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

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

Opera Undone: Tosca and La bohème

If opera can sometimes seem unyieldingly conservative, even reactionary, it made quite the change to spend an evening hearing and seeing something which was so radically done.

A refined Acis and Galatea at Cadogan Hall

The first performance of Handel's two-act Acis and Galatea - variously described as a masque, serenata, pastoral or ‘little opera’ - took place in the summer of 1718 at Cannons, the elegant residence of James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Glimmerglass Festival's Alice Busch Opera Theater. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
19 Aug 2019

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.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

A review by James Sohre

Above: The Glimmerglass Festival's Alice Busch Opera Theater. [Photo by Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival]

 

First, Kelley Rourke has effectively condensed Pushkin’s story by taking the most indispensible musical highlights in the tuneful score, shedding the chorus and extraneous plot twists, and distilling the whole into 70 cogent minutes of considerable pleasure. Ms. Rourke has also crafted a quite poetic, very singable translation of utmost clarity and has been ably abetted in this pursuit by composer Nicolas Lell Benavides who has imaginatively re-scored the lush orchestration for just five players.

But what players they are! Although not credited in the program book, the violinist, cellist, bassist, pianist, and clarinetist (doubling on bass clarinet) performed superbly under the baton of Apprentice Conductor Michelle Rofrano. Maestra Rofrano elicited thrilling, evocative results from her exquisite chamber players and she ably supported her singers in relating the drama. And what singers they were!

The seasoned soprano Patricia Schuman’s Countess was a Masters Class in refined singing and concentrated stage comportment. Ms. Schuman can merely raise an eyebrow and communicate volumes in her laser focused characterization. Moreover, many years into a successful international career, she is singing wonderfully, her substantial instrument still fresh and powerful. That this treasurable artist was matched in quality by the remaining cast of Apprentice Singers is a testament to that training program, helmed by Allen Perriello.

The demanding roles of Hermann and Lise challenge even the starriest of singers in the operatic firmament. On the basis of their performances here, I can predict you will hear much much more of tenor Maxwell Levy and soprano Julia Wolcott.

Mr. Levy is that rare, somewhat dark voiced tenor who not only has the stentorian delivery needed to fill any hall, but also the ability to scale it back with gorgeous results, as he imbues his vocalization with immense heart and feeling. He meticulously communicates Hermann’s ambition as well as his secondary passion for Lise. Ms. Wolcott‘s generous, warm soprano is deployed in utter service to the heroine’s plight, intrigued by Hermann, but knowing that Prince Yeletsky is the better choice. Her luminous reading of the deeply conflicted emotions that lead to her suicide was enormously touching in its wrenching delivery.

Ben Schaefer, who had been such a nonpareil Figaro in The Ghosts of Versailles two nights prior, proved an exceptional Prince Yeletsky on this occasion. Mr. Schaefer’s debonair appearance was matched by a resonant baritone that limned his famous aria with awesome legato phrases dripping with easy elegance.

Nicholas Davis was a commendable Tomsky, his rolling baritone packing theatrical bite and punch. The role of Narumov was skillfully impersonated by Christopher Carbin, whose agreeable bass had sheen and amplitude. In the triple roles of Chekalinsky, Surin, and the Servant, Spencer Hamlin’s steady tenor had a pleasant hint of shining steel.

The clever set design by James F. Rotondo III capitalized on the Pavilion space with a thrust configuration. A platform with the Countess’ imposing, imperious chair is against one side backed by fragmented, cockeyed flats with ornate trim and crimson damask wall covering, suggesting both Hermann’s instability and the opulent premises. A narrow central stage juts out into the room, with an elegant faux inlaid wooden floor painted on it. The chamber players are accommodated on the house left corner of the platform, with performers being able to enter on to the thrust through the audience, which surrounded the playing space.

Loren Shaw’s spot-on costume design gave every character just the right look to communicate their station. She also conveyed the irascibility and volatility of the old Countess with several clever looks and changes. S. Stoli Stolnack’s lighting design was of necessity simple, even, and effective, and it was no small feat to illuminate the “stage” while avoiding shining lights in the eyes of the audience that was mere feet away.

Perhaps best of all, tying the bow on the gift package was director Francesca Zambello, whose staging was a miracle of invention. Ms. Zambello excels at creating focused character relationships and the interaction of the performers was consistently credible and informed. Too, she moved the characters around the small space with the skill of a chess master, always repositioning them to favor all lines of vision, and unfolding the tale with spontaneity and inevitability. The effect of the piece relied on a well-controlled, inexorable build of tension until the big payoff, which was so well managed it electrified the room.

This reduced version of The Queen of Spades was spoken of as something of an experiment. If the sold out, cheering houses are any indication, I think the response is: More, please.

James Sohre


The Queen of Spades
Music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin
Musical arrangement by Nicolas Lell Benavides
New translation and adaptation by Kelley Rourke

Lise: Julia Wolcott; Hermann: Maxwell Levy; Countess: Patricia Schuman; Paul Tomsky: Nicholas Davis; Narumov: Christopher Carbin; Chekalinsky/Surin/Servant: Spencer Hamlin; Prince Yeletsky: Ben Schaefer; Conductor: Michelle Rofrano; Director: Francesca Zambello; Set Design: James F. Rotondo III; Costume Design: Loren Shaw; Lighting Design: S. Stoli Stolnack

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):