Robert Lepage directs Wagner's Die Walküre at the Met
5 May 2011, New York, US
Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Siegmund and Sieglinde(Photo: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera)
Review by Robert Levine
All talk of Robert Lepage’s production of the Ring Cycle at the Met remains about the sets and videos, and there’s no denying their fascination. Storm clouds turn into a brilliant snowstorm, simple planks transform into a dense forest of trees, and later into horses on which the Valkyries ride. Molten rocks, snow-capped mountains, all-consuming flames: it’s all quite stunning. But the problem is that it is also distracting. Instead of getting involved with the music, one ends up wondering what the set will do next. In addition, Lepage has forgotten to actually direct his singers at times, giving them very little to do.
Bryn Terfel’s Wotan is physically as imposing as a Colossus and his dramatic instincts are superb. Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund pays attention to every nuance, every change in the volatile atmosphere of the first act. The voice is capable of exquisite, sweet singing and powerful outbursts. Eva-Marie Westbroek seems to be holding back as Sieglinde. Hans-Peter König is a wonderfully evil-sounding Hunding. Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka, rolled in on a throne adorned with ram’s horns, almost steals the show, with her authority and grand tone. She actually breaks into tears at one point – the epitome of manipulation – and husband Wotan gives in.
Deborah Voigt, singing her first Brünnhilde, is simply wrong for the part. The voice has lost its warmth, edgy at the top, and the mid-range was never strong.
James Levine, leading the glorious Met Orchestra, has trimmed a few minutes off the first and last act from his last outings with this opera, and the new sweep is welcome, keeping the audience riveted.
Robert Levine’s full review of Die Walküre will appear in our August/September issue.
David Di Chiera’s Cyrano at Florida Grand Opera
3 May 2011, Miami, US
Marion Pop as Cyrano(Photo: Gaston de Cardenas)
Review by Karyl Charna Lynn
It is always risky for a composer to turn a classic story that has survived decades or centuries as a powerful and moving play into an opera. The only justification for taking masterpieces like these is if the music adds another dimension or layer of emotion to the work that words alone did not or could not. This is particularly true with David Di Chiera choosing Cyrano for his first full-length opera, based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 classic French masterpiece, Cyrano de Bergerac. But Di Chiera proved that he was up to the challenge in his revised version of Cyrano, which premiered on 23 April 2011 at the Florida Grand Opera in Miami, Florida.
With some nipping and tucking, Act II and III have become masterpieces of musical and dramatic integrity that captured the poignancy and tragedy of Cyrano as well as expressing the universal truth that “Beauty is only skin deep,” in a gripping and touching fashion with powerful vocal lines, overarching music, and sweeping melodies. An unabashedly Neo-Romantic score, Puccini-esque in nature, with some Verdi sprinkled on top, it conveys the characters’ emotional turmoil and heartfelt love with the delicate beauty of Butterfly, the blazing power of Turandot and the final heartbreak of La bohème.
The music is at times flowery and majestic, even bordering on bombastic, and other times reflective and heart-wrenching, like when Cyrano sings “Il m’interdit le rêve d’être aimé meme par une laide” (It forbids me the dream to be loved even by the most ugly woman.) Other highpoints were during Act II when Cyrano, hidden in the shadows beneath the balcony, secretly supplied Christian romantic lines to help him express his love to Roxane, while longing for Roxane himself, and the new (self-reflection) aria in Act III that Di Chiera wrote for Christian to express his feelings when he realized that Roxane really loved Cyrano.
The only weak link is the first part of Act I which needs some streamlining and dramatic tension with its large number of characters, and recitative. Director Bernard Uzan (who also wrote the libretto) did a masterful direction job in Acts II and III where the performance is tight, focused, flowing, and involving. He, too, seemed overwhelmed by Act I, adding irrelevant activities like bakers dancing, while pumping cakes and loaves of bread up and down with their arms while twirling around to keep the action flowing.
Di Chiera wrote the two leads with specific singers in mind, a practice common in the 18th and 19th centuries: baritone Marian Pop as Cyrano and soprano Leah Partridge as Roxane. They did not disappoint. Partridge possesses a full, rich voice, captivating in its beauty and grace, although occasionally her tone and intonation sounded forced and strident. Pop’s commanding presence and gallant deportment made a truly heroic Cyrano and his finely nuanced performance expressed his character’s emotional gamut. Sébastien Guèze, as the handsome lover Christian, sang with a ringing, piercing, sensuousness that at times mesmerized, marred only by a coarseness that crept into his voice during the intensely passionate moments. Guèze mustered his finest singing for the new aria delving into his emotional reserves to deliver the goods.
The opera unfolded against imaginative recreations of 17th century France including a pastry shop, Roxane’s balcony, and a French military camp. Maestro Mark Flint led the orchestra with a firm grip and keen understanding of the score (he also did the orchestration) that brought the music’s richness into focus.
FGO’s Cyrano runs until 7 May 2011. The company’s 2011-2012 season opens on 12 November with Federico Moreno Torroba’s zarzuela Luisa Fernanda, followed by Puccini’s La rondine, Verdi’s Rigoletto, and concluding on 12 May 2012 with Gounod’s Roméo & Juliette.
News round-up – 2 May 2011
2 May 2011
Sir Mark Elder(Photo: Simon Dodd)
Rebecca Evans with her Welsh Women Mean Business Award for Outstanding Achievement
OPERA RARA NAMES NEW ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Sir Mark Elder to lead UK specialist recording label
Sir Mark Elder is to become the new artistic director of Opera Rara. The UK-based recording label, which specialises in forgotten C19th repertoire, has just released a 3-CD set of Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix with Sir Mark conducting. He said: “I couldn’t be more delighted to become the artistic director of this wonderful institution and to have the opportunity to help it progress, to redefine what Opera Rara is and to oversee its music making over the next few years.”
ATLANTA OPERA RECEIVES US$9M BEQUEST
“Transformative” gift left by a former board member
A bequest worth US$9 million has been left to the Atlanta Opera by longtime board member Barbara D. Stewart, who died last year. The company, which has been hit hard by the global economic recession, will present a truncated three-opera season in 2011-12. Greg Johnson, chairman of the board, described the gift as “transformative".
REBECCA EVANS WINS OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Welsh Women Mean Business Awards 2011
The Welsh soprano, Rebecca Evans, was recently honoured with the Award for Outstanding Achievement at this year's Welsh Women Mean Business Awards in Cardiff. A Grammy Award winning artist who has made many recordings, Evans enjoys a major international career and sings regularly at major houses in the UK, US and Europe. She will perform the role of Liù in Welsh National Opera’s forthcoming production of Puccini’s Turandot.
AMERICAN OPERA THEATER SHUTS DOWN
Baltimore-based initiative plans re-launch as a production company
The Baltimore-based American Opera Theater (AOT) has shut down due to financial difficulties. Dedicated to creative stagings of early and contemporary opera, AOT was founded in 2003 and presented eight seasons of productions. Company founder, Timothy Nelson, is now planning to re-launch the brand as an independent production company offering “occasional performances in Baltimore”.
IMG ARTISTS ANNOUNCES NEW VOCAL DIVISION APPOINTMENTS
IMG Artists has announced new senior appointments to its Vocal Division in London and Berlin. The UK Vocal Department is to be led by Senior Vice President Stefania Almansi, who represents world-class artists such as Susan Graham, Jennifer Larmore, Gerald Finley and Alice Coote. Meanwhile, David Blackburn is to become a Vice President in the Berlin-based Vocal Division. He founded and will continue to manage NYIOP International, which scouts for singers and organizes professional opera auditions around the world.
London's Opera Holland Park announces 2011 season
2 May 2011, London, UK
Opera Holland Park
London’s Opera Holland Park (OHP) has announced its 2011 season, which runs from 7 June to 13 August.
The line-up of six new productions includes two company premieres plus a mini festival of three operas from the late Romantic Italian repertoire.
Opening the season, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale will be conducted by Richard Bonynge, husband of the late Dame Joan Sutherland. He returns to OHP following his success in 2009 at the helm of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux.
Another staple of the Italian operatic repertoire, Verdi’s Rigoletto, stars Robert Poulton, who has previously played Giorgio Germont in La traviata for OHP as well as the title role in Falstaff at Garsington Opera.
Offering a counterpoint to these major works from the mid C19th, the mini festival will put a spotlight on operas from the fin-de-siècle period and early decades of the C20th: Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (1891), Catalani’s La Wally (1892), and Puccini’s La rondine (1917). Look out for the Alpine avalanche that brings La Wally to a close, killing the opera’s heroine in an act of theatrical hyperbole that even outdoes Tosca.
Mozart’s supreme comedy, Le nozze di Figaro, will also be presented in an innovative new production by Liam Steel, joint artistic director of the physical theatre company Stan Won’t Dance. Leading this cast as the Countess Almaviva is Elizabeth Llewellyn, who recently enjoyed a major success as Mimì at English National Opera.
Boston Lyric Opera presents Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
29 April 2011, Boston, US
Nadine Sierra (Tytania) and Andrew Shore (Bottom)(Photo: Erik Jacobs / BLO)
Boston Lyric Opera's new production of Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream opens tonight in a company premiere directed by Tazewell Thompson.
David Angus, who made his BLO debut with Idomeneo in April 2010, leads his first production as music director of the company.
Susanna Phillips, a regular at New York’s Met, will perform the role of Helena. She is joined by John Gaston, debuting as Oberon, rising sensation Nadine Sierra as Tytania, and English National Opera favourite, Andrew Shore, as Bottom.
Some of the production’s set designs include ideas contributed by elementary students from RAW Art Works in Massachusetts, who were inspired by hearing Britten’s music.
BLO's main performing space, the Shubert Theatre, will feature a lobby bar and a special social media/Twitter lounge for students during student night performances.
Opera Now's forthcoming Summer issue includes 'A Letter from America' by BLO Artistic Director, Esther Nelson.
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