John Adams’ Nixon in China at The Met
9 February 2011, New York, US
James Maddelana as President Nixon(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Review by Heidi Waleson
John Adams’s first opera, Nixon in China (1987), which had its Metropolitan Opera premiere on 2 February, is a modern classic that has long since transcended its “current events” origins.” Adams and his collaborators, librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars, imagined their way into the minds of two titanic 20th century figures, Richard Nixon and Mao Tse-Tung, and produced not so much a drama as a meditation on history and cultural difference.
The current production, created by Mr. Sellars and his 1987 team, is based on their original Houston Grand Opera staging; it was first seen at the English National Opera in 2006. It stars James Maddelana, the original Nixon, sounding vocally constrained but theatrically acute, Robert Brubaker as a decrepit but still ruthless Mao, Russell Braun as a too-reserved Chou En-lai, Janis Kelly as a splendid, bright Pat Nixon, Kathleen Kim, a ball of fire as Madame Mao, and Richard Paul Fink as the creepy Henry Kissinger.
John Adams, making his house debut as the opera’s conductor, let the orchestra rip for an overly loud and brash Act I; he found more transparency for Pat Nixon’s scene in Act II and the bedtime meditations of all the characters in Act III. The amplification for the singers, specified by the composer, flattened the voices.
As the Chinese people, the splendid Met chorus, standing motionless and expressionless, communicated menace and underscored the strangeness of this encounter of the American can-do spirit and self-importance with an ancient, impenetrable civilization with a blood-soaked recent history.
Click here to find details of your nearest live cinema screening on 12 February.
Lucrezia Borgia at English National Opera
2 February 2011, London, UK
Clare Rutter (Lucrezia Borgia) and Michael Fabiano (Gennaro)(Photo: Stephen Cummisky)
Opera Now correspondent, Robert Thicknesse, attended the opening night of Lucrezia Borgia at English National Opera and writes:
ENO’s latest attempt to “revitalise” the opera scene by employing talents from other places came unravelled for the usual reasons: a basic incompetence in staging opera, however good the peripherals might have been.
Film-maker Mike Figgis, with nothing much to say about the drama Donizetti wrote, pulled it around and sprinkled in a few prettily-filmed scenes of heaving-bosom papal bull set in the court of Alexander VI Borgia. But these attempts to exonerate or explain Lucrezia were somewhat irrelevant to the opera, if not to history itself, since nearly everything we know about her is apocryphal.
Fine, if uncharacterful, singing from Claire Rutter as the heroine, and a great showing by the rather baritonal American tenor Michael Fabiano as Gennaro, but Paul Daniel’s conducting is no more than colour-by-numbers efficient, and his translation one of the worst yet.
ENO's Lucrezia Borgia runs until 3 March 2011.
Read Robert Thicknesse's complete review in the March/April issue of Opera Now.
BLO presents rare Ullmann opera with new prologue
2 February 2011, Boston, US
Andrew Wilkowske as Emperor Überall(Photo: Jeffrey Dunn for BLO)
A new production of Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis opened last night at Boston Lyric Opera, coupled with the world premiere of a specially commissioned prologue, The After-Image.
Ullmann’s original score was written at Theresienstadt concentration camp during 1943 and offers a powerful critique of the Third Reich. Ullmann himself was killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944.
Inspired by photographs of WWII and poetry by Rilke, The After-Image has been concevied as a companion piece for the short, one-act opera.
“Without sentimentalism or nostalgia,” says composer and Harvard lecturer, Richard Beaudoin, “I believe this new work will be a record of our current and ongoing attempts to come to terms with memories of the Holocaust.”
The production is directed by David Schweizer and features heldentenor John Mac Master as Harlequin with baritone Andrew Wilkowske as the eponymous anti-hero, Emperor Überall.
Opera Now correspondent, Heidi Waleson, attended the opening night of The Emperor of Atlantis and writes:
Boston Lyric Opera’s vivid presentation of Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis sold out its five-performance run, despite a week of record snowfall. Director David Schweizer’s production, starring bass Kevin Burdette, channelled the anarchic spirit of Weimar cabaret, the grotesque, alternate universe that mocks and reflects the real one, a jolting reminder that the opera was written in 1943 in the Nazi show camp Theresienstadt, and its creators perished the following year in Auschwitz.
Read Heidi Waleson's full review in the March/April issue. Click here to subscribe now.
William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge
25 January 2011, Rome, Italy
Kim Josephson (Eddie) attempts to strangle Marlin Miller (Rodolfo) in Bolcom's 'A View from the Bridge'(Photo: Corrado Falsini)
Review by Della Couling
Strange, this time-warp in American theatre: Waiting for Godot was premiered in Paris in 1953 and in Europe there has since been Pinter, Ionesco, Botho Strauss, Koltes... Yet in America, Albee and Miller just continued the O’Neill tradition of the grand American battle of the sexes on the living-room sofa, or dissecting social problems in a faintly sub-Brechtian way.
In opera, where Europe has Reimann, Fénelon and any number of others pushing the frontiers, the US continues doggedly and almost seamlessly in the Mascagni/Leoncavallo verismo tradition, as imported by Menotti, with musical versions of famous plays and novels that in the vocal line provide little more than recitative. Any suspect plays or operas from Europe tend to be consigned to that Guantanamo of alien art forms in the US, the university campus.
William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge is yet another example of this American tradition, albeit a fine and well-crafted example, with orchestral writing conscientiously married into the vocal and narrative line, and some success in portraying the characters through their music in a subtle and telling way.
Ironically, this first Italian outing of the opera brought Italian verismo back home with a tale of Sicilian immigrants. And the notoriously conservative Roman audience saw, heard and approved. Amy Hutchison directed Frank Galati’s 1999 world premiere production, featuring some members of the original cast.
The libretto, by Arnold Weinstein but based closely on Arthur Miller’s original script, could have been pared down a little – in the opening scenes the words tend to smother the music – but later the operatic form triumphs, with some fine arias, a wonderful baritone-bass duet between the ‘narrator’, the lawyer Alfieri (John Del Carlo) and Eddie (Kim Josephson), and some witty Neapolitan/American pop song parodies for the vocal lines of the tenor (Marlin Miller) – though perhaps it says it all that the song that stuck in my head for days afterwards was the real pop song he sang: Johnny Black’s ‘Paper doll’.
The singers were all also fine actors, though they could have done with more guidance in the fight scenes, which were laughably perfunctory. And bass Mark McCroy as Marco struggled with a punishingly low-lying vocal line.
Plácido Domingo turns 70
21 January 2011
(Photo: Richard Haughton)
The tenor, baritone, conductor and influential opera administrator, Plácido Domingo, is celebrating his 70th birthday today.
True to his motto "If I rest, I rust", he has chosen to spend the evening giving a special birthday concert at the Teatro Real in his native Madrid.
Many of Domingo's musical friends will also also be present to pay tribute.
The January/February issue of Opera Now includes a 4-page cover feature about Plácido Domingo by John Steane.
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