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Sarasota Opera's 2012 Winter Festival

26 April 2012, Florida, US

Regal decorum: Kara Shay Thomson as Vanessa
Regal decorum: Kara Shay Thomson as Vanessa

Fredrika Brillembourg's seductive, sexy Carmen
Fredrika Brillembourg's seductive, sexy Carmen

Kathleen Kim as Lucia di Lammermoor
Kathleen Kim as Lucia di Lammermoor

Report by Karyl Charna Lynn
Photography by Rod Millington

Sarasota Opera’s 2012 Winter Festival offered three new productions (Vanessa, Carmen, Otello), one revival (Lucia di Lammermoor), a rousing 30th anniversary gala concert, and a lunchtime recital by the stars of the future.

The Festival’s opera highlight was Vanessa by Samuel Barber, part of the company's new American Classic series. A stinging commentary on love, sacrifice, youth, time, and aging, it unfolded amidst evocative scenery that visually recreated the country abode of three generations of aristocratic ladies in the early 1900s. Evoking an atmosphere of quiet desperation in which these ladies lived, the lyrically modern score reflected their quais-schizophrenic mood swings from overwhelming sadness to ecstatic happiness, while painting a melodic picture of the haunting mysteriousness of the piece.

Kara Shay Thomson embodied Vanessa with her regal decorum and impressive instrument, tuned to perfection. Audry Babcock made a dramatically effective and musically expressive Erika, whose heartfelt, finely nuanced singing conveyed the pain and desperation caused by Anatol's seduction and abandonment of her. Scott Piper, whose own nature is so different from the slimy charisma needed to make Anatol wholly convincing, compensated with admirable singing. In the pit, maestro David Neely drew powerful and involved playing from the orchestra.

Although Vanessa is sometimes viewed as a dated, kitschy soap-opera (a teenage girl waiting 20 years for her married lover to return, shutting herself off from the outside world by refusing visitors and covering all the mirrors, only to have the same fate befall her niece), it deals with universal themes that touch us all, and incorporates a modern twist - the older woman marrying a much younger man.

The Carmen performed was its opéra comique version: a gripping interpretation of the high price and destructive power of love that took place amidst visually striking, realistic recreations of the opera’s locations. Spoken dialogue added emotional heft and poignancy to the colorful and lively production.

Fredrika Brillembourg made a seductive, sexy Carmen, though appeared disingenuous. Antonio Nagore was acceptable as Don José, but lacked the requisite melodic edge to his voice, having a harsh intonation. Danielle Walker possessed the most authentic voice for her role as Micaela, with a bright sound, radiating innocence and purity. Carlos Monzón's weak voice belied his role as the heroic bullfighter Escamillo. It was maestro Victor DeRenzi drawing bright, crisp, clarion sounds from the orchestra and the outstanding children’s chorus that saved this Carmen.

Given DeRenzi’s steadfast belief in presenting the most historically accurate versions of every score he conducts, it was surprising that both of Raimondo’s arias were cut from the Festivals's otherwise engrossing production of Lucia di Lammermoor. So too was the Wolf Crag scene. Meanwhile, Kathleen Kim in the title role replaced the original mad scene cadenza with an invention of her own (re-written with the help of conductor Anthony Barrese to 'fit her voice comfortably'). Unfortunately, this 'comfortable' version sounded like cadenzas for beginners, lacking the thrilling fireworks and vocal acrobatics that has excited audiences and made the mad scene a trademark for great coloratura sopranos. Kim was, on the other hand, a dramatically engaging actress, exquisitely detailing Lucia’s descent into madness. Joshua Kohl as Edgardo sang with an expressive and plaintive quality, making you feel his anger and anguish. Lee Poulis was a villainous and forceful Enrico. Aside from the occasional lack of coordination between pit and stage, Anthony Barrese kept good rhythm, pacing and tension, involving the audience in this ill-fated love affair.

As part of Sarasota Opera's ongoing Verdi Cycle, the staging of Otello had to wait until after the opera house renovation, which included enlarging the orchestra pit to accommodate all the musicians required for Verdi’s 'grander' scores. It was worth the wait. DeRenzi wasted no time in establishing a dynamic and forceful orchestral sound filled with dramatic tension. Stephanie Sundine deftly directed the interaction between the characters set amidst Renaissance splendour. Due to the indisposition of Rafael Dávila, Mathew Edwardsen undertook the title role. His Otello was respectable, but lacked the commanding presence and emotional heft the role demands. Maria D’Amato was ideal as Desdemona. The voice flowed gently, like a summer breeze, as she gently floated her notes above the mayhem. Sean Anderson made a diabolical Iago.

The Festival concluded with a concert of opera favorites, conducted with precision by DeRenzi and admirably assayed by the company’s principal singers. Showing the depth and breadth of the Sarasota Opera beyond its usual repertoire, the programme included 'Casta diva' from Norma, Wagner's Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde and the Prologue from Mefistofele, which was so enthusiastically received that it had to be repeated in its entirety.


Opera Australia to begin UK cinema screenings on 24 April

13 April 2012, London, UK

Passionate romance: Takesha Mashé Kizart (Mimi) and Ji-Min Park (Rodolfo)
Passionate romance: Takesha Mashé Kizart (Mimi) and Ji-Min Park (Rodolfo)

Report by Richard Fawkes

On 24 April, Opera Australia breaks new ground by beaming its production of La bohème to cinemas in the UK, launching a regular series of UK opera screenings from the Sydney Opera House.

The vast time difference between Australia and the UK means that live screenings won’t be possible, but delayed broadcasts will be relayed to some 50 or more UK cinemas. There are also plans to transmit the series to the United States once the logistical details have been finalised.

The production of La bohème that opens the Down Under season features Ji-Min Park as Rodolfo and Takesha Mashé Kizart as Mimi. Also in the cast of Gale Edwards’ production are José Carbó, Shane Lowrencev, David Parkin and Taryn Fiebig. Shao-Chia-Lü conducts.

Other productions to look forward to this summer include La traviata performed on a floating stage in the middle of Sydney Harbour.

Lyndon Terracini, Opera Australia’s Artistic Director, said of the season: ‘I’m delighted that we now have the opportunity for opera lovers in the UK to be able to enjoy some of Opera Australia’s most wonderful productions.’

Read more about Opera Australia in our May issue 'Postcard from Australia', out on 3 May.


Flórez returns to London for his fourth Rosenblatt Recital

2 April 2012, London, UK

Ian Rosenblatt and Juan Diego Flórez at the Rosenblatt Recitals in 2011
Ian Rosenblatt and Juan Diego Flórez at the Rosenblatt Recitals in 2011(Photo: Jonathan Rose)

Opera Now’s April issue cover artist, Juan Diego Flórez, is to perform at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 May as part of London’s prestigious Rosenblatt Recital series.

The event will be only the second time in living memory that a tenor has given a solo recital with orchestra at the vast 5,200-seat venue.

Flórez’s programme includes songs and arias by Bellini, Rossini, Verdi, Vives, Serrano, Giménez, Lehár, Brodzsky and Donizetti, accompanied by the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra of Heilbronn under Alessandro Vitiello.

Ian Rosenblatt, founder of the recital series, said: ‘I’m really excited to welcome Juan Diego back for his fourth Rosenblatt Recital. Since giving him his UK debut in 2001 we’ve had to hire bigger and bigger venues to satisfy demand, so this performance at the Royal Albert Hall will be a truly historic occasion.  It’s going to be a night to treasure.’

For tickets visit or call the Royal Albert Hall on 020 7589 8212


COMPETITION | Win a copy of Juan Diego Flórez's new DVD

26 March 2012

Opera Now is giving away five copies of Le comte Ory starring Juan Diego Flórez!

To enter, simply drop us an email with the subject FLOREZ to, or send a postcard to Rhinegold Competitions, 20 Rugby Street, London WC1N 3QZ. Please include your full name, address and a contact telephone number. (Deadline: 30 April 2012)

Le comte Ory is Rossini’s last comic opera and, although relatively rarely performed, it ranks alongside The Barber of Seville in its deft torrent of screwball hilarity and irrepressible, florid music.

It’s all riotous fun from the outset: a randy French aristocrat (Count Ory) is desperate to seduce the beautiful and virtuous Countess Adèle while all the men of the town are away at the Crusades. 

Hi makes his bid in various cunning disguises, first as a hermit and then, improbably, as a nun. In fact, it is Ory’s young pageboy, Isolier, whom the Countess ends up loving. In spite of all his cunning, the last laugh is on Ory: his schemes are foiled at every turn and in a darkened tryst, he mistakenly attempts to seduce his pageboy.

The opera, with all its cross-dressing antics, drunken nuns and gender-bending seduction scenes, must have seemed rather racy when it was first performed in Paris in 1828. In the Met’s 2011 production, award-winning Broadway director Bartlett Sher conceives of the scenario as an ‘opera within an opera’, and at the denouement, he captures the erotic innuendo of the lovers’ tryst by putting all three main characters in a big bed, where they disappear into a tangle of limbs.

The Met has fielded an absolutely first-rate international cast: Juan Diego Flórez as the Count, Diana Damrau as Adèle and, best of all, Joyce DiDonato as Isolier the pageboy are the accomplished trio at the heart of it all, never missing a comic beat among all the vocal fireworks demanded of them. Impressive too are Stéphane Degout’s dark-toned Raimbaud, who delivers a rollicking drinking song, and Michele Pertusi as the disapproving Tutor.

Rossini specialist Maurizio Benini conducts this breathless romp with tremendous comic pacing, and the DVD captures all the rich colour and zany energy of a production that is sure to become a Met classic.


BBC 2 TV launches a new series of Maestro

19 March 2012, London, UK

(Photo: Gary Moyes)

The line-up of celebrities for a new series of the BBC 2 TV series Maestro has been announced as part of a partnership between the BBC and London’s Royal Opera House.

Four stars, including the judge of BBC 1 TV’s Strictly Come Dancing, Craig Revel Horwood, will compete to master the art of conducting, with the winner going through to conduct an entire act from an opera.

Antonio Pappano and Sir Mark Elder are among the experts chosen to coach the stars, who have all admitted feeling daunted by the challenge ahead after watching a recent ROH performance of The Marriage of Figaro.

[Pictured, right: Maestro contestants Marcus Du Sautoy, Craig Revel Horwood, Josie Lawrence and Trevor Nelson at London’s Royal Opera House]


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