No opera says Glyndebourne like Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. It opened the first season in 1934 and inaugurated the new theatre in 1994. Michael Grandage’s production which opened in 2012 was, I think, Glyndebourne’s fifth. In any event it’s a fairly traditional affair though with the setting updated to the 1960s (though still set in a palace in Seville and I’ve got a nagging feeling that late Franco era Spain didn’t have much in common with the Haight and Carnaby Street but there you go). The updated setting does allow for some visual gags with ridiculous 1960s dance moves but otherwise it could pretty much be anywhere, anytime. There’s no concept and Grandage’s focus is on the interactions between the characters and the way they can be expressed in a relatively intimate house.
Back to the Four Seasons Centre last night for a second look at Norma. This time with Elza van den Heever singing the title role. Van den Heever has a more conventional voice than Sondra Radvanovsky. It’s perhaps not as dramatic and distinct but it’s an accurate, flexible instrument with plenty of colours and big enough for the role. She’s also every bit as good as an actress so I don’t think the production suffers from losing its “headliner”. Russell Thomas impressed again. He’s so much better as Pollione than he was as Don José. The acting is convincing and he really gets the chance to let rip here with what is a truly glorious tenor voice. All the obvious comparisons suggest and are not ridiculous. Isabel Leonard was also very fine last night and the duets with van den Heever were perhaps the highlight of the show. Hat tip too to Charles Sy who never sounded out of place even when Thomas was singing all guns blazing, It’s only two years since he was singing in a student production of HMS Pinafore.
Kevin Newbury’s production of Bellini’s Norma at the COC (co-pro with San Francisco, Chicago and the Liceu) is perhaps best described as serviceable. I have seen various rather desperate efforts made to draw deep meaning from it but I really don’t think there is any. That said, it looks pretty decent and is efficient. The single set allows seamless transitions between scenes which is a huge plus. So, what does it look like? It’s basically a sort of cross between a barn and a temple with a back wall that can raised or moved out of the way to expose the druids’ sacred forest. There’s also a sort of two level cart thing which characters ascend when they have something especially important to sing. Costumes were said to have been inspired by Game of Thrones; animal skins, leather, tattoos (which actually don’t really read except up very close), flowing robes. Norma herself appears to be styled, somewhat oddly, on a Klingon drag queen. The lighting is effective and there are some effective pyrotechnics at the end. All in all a pretty good frame for the story and the singing.
This review first appeared in the print edition of Opera Canada.
Jennifer Higdon’s Cold Mountain, which premiered at Santa Fe in 2015, is an example of what seems to be becoming the standard American formula for new opera. It takes a story from a best selling book that has already been made into a Hollywood film and turns it into an opera. Add to that that it’s a melodrama set in the currently fashionable Civil War South. Melodramatic it certainly is. Within five minutes Owens (Robert Pomakov) has been stabbed and buried alive and his son (Adrian Kramer) bound, gagged and dragged off to the army. A little later our hero, a Confederate deserter played by Nathan Gunn, rescues Laura (Andrea Nūnez) from being thrown from a cliff by her preacher boyfriend (Roger Honeywell). He ends up as part of a heap of chained together corpses. This production is rough on Canadian singers. There’s much more in the same vein with summary executions, baby torture, a choir of dead soldiers and the hero dying with the last shot of the piece. All of this is spun around the romance between the hero, Inman, and his classy but clueless girlfriend Ada (Isabel Leonard) who is busy dodging the attentions of the creepy and repulsive Teague (Jay Hunter-Morris) with the help of the sassy but practical Ruby (Emily Fons).
So it’s that time of year when Christmas records start appearing. The latest to come my way consists of musical settings by Rob Kapilow of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express and Dr. Seuss’ Gertrude McFuzz. Yes, it’s American and aimed at kids and if you were to place it on a spectrum of Christmas music that ran from Frosty the Snowman to Carols from King’s it would be decidedly closer to the former. Continue reading →
Thomas Adès’ 2004 opera The Tempest was given at the Metropolitan Opera in 2012 in a new production by Robert Lepage. It got an HD broadcast and a subsequent DVD release. It’s an interesting work which, on happening, was compared to Peter Grimes as the “next great English opera”. Whether this early hype will turn into a sustained place in the repertoire is yet to be seen. Musically it’s not easy to characterize. Adès very much has his own style; mixing lyricism with atonality and, in this piece, setting one of the roles, Ariel, so high it’s surprising anyone has been found to sing it. Certainly it’s a more aggressively modern style than most of the work currently being produced in North America. The libretto two is unusual. Shakespeare’s own words were, apparently, considered too difficult to sing though, of course, Britten famously set great screeds of unadulterated bard in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. For the Tempest, Meredith Oakes has rendered the text into couplets; rhymed or half rhymed. It works quite well with only the occasional touch of Jeremy Sams like banality.
Last night saw the final performance of the COC’s run of La clemenza di Tito. I had seen the Ensemble Studio performance a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it but had some questions and reservations about the production. Last night many of those issues were resolved. It seemed more closely directed and the characterizations were more fully rehearsed. A good example of this would be Michael Schade’s intensely neurotic Tito which was central to the concept. Many things make sense if one sees Tito as being in love with an idea of himself. In this context his betrayal by Sesto is particularly hurtful because it implies that his closest confidante isn’t buying it and his “clemency” is necessary to restore his faith in his own self-projection. This Tito gives Robert Gleadow’s Publio space and reason to be more than the dutiful, rather thick plod. He’s the one who has seen through Tito but must “play the game”. His final, rather sharp, exchanges with Vitellia suggest a genuine capacity for malevolence. This is, after all, an Imperial Court, where by definition life is dangerous and nothing what it seems.
Thomas Adès’ The Tempest has had something like eight runs since its premiere at Covent Garden in 2004. It recently opened at the Metropolitan Opera in a new production by Robert Lepage which was broadcast as part of the Met in HD series this afternoon. It’s an interesting work musically. Some of the vocal writing is reminiscent of Britten. It all tends to a high tessitura for the voice type concerned and goes to extremes in that direction for the soprano part of Ariel where parts are so high that clear articulation of the words is impossible. Writing for voice and orchestra ranges from dissonant to extremely lyrical (the act 2 duet between Miranda and Ferdinand). Key and time signature changes are legion and many of the intervals for the singers are extreme. It must be extremely difficult to perform but it’s rather lovely to listen to.
In 2009 Claus Guth wrapped up his Da Ponte cycle for Salzburg with Cosí fan tutte. I really like his Le Nozze di Figaro and after seeing this Così I’ll certainly be seeking out the Don Giovanni too.
This production was staged in the Haus für Mozart and uses a single set. It’s the girls’ apartment; a very expensive looking two level loft with a broad staircase that recalls the Figaro. The setting is contemporary and it opens on the aftermath of what appears to have been a rather good party. The men are preparing to leave when Don Alfonso issues his challenge. It’s the edgiest version of the scene I’ve watched with quite an undertone of violence. This is clearly not going to be a light comedy. By Una bella serenata the characteristic feathers of the Figaro have appeared. The edginess continues throughout the first act with many deft touches, especially a power cut staging of Come Scoglio. When the “Albanians” appear there is only the most perfunctory effort at disguise. No slapstick moustaches here. Continue reading →