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

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.

Down in flames: Berlioz's 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.

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

28 Sep 2018

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.

Roberto Devereux San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Sondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta I [All photos copyright Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

 

Donizetti traversed these sordid histories in 8 years (from 1830-1838). It took San Francisco Opera 13 years (Joan Sutherland as Maria Stuarda in 1971, Monserrat Caballé as Elizabeth I in 1978, and Joan Sutherland as Anna Bolena in 1984). Of course a couple of years ago the mighty Met managed to mount the whole bloody history in a few mere months.

This is opera history and Donizetti’s queens are opera history, rather history according to opera. There is no question which history is more real and true — crumbling parchment documents and a few words etched in stone from long ago or the delicate intimacies and huge tantrums that flew off the War Memorial stage last night at the final (of six) performances of Roberto Devereux. Donizetti’s bel canto miraculously achieved the Apollonian ideal — raw emotion absorbed into high art.

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky portrayed history’s most terrifying queen in terrifying intricacies of voice, high d’s surreally emerging from nowhere to cap thrilling ascents of tortured lines, then other moments of descending lines, stepwise and sorrowfully slow. La Radvanovsky’s Elizabeth is terrifying, a persona of monumental presence, of absolute authority terrorised by love, a persona that is fully aware of her regal power, exuding the pleasure of executing astonishingly difficult vocalism, and surely of holding the 3000 spectators in the War Memorial in her thrall.

And a persona willing to fully suffer the torment of losing those she most loves, Roberto Devereux whom she blindly loves and the woman Devereux loves, her confident Sara.

Devereux_SF2.pngRussell Thomas as Devereux, Jamie Barton as Sara

Elizabeth is hardly the only one to suffer. Sara’s husband, the Duke of Nottingham is Devereux’s best friend who must reconcile his love for and trust of his wife with his love and respect for his friend. Sara must reconcile her love for the queen with being her rival for Devereux’s love, and Devereux must reconcile his political and blatant personal betrayals of absolutely everyone with himself. So there is a lot to sing about.

And sing and suffer they do. After three hours of trying no one reconciled much of anything, to our very great pleasure. It was indeed an evening of bel canto! Italian conductor Riccardo Frizza established an unwavering dramatic pace that drove the betrayals and at the same time offered the protagonists all freedom to expand each moment of elation or despair and all gradations of joy and suffering in between. It was an all-too-rare conductorial achievement in parsing the emotional machinations of this difficult repertoire.

The voices of the protagonists were carefully matched. The all American cast was in prime vocal condition, and musical preparation was stylistically consistent. All voices were indeed beautiful, befitting the essence of bel canto. If the Radvanovsky sound is magisterial, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Sara added the freshness of voice of a young woman in love. Tenor Russel Thomas as Roberto Devereux produces a limpid yet lush tenor sound throughout his full register, including its stratospheric tenorino reaches. In such company Adler Fellow Andrew Manea as the Duke of Nottingham strangely was not over parted. If his youth was obvious, his authority of presence, his command of style and use of his quite beautiful voice were formidable.

Devereux_SF3.pngSondra Radvanovsky as Elisabetta in final scene

The well traveled production by British director Stephen Lawless belongs to Canadian Opera. Mr. Lawless took his cue from Donizetti’s quote of “God Save the Queen” in the overture to attempt to create levity, if not caricature of opera history. The surround was the galleries an Elizabethan theater indicating, I suppose, that we need not assume what we saw happen on the center stage acting platform was true or real, that it was, after all, only opera. There was a multitude of cute staging tricks that tried to keep us distanced from the distraught, often overwrought protagonists. They did not. We suffered.

That the production is not distinguished was of little importance to this evening. Mme. Radvanovsky grounded the production in high bel canto style that easily overcame all directorial conceits. This unique artist had the support of a well qualified cast. With Maestro Frizza we, right along with this distinguished cast, enjoyed a splendid evening of opera history.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Elisabetta: Sondra Radvanovsky; Roberto Devereux: Russell Thomas; Lord Cecil: Amitai Pati; Sir Walter Raleigh: Christian Pursell; Sara: Damie Barton; A page: Ben Brady; Duke of Nottingham: Andrew Manea; Nottingham’s servant: Igor Vieira. Chorus and Orchestra of San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Riccardo Frizza; Director: Stephen Laless; Set Designer: Benoit Dugardyn; Costume Designer: Ingeborg Bernerth; Lighting Designer: Christopher Akerlind. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, September 27, 2018

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):