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Postcard from New Orleans: Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles

14 July 2011, New Orleans, US

New Orleans Opera Association presents Bizet's 'Les Pêcheurs de Perles'
New Orleans Opera Association presents Bizet's 'Les Pêcheurs de Perles'

Bistreaux at the Maison Dupuy Hotel
Bistreaux at the Maison Dupuy Hotel

Report by Karyl Charna Lynn

Le Figaro critic summed up Les Pêcheurs de Perles after its world premiere with the observation that "There are no fishermen in the text and no pearls in the music." But that’s not entirely correct. There are gorgeous melodies and achingly beautiful duets and arias in this ill-fated love triangle about friendship, betrayal, honor, duty, jealousy, and vows of chastity; in short, the ingredients for a knock-out night at the opera.

Bizet wrote sweeping impressionistic pieces, creating beautiful musical landscapes, but sans movement. Combined with a weak libretto and one-dimensional characters, this static quality makes it a challenge to infuse with dramatic tension. Directors have dangled 'swimming' pearl fishers from trapezes to great effect, imposed non-stop frenzied dancing, and added supernumeraries or extra characters. The success of such attempts always depend upon the degree of integration between the dramatic action and the opera itself, which in this production were perfectly balanced by director (and conductor), Robert Lyall.

The action unfolded between dusk and dawn on a single day in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) on two planes: stage level for 'reality' and a 'mountain top' (complete with Brahma statue) for the dream-sequences, re-enactments of past relationships, and religious rituals. The temporal progression from bright red sunset to dawn via twilight and a star-filled black sky dissolving into turbulent storm clouds was projected onto a towering screen, partially draped with fishing nets. A temple arch occupied stage right and columns draped with fishing nets stage left. Relevant props appeared and disappeared as the opera progressed.

Dancing played an important role in French opera, and Lyall seamlessly integrated the full troupe of New Orleans Ballet dancers into the action, creating a fluidity of movement throughout the performance which erased the work’s static nature. Especially effective were the dance reenactments of past relationships between Nadir (William Burden) and Zurga (Liam Bonner) in their friendship duet, 'Au fond du temple saint', and Leïla (Lisette Oropesa) and Nadir in her love aria, 'Ton coeur n’a pas compris le mien'.

Rossini said, “voce, voce, voce, that’s what opera is", and indeed voices are especially important in this action-challenged work. Oropesa made a believable Leïla singing with lilting beauty, imbued with sparkle, grace, and power. Burden brought depth and breadth to Nadir with his compelling intensity. You could feel his all-consuming love of Leïla through the sensual lyricism in his tone. Bonner emitted a strong sound as Zurga, marred, unfortunately, by excessive vibrato and lack of nuance to show Zurga’s emotional turmoil. Maestro Lyall kept the tension and music flowing, while maintaining a good pit / stage balance.

 

CITY STYLE GUIDE

Relive New Orleans' opera history and rub shoulder's with today's visiting divas!

Hotels

  • Inn on Bourbon, 541 Bourbon Street, built on the site of the former French Opera House 1859-1919 with historic photos of the theatre in the lobby.

Restaurants/Bars

  • Arnaud’s An unforgettable dining experience; the duck is exquisite, and café Brulot a must. | Signature cocktail: French 75. | Special Tip: Ask to tour their Mardi Gras Museum.
  • Ralph’s on the Park A must when visiting the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). | Signature cocktail: Blue Bellini.
  • Brennan’s Turtle soup is outstanding. | Signature cocktail: Mr. Funk of New Orleans.
  • Bistreaux, in the Maison Dupuy Hotel. Ideal for casual lunch or cocktail. Crawfish is superb. | Signature cocktail: Maison Dupuy. 
  • Muriel’s Great for Creole cuisine.
  • Court of Two Sisters Not to be missed is Sunday brunch in the courtyard.

 

 

Bel Canto at Caramoor presents Rossini’s Guillaume Tell

13 July 2011, Katonah, US

Daniel Mobbs (Guillaume Tell) and Talise Trevigne (Jemmy)
Daniel Mobbs (Guillaume Tell) and Talise Trevigne (Jemmy)(Photo: Gabe Palacio)

Julianna di Giacomo (Mathilde)
Julianna di Giacomo (Mathilde)(Photo: Gabe Palacio)

Review by Robert Levine

Caramoor’s music director, Will Crutchfield, threw his hat and that of his fine orchestra and chorus into a very small ring by presenting Rossini’s last opera, Guillaume Tell, first heard in Paris in 1829.

The overture was stunningly played from its opening adagio for five cellos through the storm sequence and the fine passages for winds and strings and on to the famous Lone Ranger finale. If there was a greater 12 minutes of music composed in 1829, I’d like to hear it. And throughout the evening, other than a truly embarrassing series of off-stage horn solos in act one, the Orchestra of St Luke’s played like virtuosi, the winds and brass remarkable during the Mathilde-Jemmy-Hedwige trio in the last act and the strings, who have quite a workout throughout, playing with splendid tone at all dynamic levels. 

Crutchfield’s tempi were judicious and, at times, generous to some of his less able cast members. Bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs, Caramoor’s primo uomo, sang Tell, and while he may have seemed a bit overparted at times (such as during ‘Sois immobile’, Tell’s plea to his son not to move while he shoots the apple off his head), he was gentle, loving and touching, and he has the stature for the role.

Julianna di Giacomo, singing the role of Mathilde, the Hapsburg princess, turned in a quite remarkable performance, from her opening ‘Sombre foret’, complete with light embellishments and a gorgeous trill through the last act trio. Sadly, her love interest, Arnold, the opera’s tenor lead, could not keep up with her. Granted, almost nobody gets out of this role alive – the famous Irish novelist James Joyce went obsessively through the score and counted “456 Gs, 93 A-flats, 92 As, 54 B-flats, 15 Bs, 19 Cs and 2 C-sharps,” and though he might have been off by a dozen or so notes, you get the point. Tenor Michael Spyres, in addition to sporting the most awkward stage comportment in recent memory, was excellent everywhere except for the Cs and the C sharps, which came out as yelps. The role is heroic-Rossini and he was not, but his valiant effort and smooth singing below those wicked high notes was appreciated.
 
Two singers new to the scene, mezzo Vanessa Cariddi and soprano Talise Trevigne as Hedwige and Jemmy, respectively, were great discoveries: beautiful, perfectly controlled voices, rich from top to bottom and of ample size, with temperament to boot. Scott Bearden’s huge-voiced baritone Gessler was a truly evil, imposing figure; Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artist bass Jeffrey Beruan sang the smallish role of Melchtal with distinction.
 
As suggested above, Crutchfield, his orchestra and chorus – the latter with a huge role in this opera – were magnificent, and Crutchfield’s intensity never flagged. The audience loved it, blemishes and all. Tell is not an opera one throws together in a few rehearsals; thought, preparation, decisions as to what stays and what goes make it quite a production. Crutchfield and Rossini expert Philip Gossett, by the way, were on hand before the performance to discuss the decisions and the work itself. A real treat.

 

Opera Now goes digital

12 July 2011, London, UK

Opera Now is now available as a digital subscription and as an app for the iPad and iPhone.

Digital subscriptions cost £24.99 for 6 issues and are available through distributor PocketMags here.

The Opera Now app for iPhone and iPad can be downloaded for £1.79 here, and comes with one free issue of the purchaser's choice. Further single issues or money-saving subscriptions can be purchased within the app.

Digital back issues are also available for download at the PocketMags site, priced at £4.99 each.

 

Rossini marks the high point of this year’s Garsington Opera festival

29 June 2011, Buckinghamshire, UK

Geoffrey Dalton (Don Geronio) with Rebecca Nelson (Fiorilla)
Geoffrey Dalton (Don Geronio) with Rebecca Nelson (Fiorilla)Photo: Mike Hoban

Review by Andrew Green

Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia is the clear success of Garsington’s season at its new home in Wormsely, the verdant Buckinghamshire estate of the Getty family.

Effortlessly updated to a Neapolitan town square/quayside in the 1950s, it was full of deft ‘blink-and-you-miss’ touches from director Martin Duncan. (The only irritation was the lack of imaginative stage direction for Mark Stone’s Poet, who never tired of scribbling away like a demented hack.)

A strong cast in both vocal and dramatic terms, saw Texas-born Rebecca Nelsen’s Fiorilla outstanding in both departments, with a real ‘ping’ to her delivery up and down the stave and pitch-perfect characterisation. Geoffrey Dolton was an excellent foil as her long-suffering husband, Don Geronio. David Parry conducted with wit and assurance.

Garsington Opera's Il Turco in Italia runs at Wormsley until 3 July.

 

World Premiere: Nico Muhly's Two Boys at English National Opera

28 June 2011, London, UK

Susan Bickley (DI Anne Strawson) in ENO's 'Two Boys'
Susan Bickley (DI Anne Strawson) in ENO's 'Two Boys'(Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

Review by Ashutosh Khandekar

Nico Muhly, at 28, has just had his first opera premiered at English National Opera. Two Boys tackles the dark, complex subject of the malign influence of the internet on teenage sexuality and, in a virtual world, the difficulties of distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Susan Bickley is in superb form as the beleagured police officer investigating a grizzly crime (think of Helen Mirren in TV’s Prime Suspect). Bartlett Sher’s production is atmospheric, with effective use of video, at times turning the stage into a huge computer screen.

There are memorable performances from the two boys – Nicky Spence as the troubled Brian and treble Joseph Beesley as the manipulative young Jake.  Heather Shipp, Jonathan McGovern and Valerie Reid provide strong support among a uniformly excellent, convincing cast.

Nico Muhly’s music has shades of Benjamin Britten and dollops of Philip Glass. There is some accomplished choral and orchestral composing, but his writing for solo voice still lacks personality.

Muhly can certainly ‘paint’ with sound, describing the worlds his characters inhabit in great detail. He engages us in the story, building the tension well,  but with such a limited vocal palette, he misses the emotional heartbeat of his characters. This is, nonetheless, a creditable operatic debut from a talented young composer.

Two Boys runs at the London Coliseum until 8 July 2011.

 


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