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Magic tricks - Rossini's Armida at The Met

19 May 2010, New York, USA

Renée Fleming as Armida
Renée Fleming as Armida(Photo: Ken Howard)

Report by Heidi Waleson

Rossini’s Armida, the Metropolitan Opera’s final new production of the Season and a company premiere, was mounted for its star soprano, Renée Fleming. The tale of a sorceress who ensnares a Crusader, Rinaldo, and turns him from his proper military path, the conquest of Jerusalem, Armida is a showcase for singers: six tenors surround the soprano, in a tour de force role that Rossini wrote for Isabella Colbran, and a lot of very florid, high-wire vocalism is required from everyone. It would probably work better in a smaller house, where these ever-escalating pyrotechnics would be more immediate for the audience.  Fleming can sing the notes, and she sounded lovely in the lyrical passages, but her voice didn’t display the kind of incisive edge and fiery precision that makes this repertoire truly exciting. Nor is she terribly believable as a villain. She was clearly having a fine time wielding her magic wand and bending tenors to her will, but even in her final rage aria, it all seemed to be happening in the spirit of fun.

The six excellent Rossini tenors included Lawrence Brownlee as the bewitched Rinaldo, whose elegant lyricism blended well with Fleming’s, José Manuel Zapata, who displayed a big, ringing sound as Gernando, a jealous knight killed off by Rinaldo in Act I (he and Brownlee also had an enjoyable vocal battle, complete with dueling high notes), and John Osborn, imposing as Goffredo, the head Crusader.

Two more fine tenors, Kobie van Rensburg and Barry Banks, turned up in Act III as knights determined to rescue Rinaldo from Armida; they sang a show-stopping trio with him. Yeghishe Manucharyan had a brief but impressive appearance in Act I as Eustazio, Goffredo’s brother. The lower-voiced villains were bass Peter Volpe as Idraote, Armida’s uncle and bass-baritone Keith Miller even danced a bit as Astarotte, the leader of her demon followers. Riccardo Frizza’s conducting was regrettably pedestrian, but there was some fine solo playing from the pit.

Much of the plot, such as it is, revolves around Armida’s magic, but director Mary Zimmerman’s production was low on enchantment. Designer Richard Hudson created a classical semicircular wall with doors, dressed up with a few extras touches, such as a field of poppies and some gigantic birds and insects, and Brian MacDevitt supplied some lighting changes to suggest the Crusaders’ camp or the pleasure palace that Armida conjures up for her captive. The knights stood around in red Crusader gear and armor, and much of the character interaction was symbolic rather than real.

Indeed, the production tone was slightly satirical throughout. Some of the most effective moments were pure fun, such as Armida’s lizard-like dancing and singing demons, with horns, scales and long skinny tails. The Met chorus proved wonderfully game here, participating in the snaky choreography by Graciela Daniele. Opera ballets are usually either a snooze or an embarrassment, but Daniele and associate choreographer Daniel Pelzig worked wonders, and the lengthy Act II ballet, in the pleasure palace, was a witty re-enactment of Armida’s conquest of Rinaldo, complete with lissome maidens and leaping lizards in tutus. If only the opera’s dramatic moments – and Fleming’s singing – had been as lively.


Philip Langridge Bursary Fund announced

11 May 2010

Philip Langridge
Philip Langridge(Photo: Richard Davies)

Philip Langridge as Alonso, King of Naples, in the Royal Opera production of Thomas Ades' The Tempest
Philip Langridge as Alonso, King of Naples, in the Royal Opera production of Thomas Ades' The Tempest(Photo: Clive Barda)

A new bursary in memory of the late tenor Philip Langridge has been created by Co-Opera Co., a London-based training company for young opera professionals.

As a principal spokesman and supporter of the company, Philip Langridge was one of the first artists to join students in the company’s rehearsal rooms, offering workshops for young opera singers.

“Co-Opera Co has been very fortunate that Philip Langridge, whose communication masterclasses were very much in demand, was one of the tutors for their ensemble weekend workshop earlier this year,” said a statement by the company. “His versatility, sublime interpretation of complex characters, striking stage presence, worldwide career and distinctive voice made him an outstanding role model for young singers.”

In recognition of Langridge’s passion for teaching young singers at the start of their professional careers, the fund has now been established in his name.

The Philip Langridge Bursary Fund will help by providing financial help, initially for Co-Opera Co. projects and eventually to assist the company’s associate members with other career-related funding. The bursary will also enable Co-Opera Co. to give loans and discretionary grants to singers, repetiteurs and conductors.

To launch this initiative and raise money for the find, Co-Opera Co. is hosting a gala concert at the London Oratory School on 30 May. The evening will feature performances by more than 20 artists associated with the company, including Yvonne Howard and Sarah Connolly, plus a promise auction offering singing lessons by some of the artists taking part.


News round-up - 10 May 2010

10 May 2010

Frédéric Chaslin
Frédéric Chaslin

Dawn Upshaw
Dawn Upshaw(Photo: Dario Acosta)

Frédéric Chaslin to open 2010-11 Season with Gounod's Faust

French composer and conductor, Frédéric Chaslin, has been appointed as the new chief conductor of Santa Fe Opera, effective from 1 October 2010. He will succeed Edo de Waart, whose tenure ended earlier than expected due to family and health reasons. Chaslin conducted Verdi's La Traviata at Santa Fe Opera in 2009 with Natalie Dessay as Violetta. He is scheduled to open the company’s 2010-11 Season in October with a new production of Gounod's Faust.

Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis needs more time

The Minnesota Opera has postponed the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis. Originally scheduled to close the company’s 2010-11 Season, Artistic Director Dale Johnson says the commission still needs more time to grow. Five performances of Bernard Hermann’s Wuthering Heights will take place instead.

Soprano to lead Ojai Music Festival 2011

American soprano, Dawn Upshaw, has been named as the music director of California's Ojai Music Festival 2011. The 4-day programme will include a world premiere written for Upshaw by big band leader, Maria Schneider, and a new production directed by Peter Sellars with Upshaw as soloist. Both are collaborations with the University of California, Berkeley, under the inaugural Ojai-Berkeley partnership series, Ojai North!

Baritone elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

American baritone, Thomas Hampson, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He is one of 229 leaders in the arts, humanities, sciences, business, and public affairs to be awarded membership this year

Gluck’s Armide on Classical WETA-FM – 15 May 2010

Classical WETA-FM will broadcast Opera Lafayette’s performance of Gluck’s Armide on 15 May 2010 as part of the station’s Classical WETA Opera House program. Opera lovers worldwide can tune in to the free broadcast at 13:00 EDT via www.weta.org/fm/.


Guangzhou's 'twin boulder' Opera House opens its doors

10 May 2010, [Originally posted on 6 May 2010]

Guangzhou Opera House
Guangzhou Opera House(Image: Zaha Hadid)

Anna Shafajinskaya as Turandot
Anna Shafajinskaya as Turandot(Photo: Ken Howard / San Diego Opera)

A new 1,800-seat opera house in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou will open its doors tonight with a performance of Puccini’s Turandot.

Conducted by Lorin Maazel, the international cast for this staging of Reina Sofía's 2008 Palau de les Arts production includes Ukrainian soprano, Anna Shafajinskaya, as the Princess, Canadian tenor, Richard Margison, in his signature role of Calàf, and Chilean soprano, Christina Gallardo-Domâs, singing Liù.

The auditorium has taken five years to construct and cost one billion Chinese Yuan (USD $146 million). 

Built on the banks of the Pearl River, its bold and futuristic design by award-winning British architect, Zaha Hadid, looks like two giant boulders taken from the river bed.

It is likely to be one of the key attractions during this year’s Asian Games, due to take place in Guangzhou during November.

Together with its neighbouring multifunctional hall, the Opera House forms the core of the city’s growing cultural quarter, plans for which include a museum and sites for metropolitan activities.

It is now also the third largest auditorium of its kind in China, outranked only by Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts and the Shanghai Grand Theatre.

A recent announcement by Guangzhou Opera House said that more than 200 performances are being planned for 2010, but further details have not yet been confirmed.


Richard Margison spoke to Opera Now after the first night of Turandot at Guangzhou Opera House:

“The new building is spectacular and is definitely going to be a landmark. It’s not quite finished yet, but the scope of the site that has been planned is very impressive.”

“The auditorium itself is pretty big inside, but still has an intimate feeling. I must also say that the acoustic is fantastic – not too dry and not too bright. Of course, during rehearsals it felt a little too bright, but with the audience in there it warmed up and the balance felt just right.”

“We kept the opening night performance going continuously. As a result, there weren’t many opportunities for people to applaud after each item, but at the end of the opera the response was extremely tumultuous and we received a long standing ovation.”

“The orchestra was the Shanghai Opera Orchestra and the chorus was also from the Shanghai Opera, augmented by a local chorus from Guangzhou. Their contribution to the performance was tremendous.”

“I don’t think that the technical team had had enough time to get used to everything, so there were a few glitches on the technical and make-up side of things, but nothing that can’t be ironed out over time.”

“All in all, it’s been a huge honour for me to be part of the birth of a new opera house and a new audience. It’s a wonderful venue and I’d certainly like to come back here to perform again in the future”


European Opera Days - 8-9 May 2010

7 May 2010

This weekend, 97 opera houses in 21 countries across Europe will celebrate the fourth annual European Opera Days weekend with a coordinated programme of activities called ‘Crossing Bridges’.

Participating companies are organising special programmes for children and young people, from workshops to performances with heavily discounted tickets, putting the focus on building new audiences and discussing directions for the future with a new generation of opera-goers.

Timed to coincide with Europe Day (9 May), European Opera Days is a joint initiative of Opera Europa and RESEO (the European Network for Opera and Dance Education).

“We believe that ’Crossing Bridges’ is a stimulating metaphor for the art of opera today”, say Opera Europa President, Joan Matabosch, and RESEO Chair, Linda Lovrovic.

“Often accused of being elitist and out-of-date, opera today is extraordinarily alive and kicking. Exploring unconventional spaces, performed in pubs and metro stations, it also uses multimedia and state-of-the-art technology to tell stories that speak across the boundaries of language and nationhood.”

If you are near an opera house in Europe on 8 and 9 May, go and see for yourself what opera is doing to build bridges, move beyond its own walls, and shake off the myth of elitism once and for all.

Next year's European Opera Days will be celebrated on 7-8 May 2011 and focus on creating opera for young audiences.


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