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Semiramide at the Rossini Opera Festival

The pleasures (immense) and pain of Gioachino Rossini’s Semiramide (Venice, 1823). Uncut.

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.



Scene from Bon Appetit [Photo by Duane Tinkey courtesy of Des Moines Metro Opera]
25 Jul 2019

Des Moines Cooks Up a Novel Treat

Des Moines Metro Opera delights in coming up with site-specific operatic presentations, and Bon Appetit was triumphantly produced in the handsome hall of the Iowa Culinary Institute.

Des Moines Cooks Up a Novel Treat

By James Sohre

Above: Scene from Bon Appetit

Photos by Duane Tinkey courtesy of Des Moines Metro Opera


Patrons lucky enough to score a ticket to the SRO soiree were provided an extensive, multi-course dinner with suitable libations, and the evening was first punctuated by snappy song performances from four appealing young Apprentice Artists.

As the crowd was tippling some bubbly, Catherine Goode’s poised soprano, Joyner Horn’s rich mezzo, Quinn Bernegger’s polished tenor, and Robert Gerold’s accomplished baritone warmed up the proceedings with an opening set of such novelty songs as I Can Cook, Too, Frim Fram Sauce, Tea for Two, and Peel Me A Grape. As the audience tucked into their main course, the quartet returned to position themselves amid the audience accessorized with cute costume pieces and props (including a rubber chicken), to divvy up the duties of Bernstein’s quartet of French recipes set to music, La bonne cuisine.

But artistically, the evening belonged to local favorite, mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle who was utterly engaging in her winning star turn as Julia Child in Lee Hoiby’s twenty-minute opera, Bon Appetit. To enthuse that Ms. Castle is a National Treasure is simply too weak praise for her perfectly calibrated, masterfully voiced “tour de farce.” Although she has a potent, full-bodied instrument, on this occasion, she modulated her delivery to convey Julia’s tongue in cheek personality, reveling in all its comic quirkiness.


And if there is another opera star that has Castle’s unique brand of charisma, musicality, and unerring comic timing I don’t know who it is. Together with director Nathan Troup, this singing actress mined a wealth of sight gags, takes, deadpans, asides, eye rolls, and comic business that kept the audience tittering and applauding in giddy delight the entire length of the piece.

Without slavishly impersonating the famous chef, she managed to push all the familiar buttons with an affectionate portrait that never descended into caricature. To name but one memorable moment, the slyly nonchalant appearance of Ms. Child’s signature glass of white wine was so comically shameless that the audience surrendered whatever was left of their composure and howled with glee. This lady knows how to keep and captivate a crowd.

The libretto by Mark Shulgasser is based on an actual airing of The French Chef in which a chocolate cake is baked. The sole suspense is whether the somewhat scattered cook will get the recipe together and the cake produced. Any guesses as to the outcome?

After the sustained, resounding cheers that were rained on Joyce finally diminished, and attendees resumed their seats from bestowing a well-deserved standing ovation, all were served a slice of Bon Appetit’s signature chocolate cake as their dessert course.

While the technical elements were of necessity simple, they were nonetheless all that was needed to present a polished effect. Adam Crinston’s TV Kitchen set was handsome, bright, and well appointed; Nate Wheatley lit it simply and evenly; Heather Lesieur’s costume conveyed just the right Child-like look; and Sarah Norton’s make-up and wig completed Ms. Castle’s transformation.

The skillful pianist Elden Little played with power, playfulness, and panache all evening long. For diners and opera-goers alike, Bon Appetit was a wholly delectable “happening,” a feast for eyes, ears and tummy alike.

One final note about the remarkable, enduring career of Joyce Castle: After a very long and distinguished run as one of Operadom’s most beloved, prolific, and successful performers, the mezzo continues to gift us with new role assumptions like Julia Child. She will next undertake her first Countess in next summer’s The Queen of Spades. Long may she rave! Mark calendars now!

James Sohre

Bon Appetit by Lee Hoiby
La bonne cuisine by Leonard Bernstein
Songs by assorted composers

Julia Child: Joyce Castle; Featured Performers: Quinn Bernegger, Robert Gerold, Catherine Goode, Joyner Horn; Pianist: Elden Little; Director: Nathan Troup; Set Design: Adam Crinson; Lighting Design: Nate Wheatley; Costume Design: Heather Lesieur; Make-Up/Hair Design: Sarah Norton

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