Category Archives: anniversary

fresh and frothy ‘Barber’ kicks off Opera Phila’s 40th season

Operatoonity.com review: The Barber of Seville presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: Sunday, September 28, 2014
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA
Music: Gioachino Rossini
Text: Cesare Sterbini
4.5 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

The principals in Opera Phila's season opener delivered a real crowd-pleaser of a show on September 28

The principals in Opera Phila’s season opener delivered a zany crowd-pleaser of a show at the Academy of Music on September 28, 2014

Bravo! Bravo! Bravissimo! The planets must have been aligned (as were all the creative forces in play) over the Academy of Music on September 28, 2014 for Opera Philadelphia’s 40th season opening production The Barber of Seville.

What a wonderful romp! From the brisk and beautiful opening overture–from conception to execution–this was a frothy, foamy, and wholly hilarious show that made opera buffa as relevant and entertaining today as it was when it was written.

Credit the over-the-top direction by Michael Shell for the show’s overwhelming success. He envisioned a production as eye-opening as the one audiences experienced in Rossini’s day. Hence, we see carnival performers to dancing chickens to the lead tenor masquerading as a hippie-dippy music teacher. His entire creative team, including the whimsical set design by Shoko Kambara, carried out Shell’s vision to a tee.

The flavor of this Barber was rollicking, fresh, and fun. Director Shell credits Pedro Almodóvar for inspiring his treatment for this show. I suppose I am late to the Almodóvar party, but I do know the work of Almodóvar’s muse–Blake Edwards–and I guarantee you will recognize and appreciate the same absurd qualities of this show if you are a fan of the Pink Panther movies. This marked Shell’s directorial debut with Opera Phila, and I certainly hope it won’t be his last effort with Philly’s premier company.

The entire company was emotionally invested in pulling off this wacky ‘Barber’ from the moment that Figaro sung by baritone Jonathan Beyer rolled onto stage in a bright blue frock coat on a bicycle.

Jonathan Beyer cut a dashing figure as Figaro.

Jonathan Beyer cut a dashing figure as Figaro.

Beyer faces some daunting expectations playing one of classic opera’s signature roles and singing one of the most beloved and also challenging arias to kick off the show. He played a sturdy Figaro, but it was not a mind-blowing performance.  Clearly, he is not a Rossini baritone. And while the end result was solid, he seemed to be laboring very hard to achieve his sound. Since Figaro gets the last bow, you want to feel as though you loved that character the best. But in this production, Figaro was simply outsung, outplayed,  outperformed by Dr. Bartolo.

Dr. Bartolo?

Bass Kevin Burdette stole the show as Dr. Bartolo.

Bass Kevin Burdette stole the show as Dr. Bartolo.

There were many fine performances in this version of Barber, but bass Kevin Burdette as the ludicrously evil Dr. Bartolo absolutely stole the show–hands down.  I hardly recognized Burdette from his earlier star turn with Opera Philadelphia singing the loathsome Prophet in their stunning 2012 production of Dark Sisters. What a versatile talent Burdette is–as convincing in great comedic roles as he is in great dramatic ones! He is also obviously a human rubber band with the ability to twist his body into more convolutions than an unbaked pretzel all while seamlessly carrying off his vocals to great effect. He simply put the audience in stitches with each appearance.

Taylor Stanton sang the lovelorn Count Almaviva.

Taylor Stanton sang the lovelorn Count Almaviva.

Tenor Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva was a great boon to the show’s success. His singing was also strong but not as effortless as Burdette’s.  However, his comic timing was spot on, particularly impersonating the psychedelic substitute music teacher.

Jennifer Holloway sang the role of Rosina.

Jennifer Holloway sang the role of Rosina.

As Rosina, apple of Count Almaviva’s eye, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Holloway was lovely to see and hear. In this zany production, Holloway reminded me of Marilyn in the old TV show The Munsters, in which everyone and everything around her is off-kilter, yet she has the grace and good looks to go with the flow and win everyone’s affection in the end. I would love to hear her in other roles. A very impressive performance!

Wayne Tigges turned in a hilarious Don Basilio.

Wayne Tigges turned in a hilarious Don Basilio.

As Rosina’s music teacher, bass-baritone Wayne Tigges delighted the audience with his rock-star aria delivered with bump, grind, and a fake microphone.  He proved a wonderful foil to soprano Katrina Thurman’s Berta, who took what might be considered a cameo or throwaway role and transformed it into a lustrous showcase of all her assets.

Katrina Thurman turned heads as the dishy Berta.

Katrina Thurman turned heads as the shapely Berta.

It was surprising to see how young many of the performers appeared in the program versus how they carried off older, more mature characters on stage with such aplomb. Credit must go to costume designer Amanda Seymour to wigs and make-up by David Zimmerman for the inspired platform they created for the performers to succeed.

Credit Opera Philadelphia conductor Corrado Rovaris for the glorious and controlled sound of the orchestra. The Barber of Seville is a long opera, and while the tempos were brisk, this is one opera that needs to keep moving.

In actuality, the production flew by. In no time at all, it seemed, everyone was on their feet at curtain call, rewarding the cast and conductor with a standing ovation for their efforts.

I am still hoping to see and hear a Figaro for the ages, which is why I gave this production 4.5 instead of 5 stars. But what a successful start to Opera Phila’s 40th season! I hope this augurs many more wonderful productions in 2014-15, for their 40th anniversary.

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Filed under anniversary, North American Opera, Opera and humor, opera and romance, Regional opera, Reviews

God, I love ‘Tosca’! Reason one: the arias

Even the libretto cover is lovely, no?

Even the libretto cover is lovely, no?

Editor’s note: This post marks the first of a Tosca week celebration on Operatoonity.com, in homage to the 114th anniversary of the work.

So, Tuesday the 14th of January marks the premiere of Puccini’s Tosca, written that date in 1900.

I want to shout it from the roof of my modest bilevel home that needs new siding: I LOVE TOSCA!

Why? The music, of course. Whenever I am listening to Opera Music Broadcast during the work day (and I almost always am live streaming it) and an aria from Tosca plays, I stop what I am doing, and take it in-completely–into every pour of my body.

Even though Cavaradossi is nearly drowning in his melancholy thinking of Tosca during the transcendently lovely”E lucevan le stelle,” I am transported to another plane of existence while he sings. Completely alive. Taking every note of the song into every pore.

But it’s not just the music. It’s the sentiment behind the music. The man is unequivocal, unapologetic, and consumed by his love for Tosca. That kind of devotion to a woman seems so unfashionable today, in this era of non-commitment. Perhaps that’s why I find his devotion so arresting and transformative.

Heavenly day, who wouldn’t want to be wholly loved like that! by a man like Cavaradossi!

Not convinced? Listen to Alagna singing the act three aria ‘E lucevan le stella.” Oh, and here is a translation of the lyrics:

“E lucevan le stella”

The stars seemed to shimmer
The sweet scents of the garden,
The creaking gate seemed to whisper,
And a footstep skimmed over the sand.
Then she came in, so fragrant,
And fell into my arms!
Oh! sweet kisses, oh, languorous caresses,
While I, trembling, was searching
For her features, concealed by her mantle.
My dream of love faded away, for good!
Everything’s gone now.
I’m dying hopeless, desperate!
And never before have I loved life like this!
And never before have I loved life like this!
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Filed under 20th Century Opera, anniversary, Classic Opera, Italian opera, verismo opera

on Carmen’s anniversary, a sing-off to celebrate

Bizet’s Carmen

Editor’s note: This is a Golden Operatoonity post.

Today, March 3, marks the anniversary of Bizet’s Carmen, which premiered on this day in Paris in 1875.

With one work, Bizet ushers in the verismo opera movement.

Carmen is hardly my favorite opera. As a storyteller, it’s damned hard for me to like Carmen as the central figure in this opera. She’s hard, calculating, cruel and fatalistic. Modern mores sometimes prevent other operagoers from engaging with Carmen as well, as evidenced  in comments such as, “Why is everyone smoking on stage? That’s ridiculous for a bunch of singers” or “A cigarette factory is a goofy setting for an opera.”

Whatever you think about Carmen or the setting or the preposterousness of the storyline, however much you might scratch your head or downright ache for Don Jose’s complete meltdown over a woman not worthy of him, it is Bizet’s soaring, riveting music that lifts the opera into the realm of exceptional works.

Today, in celebration of Carmen, rather than trot out the expected treatments of Habanera, etc., I’d like to offer you Don Jose’s “Flower” aria, “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” as sung by various artists.

First we have a clip of  Jonas Kaufmann. Truly, this is one of the most exquisitely complete performances of this aria available on YouTube. He sings and acts the HELL out of it, and for me, I have to have more than a pretty sound to really relish opera performance. I think Kaufmann is the most complete male performer today. You will love this, that is, if you have no moral objections to a tenor voice with a unique baritone quality to it.

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Next we have Roberto Alagna’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee” which sounds exquisite, but he doesn’t exude that tortured spirit,the inner demons, that is so essential to the portrayal of Don Jose.

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Next is José Carreras from a 1987 Metropolitan Opera production. He certainly sings the dickens out of this. Truly, a world class tenor. His gestures, his posture are more gallant than tortured.  It’s amazing that Carmen (Agnes Baltsa) sits still as a statue and is unmoved by that performance. Also worth noting is how much the style of opera performance has changed in one generation, from Carreras to Kaufmann.

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While Carreras vocally is the strongest, Kaufmann’s is the best total performance, followed by Carreras, then Alagna. What say you, opera devotees?

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Filed under anniversary, Golden Operatoonity, Premieres, tenors, verismo opera, Video

happy anniversary, ‘Tosca,’ and an aria to celebrate!

Sondra Radvanovsky in Tosca

Sondra as Tosca in the Metropolitan Opera production

Today marks the anniversary of a beloved, and I do mean a beloved, opera–Tosca, which premiered in on January 14, 1900in Rome, Italy. One stunning aria after another. A bad guy who is so utterly evil he makes your blood run cold. A flawed but valiant heroine who lives and dies for love.

It is my favorite Puccini opera–bar none.

Two years ago this month, I saw Tosca at the Met, and it was a life-changing performance for me. (You can read my Bachtrack review here. )

While some of the “regie” directorial choices were clearly questionable, the performances were nothing short of stunning. I fell in love with Marcelo Álvarez as Cavaradossi. German baritone Falk Struckmann gave a chilling performance as the villain Scarpia, one of the best I’ve ever seen on stage in the U.S.

But it was American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky who would seal my fate as a Tosca devotee for the rest of my life.

As it turned out, I was lucky to escape that performance with my life intact. See, during her second art aria, “Vissi d’arte,” which was absolutely breathtaking, Sondra hit that high note around 3:11 on the video below, and it took my breath away–literally. I gulped in air and began coughing.

Just my luck, that gorgeous high note at 3:11 resolves sotto voce in the next few measures. I thought the people sitting around me were going to kill me. Because the end of the song is so quiet, I couldn’t scrounge around in the my purse for a lozenge to stop the coughing. I almost died trying to hold my breath until the end of the song.

But death would have been a noble end if Sondra’s voice were the last thing I’d heard before expiring.

Thank you, Sondra Radvanovsky, for your peerless artistry, and for teaching me a lesson. Never sit through a live performance of opera without a lozenge clenched in your fist.

Here is Sondra’s stellar, gorgeous, captivating aria, for you to enjoy, too:

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Filed under anniversary, Performers, sopranos

remembering Gluck on his dying day

Christoph Willibald von Gluck

Today, November 15, 1787, composer Christoph Willibald von Gluck died in Vienna, Austria.

Not much of the opera seen today was written prior to the eighteenth century. Gluck is one of the earliest pre-Mozart composers whose work endures. Quite a triumph when you consider how many other operas and composers have disappeared from the repertoire.

As J. Merrill Knapp observed, “Gluck’s works pointed to the future. They still represent a signficant landmark in the chronicle of opera.”

According to Bachtrack.com, there are 14 European performances of Gluck’s lesser-known one-act opera  L’Ivrogne Corrigé (The Reformed Drunkard) through February 2012.  The plot centers around a merchant who loves his drink and will not allow his niece to marry her sweetheart because he has promised her to a drinking buddy. The merchant learns his lesson when his family make him believe he has died during a bender and gone to the underworld.

Peabody Opera Workshop did  L’Ivrogne Corrigé two years ago, but perhaps because of it being only one act and having a paper-thin plot, it’s not often performed in the U.S.

But the rare work intrigued me, so here is a video of one of arias from L’Ivrogne Corrigé sung by soprano Claudine Collart.

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Filed under anniversary, Classical Composers