everyone did their level best to enliven and sustain the 90-minute goof. Rachel Camp (Bey) and Rob Tucker (Linda) were willing accomplices. A group of acolytes dubbed the Merepeople sang and cavorted gamely: Dane Allison, Messapotamia Lefae, Kathryn Raines, Bobby “Fabulous” Goodrich. Two of them chirped some agreeable interjected measures of the Flower Duet. Best of all, the vivacious guest star Brenda Rae wandered in to shuck her fur coat down to her bloody white Lucia gown, accompany herself on a Tori Amos song, and then sing counterpoint to Oratonio’s Faithfully with an operatically soaring The Winner Takes It All. A second guest appearance by Justin Vivian Bond was less assured, with a cue card having to be provided for her to get through her number.

Curiously for a festival that is top tier in every way, that sort of stumble occurred a couple times in the evening, with gentle prompts having to be provided to get things back on track. Indeed, the whole enterprise seemed to have the aura of a somewhat (intended?) slapdash, wee hours drag show. At the piano, the talented Daniel Kazemi provided excellent musical leadership and very satisfying arrangements. When he took off his suit jacket to reveal a leather vest and some toned biceps, the ripple through the audience told me exactly the hedonism and chicanery most were here for.

The inventive director John Jarboe mostly kept things moving at a good clip, and while the material he wrote (in tandem with the two stars) was a little loosey goosey, the pace at least was forward-looking, and he kept us from spending too long dwelling on one beat. Machine Dazzle’s costume and production was suitably Tacky Chic, and Drew Billiau lit the show with color and imagination.

Personally, in a slightly overlong evening of flimsy, jokey, pop material, I was hoping for more Blythe and less Blythely, more emphasis on her incomparable voice than her over-the-top assumed “persona.” That said, there are probably many satisfied customers who intend to come back to be similarly subjected to the second and third installments of the series: Fauréplay with Martha Graham Cracker, and Dito & Aeneas: Two Queens, One Night. As for me, Blythely After Hours was a good enough chuckle but I think for the moment I am queened out. . .

James Sohre

Queens of the Night, Blythely After Hours

Blythely Oratonio: Stephanie Blythe; Bey: Rachel Camp; Linda: Rob Tucker; Guest stars: Brenda Rae, Justin Vivian Bond; Merepeople: Dane Allison, Messapotamia Lefae, Kathryn Raines, Bobby “Fabulous” Goodrich; Writer/Director: John Jarboe; Music Direction/Arrangements: Daniel Kazemi; Costume/Production Design: Machine Dazzle; Lighting Design: Drew Billau; Sound Design: Daniel Perelstein

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):