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La bohème - Reopening the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, Argentina

8 October 2010, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Virginia Tola (Mimì) with Marius Manea (Rodolfo)
Virginia Tola (Mimì) with Marius Manea (Rodolfo)(Photo: Arnaldo Colombaroli)

Nicole Cabell (Musetta)
Nicole Cabell (Musetta)(Photo: Arnaldo Colombaroli)

Opera Now correpondent, Karyl Charna Lynn, reports from Buenos Aires:

Although Aida, the opera which inaugurated the Teatro Colón in 1908, was the preferred work for the reopening, it would be technically complex to stage properly, and with new equipment, no one wanted to risk a production disaster. So La bohème, the most performed opera in the Colón’s history, was chosen instead.

The Argentine director Hugo De Ana, who began his career at the Colón, recreated the raw, gritty realism of the “life of the Bohemians.” With each act looking as if it were copied from early 1900s starkly realistic French paintings, the production captured the hardship and poverty of their existence, and the joy and chaos of Parisian street life, while evoking as much emotional poignancy as Puccini’s music. The scenery became an integral part of the story, setting the stage and atmosphere for Puccini’s characters and music, fitting for such an illustrious occasion as the reopening of the Colón.

In Act I, you could feel the coldness with the characters wrapped in dirty, torn blankets, shivering on the floor, and the primitiveness of their existence with a toilet in the middle of the room, like a prison cell. The last act exuded the warmth of summer with its carefree days and Rodolfo and Marcello sunbathing on the roof, making the contrast with Mimì’s impending death even more pronounced.

De Ana also made sure the Colón’s new technical capabilities were on full display when, before our eyes, the small, crude garret was seamlessly transformed into a spectacular recreation of early 1900s Paris, complete with clowns, dogs, police, children, street vendors, and even ancient vehicles, with his own twist: instead of the audience looking at the Café Momus, we were with the characters, inside Café Momus, looking out at the Paris street. The letters on the Café Momus awning were a mirror image. The act ended with the band marching down the center aisle of the stalls. Stark realism contrasted with whimsical fantasy, grandeur fused with minute detail, those were the production’s hallmarks.

Unfortunately, the singing, although respectable, was not at the same high level as the production. There were moments of greatness, especially Marius Manea’s (Rodolfo) final “No…No.. . Mimì  Mimì” which sent collective chills down the spines of the audience, but it took half the opera for both Manea and Virginia Tola (Mimì) to get their voices warmed up, focused and in tune. In the early acts, the orchestra covered their voices, and it wasn’t maestro Stefano Ranzani fault. Initially, Manea exhibited too much vibrato and sounded strained. Tola displayed a small, delicate voice, matching her character, but a larger sound was needed to fill the Colon, despite its perfect acoustics.  Nicole Cabell made a zesty and temperamental Musetta, while Marco Caria (Marcello), Omar Carrión (Schaunard), and Denis Sedov (Colline) acted well as starving artists, but sounded their best only after a couple of acts. Ranzani, however, excelled in the heavenly sounds he drew from the orchestra.


Les Pêcheurs de Perles at London’s Royal Opera House

7 October 2010, London, UK

Soprano, Nicole Cabell
Soprano, Nicole Cabell(Photo: Devon Cass)

Opera Now correspondent, Francis Muzzu, reports on a concert performance of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles at Covent Garden:

As with buses, you wait ages in London for Les Pêcheurs de Perles and then two arrive together.  Following ENO’s so-so production this summer, the Royal Opera presented the work in concert form, its first hearing in the house since 1920. 

Where ENO’s venture skulled for a while and then sank only to settle gently on the seabed, the Royal Opera swam confidently with an almost Esther Williams-like vigour.  Antonio Pappano conjured a rich and colourful orchestral sound, with pliant phrasing and rhythmic pace – his players responded with enthusiasm.  Likewise the chorus seemed to enjoy their outbursts, (sometimes dangerously near jaunty, but let’s say atmospheric). 

Of the soloists, only one truly inhabited their role, and that was Nicole Cabell, elegant in deep violet silk as the priestess Leïla, and for once you could see what the tenor and baritone were getting flustered about.  Her voice is equally alluring, with a slightly veiled quality that saves it from being merely pretty, and even throughout the range and with strong technique, including a trill.  I would like to hear more thrust at the top, but she sings sensibly within her means and that’s a small cavil.  John Osborn made a strong house debut as Nadir, ‘Je crois entendre encore’ being a particularly beautiful moment, with his judicious use of voix mixte.  Gerard Finley produced burnished tone as Zurga, if with a slightly detached presence; I suspect his role suffered the most from the concert format.  Raymond Aceto was luxury casting as Nourabad, and made much of little.

Not the greatest opera, in fact somewhat patchy – the plot is driven by too much off-stage business and it feels more like a series of tableaux – but this was a first-rate performance.


The Met: Live in HD 2010-11 season to kick off with Wagner

6 October 2010

The descent to Nibelheim from The Met's new production of ‘Das Rheingold’
The descent to Nibelheim from The Met's new production of ‘Das Rheingold’(Photo: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera's fifth season of award-winning live relay transmissions, The Met: Live in HD, will be launched on 9 October with Wagner’s Das Rheingold.

This new production by Robert Lepage is the first instalment in a much-awaited Ring cycle that will be presented over the next two seasons, culminating in three complete cycles in April 2012.

Conducted by James Levine, the production features a star-studded cast led by Bryn Terfel as Wotan. Its complex set uses advanced technology that is said to be The Met’s most challenging staging ever.

“The Ring isn’t just a story or a series of operas,” says Lepage, “it’s a cosmos. I try to be extremely respectful of Wagner’s storytelling, but in a modern context.”

The Met: Live in HD 2010-11 season is expected to reach 1500 cinemas in 46 countries. Visit Picturehouse and Showcase Cinemas for details of UK screenings.

The November/December 2010 issue of Opera Now will include a cover feature about opera in cinema by Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar.


Soprano Jennifer Vyvyan's personal archive goes online

5 October 2010, London, UK

Jennifer Vyvyan
Jennifer Vyvyan

When Jennifer Vyvyan died in 1974, aged only 49, she was one of leading British singers of her time. Since then, her achievements have been half-forgotten. But new light has been thrown on them by a hidden cache of memorabilia, unearthed and archived by Opera Now correspondent, Michael White, and now forming the basis for a substantial website.

A member of the English Opera Group from its earliest days, Vyvyan was one of Britten's favourite voices – for which he wrote the Governess in The Turn of the Screw, Tytania in Midsummer Night's Dream, Lady Rich in Gloriana, Mrs Julian in Owen Wingrave, and other roles. But she was also significant to the music of composers like Poulenc, Milhaud, Berkeley, Bliss and Malcolm Williamson. And she was a leading figure in the revival of baroque repertory: a celebrated interpreter of Purcell, Rameau, Bach and Handel who starred in landmark 1950s/60s reappraisals of the Handel operas at Sadlers Wells, Covent Garden and elsewhere.

Born into a landed family with an ancient seat not unlike that of the fictional Wingraves, she led a complicated and tempestuous life that echoed several of her Britten roles. And when she died – the result of a chronic bronchial illness she'd gone to extreme lengths to keep secret throughout her career – she left behind a small son and a distraught husband who packed her possessions into boxes and put them in a loft in Hampstead. Where they remained, largely undisturbed, for the next 36 years.

Last Christmas, her son asked Michael White to look through them. And what emerged was a treasure-trove of letters, diaries, contracts, photos, concert programmes and BBC recordings that White has turned into a website which not only celebrates Vyvyan's life but explores its significance in the wider context of English singing.

The website was launched last week at a Wigmore Hall reception in London, attended by surviving singers and other colleagues from the operatic world of the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

On 9 October 2010, Michael White will be talking about Vyvyan and Britten prior to the opening of a new production of The Turn of the Screw at Opera North in Leeds.


News round-up – 4 October 2010

4 October 2010

Mark Elder at the Gramophone Awards
Mark Elder at the Gramophone Awards(Photo: Mark Harrison)

Stephen D. Rountree
Stephen D. Rountree(Photo: Gary Leonard)

László Polgár
László Polgár

Opera award goes to Mark Elder and The Hallé

Mark Elder has won the Opera category in this year’s Gramophone Awards for his recording of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung with The Hallé. The 53-year-old British conductor also took home the Concerto Award. Other winners announced at last Friday’s ceremony in London included the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato, who topped the Recital category with her disc of Rossini arias, Colbran, the Muse, and Italian conductor, Antonio Pappano, whose new Verdi Requiem recording earnt him the Choral Award.

Stephen D. Rountree becomes new CEO

Plácido Domingo has announced senior management changes at LA Opera, including the promotion of Stephen D. Rountree to the position of Chief Executive Officer.  Rountree will be succeeded in his former role as Chief Operating Officer by the company’s Vice President of Artistic Planning, Christopher Koelsch. This reshuffle follows the renewal of Domingo’s contract as general director of LA Opera through 2013. Domingo is currently singing the role of Pablo Neruda in the company’s world premiere production of Daniel Catán’s, Il Postino.

Hungarian operatic bass dies, aged 63

László Polgár has died in Switzerland, aged 63. The Hungarian singer, who had been the principal bass with Zurich Opera since 1991, was best known for his portrayal of Duke Bluebeard in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle – a role that he recorded for Deutsche Grammophon in 1998, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.

European Court of Human Rights bid will not be considered

The European Court of Human Rights has declined a bid by English composer, Keith Burstein, who claims that his rights were violated during an attempt to sue London’s Evening Standard for defamation. Burstein’s opera, Manifest Destiny, was criticised by the newspaper for portraying suicide bombers as heroic. He now faces bankruptcy after losing the earlier case, for which he says he was unfairly denied a jury trial.

Cumbria’s Workington Opera House faces commercial redevelopment

A campaign has been launched to save Workington Opera House in Cumbria, northwest England. The 2,000-seat venue, which opened in 1888, was last used as a bingo hall that closed down ten years ago. The local authority has provisionally approved plans to turn the site into shops and flats, but a spokesperson for the UK Theatres Trust, which is backing the campaign, said: "There is strong local support for the revival of the opera house. Demand for theatrical facilities in Workington also currently outstrips supply.”


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