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

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Rusalka in San Francisco

It must be a dream. Though really it is a nightmare. The water sprite Rusalka tortures herself if she is telling the story, or tortures the man who has imagined her if he is telling the story. Either way the bizarrely construed confusion of Czech fairy tales has no easily apparent meaning or message.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

12 Jun 2019

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Carmen at San Francisco Opera

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Matthew Polenzani as Jose, J'Nai Bridges as Carmen [All photos copyright Cory Weaver, courtesy of San Francisco Opera]

 

Unabashedly not a contestant in the Carmen wars (who can fit Merimee’s bloody tale most uncomfortably into a relevant contemporary context) Mme. Zambello sets her Carmen in a music hall somewhere. We see it as a sort of music hall revue of the numbers we know and love complete with lively production dance numbers. Like music theater there is spoken dialogue (a bit more than usual), the simple story is clearly told with no troubling nuances and there is not a drop of blood. On second thought this is about as far-out as a Carmen production could get.

But wait. There were more troubling aspects to the performance — Bizet’s Carmen was in fact further deconstructed. It happened in the pit. Former San Francisco Symphony associate conductor James Gaffigan, now a rising star on the world’s major stages, offered a bright, lilting overture, the always admirable San Francisco Opera Orchestra in resplendent tone. The rose red show curtain rose, Jose alone, desolate in a pool of light (he had already murdered Carmen, the story to be told in flashback) while Carmen’s famed fate motive flowed forth oh-so-sweetly at a mere orchestral forte (Mo. Gaffigan eschewed all sense of fortissimo throughout the ordeal).

Carmen19_SF2.pngAnita Hartig as Micaëla, Matthew Polenzani as Jose, J'Nai Bridges as Carmen

Further Carmen shock and awe (and there was a lot of it) happened in Jose’s Flower Song, Carmen (the very beautiful J’Nai Bridges) reclined down stage right in a pool of light — a perfect rose — while Jose (Matthew Polenzani in fine voice) tenderly related to the rose he held, the maestro enveloping Bizet's brief postlude in the sweetest and loveliest possible colors, our two lovers in perfect, innocent and quite uncomplicated harmony. It was not ironic. This was a perfect love that simply got derailed.

One can only fear for the blood and guts of Verdi’s Ernani that this talented maestro will conduct in San Francisco Opera’s 2020 spring season.

Carmen dead on the stage, there was a final burst of glitz as Micaela, overlooking the tragedy from atop an orangey brown abstract structure meant to represent the exterior of the bull ring, threw blood red (finally some blood!) streamers along with clouds of confetti onto the estranged lovers.

With the stage director and the conductor in collusion the cast, clearly capable of far greater emotional range, diligently and effectively brought this strange Carmen to life. Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges is young, sexy, vibrant, and dangerous, attributes that were as apparent in her voice as in her figure. She is a Carmen of exceptional musical finish. Her Habañera  and Seguidilla were spellbinding, the maestro clearly under the artist’s thrall, the orchestral accompaniment a mere hint of the beat, like the finest Rossini conducting.

Tenor Matthew Polenzani portrayed a simple, smitten-with-pure-love soldier. His light lyric voice easily avoided the treacheries of the role for heavier voices, voices that have easier potential to personify the more usual sexually charged love Jose has for Carmen. As it was it seemed that this Jose’s love for Carmen was as pure as his love for his dying mother. On the other hand tenor Polenzani was a resolutely virile, recent San Francisco Opera Hoffmann.

Romanian soprano Anita Hartig as Micaëla fulfilled SFO’s claim to being an international house. This gifted artist of great presence brought a pure, silvery vocal sound to Micaëla in exceedingly careful phrasing, attributes that created a character of utter innocence. This Micaëla was never a foil to Carmen so much as she was the angel that oversaw the naive soul of a simple Spanish soldier. Hers was a performance indeed befitting a major stage.

Carmen19_SF3.pngKyle Ketelsen as Escamillo

Though not a flashy Spaniard, bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen does cut a fine figure as the toreador Escamillo. He reads as physically strong and boasts an agility that easily could avoid a charging bull. The same could be said of his powerful voice and supple singing that he uses to actually create a character of depth, rare for this role usually played as a pure sex symbol. His third act fight with Jose was unsettling when all this magnificent virile physicality fell to Jose’s clumsy thrust.

The principal singers and the conducting were the elegance of the production. The actual staging and the lesser roles were clumsily rendered. Adler Fellows or equivalents were called upon to approximate as best they could the complex characters that complete Bizet’s drama, characters than can add intense emotional atmospheres to Carmen, but here did not. Unfortunately Natalie Image’s Frasquita was sometimes under pitch in the climaxes of the opera’s huge ensembles.

Mme. Zambello’s Carmen is music theater where action is controlled choreography and not spontaneous realism. There was incessant, staged movement, moreover in the complex fights movement was less than precise and usually ill timed, at odds with the rhythmic elegance emanating from the pit. The chicken and the mule of the original Covent Garden production have fallen by the wayside, leaving only the horse on which Escamillo arrives in Act II. One might envision a beautiful black stallion with an elegantly curved neck to second the imagined sleek figure of Escamillo. The War Memorial horse had none of these attributes, and should have been rejected by this toreador as an unsuitable nag.

The demagoguery (catering to common taste) of the production was blatant. Surely the San Francisco opera audience would prefer to be challenged with productions that stimulate the imagination and illuminate the human condition.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Carmen: J’Nai Bridges; Micaëla: Anita Hartig; Don Jose: Matthew Polenzani; Escamillo: Kyle Ketelsen; Frasquita: Natalie Image; Mercédès: Ashley Dixon; Zuniga: David Leigh; Morales: Seok Jong Baek; Remendado: Zhengyi Bai; Dancairo: Christopher Oglesby. San Francisco Chorus and Orchestra. Conductor: James Gaffigan; Production: Francesca Zambello; Associate Director & Movement Director: Denni Sayers; Production Designer: Tanya McCallin; Original Lighting Designer: Paule Constable; Revival Lighting Designer: Justin a. Partier. War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, June 11, 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):