Category Archives: Classical Composers

Shimmering ‘La bohème’ Opens Glimmerglass Festival

Operatoonity.com review: La bohème presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Friday, July 8, 2016, 7:30 p.m.
Alice Busch Opera Theater
Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Luigi Illica & Giuseppe Giacosa
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

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The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Glimmerglass Festival mounted a memorable tribute to its founding with a new production of La bohème, the first show the company ever presented in 1975. Those visionaries who believed summertime opera performed in repertory could somehow matter in a New York town only known for baseball would have and most likely adored this season’s opening production.

Filled with spectacle, informed by careful attention to the real Parisian scene during La Belle Époque, the 2016 show succeeded on many levels—for those who desired to wrap themselves in Puccini’s beloved melodies to those with expectations for a beauty and symmetry that Puccini himself envisioned to those seeking abandon in the doomed relationship between destitute young lovers.

Raquel González as Mimì and Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo and Raquel González as Mimì in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Because this production was set in period, it is easier for the audience to accept the show’s many provincialities. Mimi is a seamstress who can only advance herself by foregoing true love and sleeping with a rich man. Musetta and the Bohemians take full advantage of an old coot’s weakness for a slender ankle and stick him with the check. Marcello and Rodolfo both bemoan the fact that women are somehow born to flirt.

Dale Travis as Alcindoro and Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Dale Travis as Alcindoro and Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

That being said, Director E. Loren Meeker has taken great care to render a La bohème that both suited the venue and that subtly acknowledged some of the most successful stagings of the show. Her vision for the opera invoked a transcendent experience while paying homage to the pageantry of the well-known Zeffirelli version currently in the Met’s classic repertoire.

The Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve | Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

While La bohème happens to be my least favorite of Puccini’s operas, Meeker and her production team elevated the show to an unmatched artistic level, and all deserve a hearty bravi. All operatic elements worked in tandem, most effectively during the Christmas Eve festival. The scene opened with a choral celebration, trumpeting the Bohemians arrival in the Latin quarter. The chorus under the skillful direction of Choral Master David Moody and Children’s Chorus Master Tracy Allen together with clever costumes by Erik Teague and choreography by Eric Sean Fogel transported us from a dingy garret to Gay Paree.

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

As the tragic heroine Mimi, soprano Raquel González was ideally suited to the role. She had a shimmering, youthful voice that never lost its sweet tone, even while filling the hall during her first aria “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” when she introduces herself to Rodolfo in his grimy flat. It is important that the audience believe in Mimi as a modest young seamstress with inherent goodness or the role can come off cloying and insincere. She was such a believable Mimi, one sensed the despair Rodolfo must feel having lost her twice.

 "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì"

Raquel González sings “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì” in Act I.

From his very first note Rodolfo, tenor Michael Brandenburg exhibited a spinto quality with a brightness reminding me of Juan Diego Flórez. Brandenburg’s tenor needed to cut through the orchestra which occasionally overpowered the singers, a problem I never encountered at Glimmerglass in the last several years and hope I don’t encounter again. (One does come to hear the operatic voices first and foremost, Maestro Colaneri.) While González’s appearance affected a perfect Mimi, because of his scruffy beard and lackluster garb, Brandenburg looked more like Motel the Tailor than that of the romantic lead Mimi falls for instantly. He did a serviceable job as Rodolfo, and I would be intrigued to see him in a character role.

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo

Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo

Rodolfo and his flat mates Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard en scene were another highlight of this production. Though there hijinks were somewhat corny, their vocals soared. Props to all the Bohemians for the lift their vocal and physical energies lent the show. Young Artist Brian Vu was so energetic and gifted his every appearance telegraphed, “I’d like a starring role, please.” A special nod to Hunter Enoch as Marcello, whose baritone could be rich and bright and dark and bristling as the role demanded.

L to R: Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo, Hunter Enoch as Marcello, Brian Vu as Schaunard and Ryhs Lloyd Talbot as Colline in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

L to R: Michael Brandenburg as Rodolfo, Hunter Enoch as Marcello, Brian Vu as Schaunard and Ryhs Lloyd Talbot as Colline in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Young Artist Vanessa Becerra rendered my favorite Musetta ever. Not merely a scene-stealing minx with a glorious soprano voice, Becerra was entirely believable at the end of the production, giving comfort to her dying friend. Brava, Ms. Becerra. You were delightful.

Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Vanessa Becerra as Musetta in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Though the Bohemians’ clothes are threadbare and the opera is done too frequently, the cast and crew of Glimmerglass’s 2016 La bohème have injected a freshness and a genuine affection into their version. It was as welcome and sweet as a frosty mug of birch beer on a warm summer’s eve.

La bohème runs through Saturday, August 27 in repertory with Sweeney Todd, The Thieving Magpie, and The Crucible. More information is available here.

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Opera Phila’s ‘Elixir’: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Operatoonity.com review: The Elixir of Love presented by Opera Philadelphia
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti with text by Felice Romani
Live performance: Sunday, May 8, 2016
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
4-stars

 

Opera Philadelphia closed its mainstage season with the potboiler The Elixir of Love. The show was rollocking good fun, and, a lot like the last professional Elixir I saw at New York City Opera in 2009, the production ushered a rising star into the opera firmament. In 2009, that star of the NYCO show was David Lomeli as the lovestruck Nemorino. In Opera Phila’s version, the luminous soprano Sarah Shafer, a Curtis Institute of Music graduate from State College, Pennsylvania, ensconced herself as a talent to remember:

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Sarah Shafer as the petulant, flirty Adina was a standout in Opera Phila’s springtime show. Photos courtesy of Opera Philadelphia

In this version, Adina was a country schoolteacher in the 1940s after WWII, who opens the show by telling pupils and villagers all about Isolde falling for Tristan after he drinks the magic potion in the classic myth. Had she been asked to portray Adina as a fishwife, GI Jane, or a blood-soaked zombie, nothing could have diminished her impact on this production. The audience hung on Shafer’s every note, from her first appearance in Act I until her Act II aria “Prendi per me sei libero…,” a glorious version, easily sustaining the legato passages, and effortlessly reaching her top notes with the clarity and sweetness of a silver bell. She is a preeminent lyric soprano and poised for even greater roles and stages.

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Tenor Dimitris Pittas sang the role of Nemorino

As the lovestruck Nemorino, New York tenor Dimitris Pittas showed off his stellar comic timing. He was a lovable, empathetic schlub for most of the show, which is most of what is required of the role. According to a press release dated April 21, Pittas stepped into the role only a week before the show opened because the previous tenor was stricken ill. Carrying the lead role on such short notice deserves recognition. However, this reviewer can only critique the show she saw. Pittas was handed the aria of a lifetime in “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” which was a fine vocal showcase for him but not the showstopper I had hoped for. Pittas absolutely did a serviceable job and after his noteable performance in Opera Phila’s Don Carlo, I hope to see him again soon, perhaps in the 2016-17 season.

Baritone Craig Verm as Belcore

Baritone Craig Verm as Belcore

If Donizetti handed Nemorino the aria of a lifetime, then he bestows the comic role of a lifetime on the opera singer who portrays Sergeant Belcore. Belcore is an over-the-top character. To perform the role with too much swagger is probably impossible. While baritone Craig Verm was amusing and well caricatured, I was *selfishly* hoping for a bigger overall performance to contrast with Nemorino’s ingrained schlubiness, like Brutus to Wimpy. Verm sang the role well and cut a handsome figure. Coming into the show, I came down with a bit of a fever, however, a fever for some beloved Elixirs of years gone by. The only prescription would have been more swagger from Belcore.

Kevin Burdette as Doctor Dulcamara

Kevin Burdette as Doctor Dulcamara

One of my favorite Phila Opera regulars is Kevin Burdette. I have seen him excel in a range of parts. He can be menacing (Dark Sisters) and he can also be knee-slappingly funny (The Barber of Seville). Lately he has been handed several funnyman roles in Opera Phila productions and never disappoints. His characterization while singing contrapuntal patter passages was praiseworthy. Burdette won’t sacrifice one bit of his character to achieve operatic heights and this reviewer deeply appreciates his total immersion into character.

The controlling concept–an Italian countryside tale post-WWII–lent itself to some clever set devices, including the quaint billboard on which numerous images revolved. Kudos to all the behind-the-scenes talent, all of whom were Opera Phila newcomers, who made this a successful show–Director Stephen Lawless, Set Designer & Costumer Ashley Martin-Davis, and Lighting Designer Pat Collins.

In the background is the colorful period billboard promoting olive oil

In the background is the colorful, period billboard promoting olive oil

It seems like the orchestra and chorus always get mentioned in the last portion of my reviews. In the scoring of Elixir, Donizetti himself made his orchestra serve the singers rather than the other way around. In the production notes, conductor Corrado Rovaris says he sought to draw out all the emotional colors in this opera, including melancholy, which he readily accomplished. I have come to appreciate that Rovaris can conduct anything with aplomb and surrounds himself with talented, versatile musicians, coaxing many diverse sounds and styles from them, time and time again.

Overall, this was another winning production from a winning company featuring some new backstage blood and capitalizing on the talents of opera performers in Opera Phila’s growing stable of first-rate performers. I look forward to Opera Phila’s enterprising 2016-17 season, and hope to have the privilege to bring you more Operatoonity.com reviews next year.

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Mozart’s ‘Marriage of Figaro’ premiered today – May 1!

Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, an opera bouffe in four acts (my favorite opera overture) and a very fitting May premiere, was first produced at the National Theatre in Vienna on May 1, 1786, with Mozart conducting.

To celebrate the occasion, I’ll just listen to the opera today and pretend I’m there, watching and listening, on the very day it premiered.

According to Bachtrack.com, the world’s best way to find live classical music, there are a dozen performances of Le Nozze di Figaro worldwide this month from Bavarian State Opera and Opera Australia.

Did I mention Le Nozze di Figaro is my favorite opera overture?

“Mozart is sweet sunshine.”

~ Antonin Dvorak

Oh, Mozart, you’re so fine, you blow my mind. I get chills just listening to this piece:

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Sunday Best — Oscar loves opera!

*This post was great fun to share on the day of the Academy Awards, and is applicable today. Hence, an Operatoonity Encore Post.

Psssst. Wanna know a secret? Oscar’s in love with opera. Operatic music is widely and well used in many excellent films: The Godfather, Life of David Gale, Fantasia, Black Hawk Down, and the list goes on and on.

Here are some of the Oscar-winning movies I’ve seen (and some of my favorite also-rans) with the classical music they incorporated into their soundtracks. Maybe that’s why Oscar adores opera.

1997: Life Is Beautiful – Best Actor (Robert Benigni) – “Barcarolle” from Les Contes d’HoffmannOffenbach (This is one of my all-time favorite movies, so it gets the first YouTube clip.

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1993: PhiladelphiaBest Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks), and Best Music, Song (Bruce Springsteen for “Streets of Philadelphia“) – “La Mamma Morta” from Andrea Chénier – Giordano

1987: Moonstruck – Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Cher), and Best Supporting Actress – La Bohème – Puccini

1987: The Untouchables – Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Sean Connery, always have to give a nod to Sean Connery, wherever and however possible) – “Vesti la giubba” from Paliacci – Leoncavallo; also featured in a Seinfeld episode.

1987:  Wall Street – Best Actor (Michael Douglas) – “Questa O Quella” from Rigoletto – Verdi

1984 Amadeus – Eight Oscars, most notably Best Picture,  Best Actor in a Leading Role (F. Murray Abraham), Best Director (Miloš Forman), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Peter Shaffer) –  Don Giovanni  and “Sull’ Aria” from The Marriage of Figaro – by whom else by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

1980 Raging Bull – Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Editing (Schoonmaker) – “Cavalleria rusticana” – Mascagni

1979 Apocalypse Now – Best Cinematography and Best Sound – “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walkure – Wagner

Three of my favorite also nominated-but-didn’t-win movies with opera. (Hey! It’s my blog!)

1994: The Shawshank Redemption – “Sull’ Aria” from The Marriage of Figaro – Mozart. Here is the scene where Andy plays the aria for inmates (It is one of my favorite scenes ever–thank you, Mozart):

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1987: Fatal Attraction – “Un Bel di Vedremo” from Madama Butterfly  – Puccini

1990: Pretty Woman – Best Actress (Julia Roberts) La Traviata – Verdi

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“Louise,” an opera premiere to celebrate

Editor’s note: Louise premiered on February 2, Groundhog Day, in 1900, in Paris, France. (This is a Golden Operatoonity post).

poster from the opera Louise

Isn’t this a lovely opera poster? Don’t you want to melt away in Julien’s arms, too?

My former classmate Ginger found a great book on opera at a thrift shop somewhere in the lower forty-eight (she’s always flitting about the country) called The Standard Opera and Concert Guide and mailed it to me.

It’s a wonderful old book with detailed information about popular and not-so-popular operas. I thought I’d introduce readers to a composer and opera I’d never heard of: Louise by Gustave Charpentier, first produced in Paris in 1900.

A French example of verismo opera, it tells the story of the love between Louise, a seamstress living with her parents, and Julien, a Bohemian poet. It is the story of Louise’s desire for freedom (associated in her mind with her lover and the city of Paris). According to Standard Opera and Concert Guide, it is like La Bohème in that it is “first and last a story of Paris life.”

The plot turns upon Louise breaking her home ties in a tragic way, with the accompaniments of the Paris street life and the revels of Montmartre, her hometown.

The kernel of the story resonates for me. My daughter moved to Vermont to go to college and was exposed to a much different, more Bohemian way of life than she was exposed to in little old Lancaster County. It is sometimes hard and heart-breaking to watch your children break away, struggling to find themselves, but very necessary to their maturity.

Not that anything tragic has befallen our family as a result of my daughter’s finding a new home in Brattleboro, but the angst between Louise and her father, in particular, certainly hits home for me. Her dying father rages that Louise does not love him as she used to. Louise responds by saying all she wants in Julien and Paris. The her father then bids Louise never return.  When he realizes the error of his actions, Louise is long gone.

Who among us hasn’t felt pushed out of our children’s lives by friends and other circumstances?

The  music is purportedly wonderfully expressive of the traits and character of Parisian street life. I haven’t found any US opera companies that have produced it lately. Louise is, however, available on many recordings.

Many sopranos have recorded the “Depuis le jour,”  the signature aria: Sills, Callas, Moffo, Price, Fleming.  Here’s a beautiful version of “Depuis le jour,”  the signature aria, live from Covent Garden, sung by Angela Gheorghiu:

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