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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from <em>Caruso a Cuba</em> [Photo © Monika Rittershaus]
04 Mar 2019

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Scene from Caruso a Cuba

Photos © Monika Rittershaus

 

With 19th century Italian opera tunes flowing into Afro-Cuban percussion and chromatic free falls, there is never a dull moment in this fictionalized account of tenor Enrico Caruso’s 1920 visit to Cuba. It has meaty roles for the lead singers too. Regrettably, its world premiere at Amsterdam’s annual Opera Forward Festival was hobbled with a confusing staging that made it hard to keep track of plot, location and minor characters.

Hamel also wrote the Italian libretto, inspired by a novel by the Cuban-Puerto Rican writer Mayra Montero, available in English as The Messenger. When a bomb goes off at a theatre in Havana where Caruso is singing in Verdi’s Aida, an explosion that really happened, he runs outside, into the arms of a local woman, Aida. They fall in love, an event foreseen by her godfather Calazán, who is a priest of the Santería or, more correctly, Lucumí religion. Aida helps Caruso escape the mafia, who is trying to extort money from him, and becomes pregnant with his child. During this romantic, disorienting interlude, Caruso the famous tenor becomes Caruso the man. A ritual dunking in a lagoon fails to restore his peace of mind. Crumbling under stress, he leaves Aida, as he must, to return to his wife and to being a stage and gramophone star. Hamel has fun with 19th-century Italian operatic idiom, quoting from Aida and using Caruso’s own recorded voice, and composing a rousing cabaletta for the lovers. He evokes the tenor’s nostalgia for his youth with a mandolin, adapting the Neapolitan evergreen Torna a Surriento. A synthesizer adds atmospheric sounds, including stylized birdsong. As the story draws to a close, the score becomes progressively less tonal. The opera ends in the antithesis of music, a series of high-pitched tones imitating tinnitus, presaging the tenor’s death the following year.

De Nationale Opera Caruso a Cuba - credits Monika Rittershaus 226.png

It is a shame that Johannes Erath’s staging did little to elucidate the plot, mostly played out on and around a giant gramophone record, although the cast also spilled into the aisles and side boxes. Whether it was the real Cuba or Caruso’s fevered brain, the set was a dark, dismal place. Video projections added rain and a theatre interior. Alienation techniques such as slow-motion movement and having characters converse with their backs to each other worked against the singers’ emotional engagement. Design visuals were also murky, drowning secondary characters into a sea of interchangeable suits. And it shouldn’t be necessary to consult the program booklet to discover that a giant scallop shell refers to a Lucumí fortune-telling method involving a seashell necklace. When not inflicting spectator fatigue, the staging was often downright silly. The audience tittered when the bomb, its shell printed with Caruso’s name, descended gingerly from the theatre ceiling before exploding. The banal, manic choreography reached its nadir with jazz hands during the lagoon ritual. Perplexingly, orchestral intermezzi were played to a closed curtain, even when the scenery didn’t change. Thank goodness for the performances.

Although not always dead on pitch, a zesty Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, led by Otto Tausk, delivered a vibrantly robust performance. The cast was equally fired up. Airam Hernández may not be the reincarnation of Caruso, but he’s a tenor and a half with a full-blooded Italianate sound. He sang like he believed he could be the greatest tenor of his time, and so we believed it too, relishing his burnished lyricism. Aida is a challenging role, requiring technical and stylistic virtuosity. Soprano Jeanine De Bique inhabited it with tenacious passion, vocal deftness and a beguiling stage presence. Just as striking was mezzo-soprano Tichina Vaughn as her mother, who created a potent scene when warning the lovers not to defy the gods. As Calazán, Simon Shibambu intoned his prophecies with a deep, steady legato.

De Nationale Opera Caruso a Cuba - credits Monika Rittershaus 259.png

The supporting cast, taking on multiple roles, sparked with energy, but neither blocking nor costumes helped with sorting out which singer was playing which character at which point. Woolly bass Gabriel Rollinson portrayed an assortment of shady and upright characters. Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum and baritone Michael Wilmering sang with devilish gusto as, respectively, Caruso’s manager and the opera impresario. Eva Kroon’s mezzo was beautiful and buttery. We know she played a cook because the credits told us so, although she did mention "my kitchen". Perhaps the stage direction and design should not get all the blame for the blurriness. Could the two-hour one-acter have benefitted from having fewer characters? The libretto does get a bit tangled at the end, with various characters making various mystical pronouncements. On the other hand, its language also becomes more poetic, in keeping with the focus zooming inward into Aida and Caruso’s psyches. Hamel’s music certainly deserves a wider audience. Several excerpts called for a second hearing, even as standalone numbers. Besides the mother’s dramatic solo, there is an originally constructed love duet, with a stormy orchestral refrain interrupting the lovers’ exchanges. The impressive vocal ensemble accompanying the underwater ritual flared into a wild percussive climax. And Aida’s piercing monologue, delivered by De Bique with a glass-like fragility, was the best thing about the finale.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Enrico Caruso, Famous Singer: Airam Hernández; Aida, Girl: Jeanine De Bique; Calazán, Aida’s Godfather: Simon Shibambu; Bruno Zirato, Caruso’s Manager and Assistant: Cody Quattlebaum; Adolfo Bracale, Impresario/Reporter/Ritual Singer: Michael Wilmering; Aida’s Mother/Ritual Singer: Tichina Vaughn; Cook/Woman/Ritual Singer: Eva Kroon; Arturo Cidre/Intruder/Tata/Ritual Singer: Gabriel Rollinson. Director: Johannes Erath; Set Design: Katrin Connan; Costume Design: Noëlle Blancpain; Lighting Design: Bernd Purkrabek; Video: Bibi Abel. Conductor: Otto Tausk. Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. Seen at Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, Amsterdam, on Sunday, the 3rd of March, 2019.

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):