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.
Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony at ROH2, Linbury Studio Theatre
1 January 2011, London, UK
Omar Ebrahim as The Officer(Photo: Clive Barda)
Review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic
In the Penal Colony is first and foremost a nightmare opera: a drama of confusion and suffocation, collusion and retribution. A visitor to a penal colony is invited to witness an execution of a condemned man who has had no trial and doesn’t know what crime he has committed. The increasingly ambiguous relationships between visitor and executioner, and executioner and the condemned, force us to confront an evergreen conundrum: how do we deal with violence without being corrupted by it?
Rudolph Wurlitzer's libretto, based on a Franz Kafka short story, is pungent with a Pinteresque smell of power, perversity, fear and blood. Philip Glass's chamber score, on the other hand, smells of little but the salty popcorn and fizzy pop that has inflected most of his music since he started to write for film three decades ago.
The music, written for a string quintet, is heavy with emotion and arpeggios. Mostly it does too much, flattening the words or embroidering them with schmaltz. At times it jars, as in the Fellini-esque springiness near the opening. There is no doubt that Glass can sculpt narrative structures and generate momentum well enough musically but emotionally he is often way off the mark. At Covent Garden, amplification hampered the intimacy and intensity even further, highlighting as it did the frequent intonation problems that the string players were having throughout the performance.
The singers took their cue from Glass and drove home an overwrought interpretation from the start such that there was no possibility of ratcheting up the tension any further. The Officer (Omar Ebrahim) who is charged with executing the Condemned Man was jittery with mania from the word go. The willing onlooker to the execution, the Visitor (Michael Bennett), is a nervous wreck from his first soliloquy.
After a few early intonation problems, Ebrahim sung with great fluency but little tautness or tension, everything being delivered with grand operatic hyperbole. Bennett was better, his soft, light Pélleas-like voice fluttering soulfully above the fray. Indeed, there is more than something Pélleas et Mélisande-ish about the death-soaked world into which he enters.
The directing (Michael McCarthy), set (Simon Banham) and music-making (conductor, Michael Rafferty) left a lot to be desired. The altercations were unrealistic. The silent, Christ-like Condemned Man (Gerald Tyler) was too obviously to be pitied; the Visitor's role was unexplored; and the real dilemma - our desire to torture the torturer - was overlooked.
There is a great opera in here, somewhere: a tight, surreal, tense ride, full of deathly dark comedy and uncomfortable questions about acquiescence and liberal passivity. But it won't be found in this production or musical setting.
Mughal emperor inspires new commission by The Opera Group
24 December 2010, London, UK
Zahir ud-din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530)
A new chamber opera named after India’s first Mughal Emperor, Babur, has been commissioned by the innovative London-based company, The Opera Group.
Combining a libretto by contemporary Indian poet Jeet Thayil with original music by Edward Rushton, the world premiere of Babur will take place in Switzerland in 2012, followed by tours to the UK and India.
At the work’s core is an exploration the complexities of faith and multiculturalism in modern-day Britain. Its action hinges on an imagined encounter between a group of religious fundamentalists and Babur’s ghost, who challenges their plans for suicide with a vision of a more hopeful future.
“We're planning to tour the finished opera to India in 2012, working in partnership with Pro Helvetia, the British Council and Ensemble fur Neue Musik Zurich,” says director, John Fulljames. “We are looking forward to performing the opera in a context within which Babur remains a controversial historical figure and so a potent starting point for contemporary debate.”
San Francisco Opera to stage Heart of a Soldier world premiere
24 December 2010, San Francisco, US
Composer, Christopher Theofanidis(Photo: Alexandra Gardner)
San Francisco Opera has commissioned a new opera by composer Christopher Theofanidis and librettist Donna DiNovelli, based on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart’s Heart of a Soldier: A Story of Love, Heroism, and September 11th.
Starring baritone Thomas Hampson, tenor William Burden and soprano Melody Moore, the world premiere will take place at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House on 10 September 2011.
Stewart’s book, published in 2002, draws a sensitive and compelling portrait of Rick Rescorla, a former soldier who died in the World Trade Center attacks. Employed as a security manager for one of the companies in Tower Two, Rescorla successfully evacuated 2,700 colleagues from the burning building before losing his own life when it collapsed.
Theofanidis’ score promises to evoke contemporary idioms of American classical music as well as Cornish ballads and pop-rock influences. Joining the traditional orchestra will be range of added elements that include an electric guitar and synthesizer.
“The tone is lyrical and has a great deal of humour woven throughout, which reflects the humanity brought to this story by its characters,” says Theofanidis. “It is fundamentally a deeply humanistic work, the essence of which comes from a sense of service to others and duty – the heart of a soldier. Another theme is how we honour and remember the dead, how we incorporate them into our own hearts and come to grips with great loss.”
Conducted by Patrick Summers and directed by Francesca Zambello, Heart of a Soldier will receive 7 performances by San Francisco Opera between 10 and 30 September 2011.
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