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

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

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.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

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

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rebecca Davis as Konstanze [Photo by Pat Kirk]
20 Sep 2018

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

Opera San Jose kicked off its 35th anniversary season with a delectably effervescent production of their first-ever mounting of Mozart’s youthful opus, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

OSJ: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Harem

A review by James Sohre

Above: Rebecca Davis as Konstanze [Photo by Pat Kirk]

 

This is an extremely tricky piece to pull off in 2019, a comedy that is about holding women against their will with the hopeful expectation of romantic capitulation. Factor in the East (Muslims) versus West (Christians) undertones and well. . . anyone see the possible contemporary pitfalls here? Happily, the gifted director Michael Shell essayed the challenges, and effectively trod a fine line between a somewhat “battle of the sexes” take on the comedy and a commendably honest appraisal of two differing sets of cultural mores.

Mr. Shell has coaxed his superior cast to find the heart of their characters, to avoid off-putting stereotypes, and to embody complex, conflicted human beings. The humor is derived from well-intended, honestly motivated mismatching rather than the underlying misogyny. The latter is certainly found in the piece, but the director commendably uses it as cultural background, not a #MeToo statement, allowing the audience to draw its own conclusion.


 

Knowing that the serious moments of reflection will play better contrasted to a light touch elsewhere, Michael discovers every moment he can to conjure up humor with playful stage business, scrappy physical confrontations, and a tongue in cheek nod to the absurdity of the premise. The well-judged, fluid blocking resulted in stage pictures that morphed spontaneously into attractive tableaus. In the end, the cumulative effect of Shell’s direction, resulting in the believable benevolence of Pasha Selim forgave whatever hijinks may have come before.

That the denouement worked so affectingly was largely owing to Nathan Stark’s star turn as Selim. Never mind that Mr. Stark has one of the finest voices in the business, he doesn’t sing a note in this one! Ah, but what he does have in abundance is star quality. And comic sensibilities. He has a way of making self-absorbed characters appealingly unaware of their ridiculous pomposity. And Nathan has a charisma that can fill out a potentially one-dimensional personage to ingratiate himself not only to an audience, but to other characters on stage. I don’t have to go out on much of a limb to say that Nathan Stark is the most enjoyable Pasha Selim of my experience. He is in great company with the superb cast of singers who DO sing.

Constanze is an Everest of a role, written by young Wolfgang with arguably more abandon than consistently good vocal sense. It has daunted many a practitioner, not least of which the great Joan Sutherland who famously withdrew from a new Met production being mounted especially for her because she just couldn’t get it in her voice. On this occasion, the role held no fear for the highly accomplished soprano Rebecca Davis, whose limpid, often fluty singing was not only beautifully judged but also uncannily even in production.

Ms. Davis was in complete charge of a performance that included fiery, accurate coloratura pyrotechnics, jaw-dropping ease shifting registers, heartfelt outpourings of love for Belmonte, and heartbreaking protestations to Selim. This was one of those rare Constanze traversals that perfectly matched artist with role, a bravura achievement.

Matthew Grills was a totally commendable Belmonte. A light-voiced tenor who has also performed Pedrillo, Mr. Grills has a honeyed sound that can indeed also encompass the meatier demands of Belmonte’s heroic music, especially in a house the size of the California Theatre, which is very congenial to young lyric singers. His fluid phrasing and pulsating, arching sense of line ably informed the role, and his assured rendition of Ich baue ganz for once left us wanting more.

Ashraf Sewailam was anything but the usual caricature as a handsome, determined Osmin. Mr. Sewailam has all the rumbling low notes in order as he must relentlessly drill below the staff (youthful Wolfgang again!), but in the mid and upper range his burly bass blooms with compelling beauty. When Osmin does need to stutter or bluster, Ashraf is up to the momentary bouts with low (pun intended) comedy. He pulls of the neat trick of being sympathetic because his Osmin utterly clueless that he is somewhat despicable.

Completing the cast, Katrina Galka was a pert, silver-toned Blonde. Part hellion, part Gloria Steinem, part Kewpie doll, the attractive Ms. Galka’s enjoyably animated antics were a perfect balance to Constanze’s comparatively sedate presence. Moreover, Katrina has a sound technique, innate musicality, and ravishing soprano that delights the ears and touches the heart. Michael Dailey was a strapping, handsome Pedrillo that was quite pleasantly cast against the usual type. No second banana he, Mr. Dailey’s well-schooled, appealing tenor had substantial body and he deployed it winningly in crafting a character the held his own in this gifted cast. Andrew Whitfield’s full-throated chorus completed the ensemble.

George Manahan conducted a knowing reading in the pit, one that admirably relaxed into a stylish interpretation after just a bit of stiffness in the opening instrumental pages. Maestro Manahan has a fine understanding of the pace and arc of the piece, and his instrumentalists responded with a polished panache. The instances of transparent ensemble and solo passages were especially revelatory.

Opera San Jose can be counted on to produce accomplished physical productions and this was no exception. Set designer Steven Kemp’s lavish, richly detailed Moorish structures and plentitude of flora elicited well-deserved gasps and bursts of applause. Not to be outdone, Ulises Alcala dazzled the eye with a diverse array of colorful Turkish garb balanced by more sedate, well-tailored Western travel clothes. Pamela Z. Gray’s diverse, responsive lighting design was notable not only for its rich washes and area lighting, but also for abruptly highlighting sudden asides by Pasha and almost immediately restoring. Christina Martin’s accomplished make-up and wig design was a notable contribution, especially her visual transformation of Mr. Stark into Pasha Selim.

This interpretation found the dialogue performed in English with the vocals all performed in German, seeming just a bit artistically schizophrenic. I know there is a history of such practice (Fledermaus, anyone?) but for my money, pick one and stick to it. Never you mind, the opening night audience had more than plenty to cheer, and cheer they did. The conviviality and festive atmosphere spilled over well into the evening with a lively 35th opening night party.

For the company’s Mozart enthusiasts who clamored for The Abduction from the Seraglio to finally join the roster, this polished, ebullient performance surely proved worth the wait.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Konstanze: Rebecca Davis; Blonde: Katrina Galka: Belmonte; Matthew Grills; Osmin: Ashraf Sewailam; Pedrillo: Michael Dailey; Pasha Selim: Nathan Stark; Conductor: George Manahan; Director: Michael Shell; Set Design: Steven Kemp; Costume Design: Ulises Alcala; Lighting Design: Pamila Z. Gray; Wigs/Makeup Design: Christina Martin; Chorus Master: Andrew Whitfield

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):