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.
ENO upstages ROH in the race to screen live 3D opera
13 January 2011, London, UK
Soprano Claire Rutter(Photo: Joe Low)
English National Opera has announced a renewed partnership with broadcasting and media giant Sky. The collaboration begins on 23 February with what is claimed to be opera’s first ‘quadcast’, featuring the first live broadcast of an opera in 3D.
The quadcast of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, staged for ENO by the film director Mike Figgis, will be screened on Sky Arts 2 and Sky 3D as well as selected cinemas around the world.
The new production features British soprano Claire Rutter in the title role, with Paul Daniel conducting
Meanwhile, the Royal Opera House’s much-heralded 3D film version of Carmen, originally planned for release last autumn, is now due to be premiered on 5 March in over 2,000 participating cinemas worldwide. However, it seems that the race to put 3D opera before the public will be won by ENO, though many industry commentators (including The Met’s Peter Gelb, one of the architects of opera in cinema), have expressed reservations about the 3D format in the context of opera.
“Opera helps us to capture a niche audience in an industry that’s trying to shake off its dependence on Hollywood,” says Lyn Goleby, managing director of the independent group Picture House Cinemas. “But we’d like to sell it as a stylish, civilised experience that captures the something of ambience of actually being in an opera house. Having to wear chunky 3D glasses might not entirely fit with this.”
An interview with Claire Rutter about her preparations for the role of Lucrezia appears in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Opera Now - click here to subscribe now.
La Traviata at The Met
13 January 2011, New York, US
Marina Poplavskaya (Violetta) and Matthew Polenzani (Alfredo)(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)
Review by Heidi Waleson
The high-concept Willy Decker production of La Traviata was a hit at the Salzburg Festival in 2005 with Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazón, but the version that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera on 4 January felt as chilly as its leading lady, Marina Poplavskaya.
By stripping away the surface decoration that goes with a period staging, Decker eliminated all pretence from Violetta’s situation – she’s a prostitute with a limited life expectancy, and her world is ugly. But we also have to care about her, and Poplavskaya couldn’t manage that. Her inconsistent soprano has some clarion notes, but she lacked the warm lyricism needed for 'Ah! fors’é lui' and the coloratura flexibility for 'Sempre libera'. Her best vocal moment came in Act IV’s 'Addio del passato', which she sang with a simple bleakness that matched Violetta’s hopelessness.
Matthew Polenzani’s gentle, lyrical tenor brought a depth of vulnerability to Alfredo, emphasising his naiveté. He was persuasive, and his scene with this very unpleasant Germont was unusually physical and realistic – a father-son melée that burns with mutual misunderstanding and disappointment.
The Met's Traviata runs until 29 January, with the next performance on 15 January.
Read Heidi Waleson's complete review in the March/April issue of Opera Now.
Knighthood for ENO chairman; mezzo-soprano becomes a Dame
4 January 2011, London, UK
Felicity Palmer(Photo: Christian Steiner)
Arts philanthropist, Vernon Ellis, and mezzo-soprano, Felicity Palmer, have both received recognition for services to music in the UK’s 2011 New Year Honours list.
Ellis, who was honoured with a Knighthood, has been the chairman of English National Opera since 2006 and last year also became the chairman of the British Council.
He is known to have donated more than £7m to around 70 UK arts organisations, including £5m towards the renovation of The Coliseum in 2004.
Mezzo-soprano, Felicity Palmer, who now holds the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, had previously been appointed a CBE in 1993.
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