Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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In Quest of Operatic World Premieres – June-December, 2015

March 28th, 2015

Below is a list of world premieres of new operas, which I will be reviewing between June and December, 2015. 


This list is supplementary to previous lists in this “Quests and Anticipations” series of selected operas being performed from April 2015 through February 2016:

Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” at the Houston Grand Opera and the San Francisco Opera and Bernstein’s “Candide” at the Glimmerglass Festival [See In Quest of American “Opera Repertory-Expanding” Musical Works, March-September, 2015.]

Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” at the Santa Fe Opera, Verdi’s “Macbeth” at the Glimmerglass Festival and Verdi’s “Nabucco” at the Seattle Opera [See In Quest of Donizetti and Early Verdi – March 2015 through August 2015.]

Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” at the Los Angeles Opera [See In Quest of the “Da Ponte” Mozart Operas – October 2014-March 2015.]

Verdi’s “Rigoletto” at the Santa Fe Opera [See In Quest of Popular Verdi Operas – October 2014 to Summer 2015.]

Berlioz’ “The Trojans (Les Troyens) at the San Francisco Opera, and Vivaldi’s “Cato in Utica” at the Glimmerglass Festival [See In Quest of Less Well-Known Operas – February to August, 2015.]

Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” at the San Francisco Opera and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro at the San Francisco Opera and the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of “Figaro” Operas – February 2015 through February 2016.]


Tutino, “Two Women (La Ciociara)”, San Francisco Opera, June 13, 19, 23, 28(m) and 30, 2015 

Two refugee women struggle to survive in a rural Italian community against the backdrop of the German World War II invasion of Italy as the Fascist government of Mussolini falls.

[Below: Anna Caterina Antonacci, who will create the lead part in “Two Women (La Ciociara); edtied image of a publicity photograph.


Anna Caterina Antonacci, returning to the San Francisco Opera after an absence of 17 years and Sarah Shafer are respectively the mother Cesura and daughter Rosetta. The male leads are Dmitri Pittas as Michele and Mark Delavan as Giovanni. Nicola Luisotti conducts in a production created by Francesca Zambello with sets by Peter Davison.


Higdon, Cold Mountain, Santa Fe Opera, August 1, 5, 14, 17 and 22, 2015.

Based on Charles Frazier’s novel about a Confederate deserter, the Santa Fe Opera production commemorates the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War. The music is that of Jennifer Higdon to a libretto by Gene Scheer (“Moby Dick”).

[Below: Composer Jennifer Higdon; resized image, based on a Charles Fair photograph from jenniferhigdon.com.]

HIGDON (400)

The scheduled cast includes Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard, Emily Fons, Jay Hunter Morris, Roger Honeywell, Anthony Michaels-Moore, Kevin Burdette and Robert Pomakov. Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts.


Heggie, “Great Scott”, The Dallas Opera, October 30, November 1, 4, 7 and 15, 2015.

A new comic opera, composed by Jake Heggie with a libretto by Terrence McNally, stars Joyce DiDonato, Ailyn Pérez, Federica von Stade, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Kevin Burdette and Nathan Gunn.

The comic set-up: the famous opera singer Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato) has agreed to bring an operatic masterpiece she has rediscovered to her home town in an effort to save an opera company in a financial death spiral. Unfortunately, the premiere’s date conflicts with the Super Bowl, and the home city’s team is one of the contenders in that event.

[Below: Composer Jake Heggie; edited image, based on a publicity headshot.]


A co-production with the San Diego Opera, this is The Dallas Opera’s second Jake Heggie world premiere, taking place five and a half years after his sensational “Moby Dick” was launched there [See World Premiere: Heggie’s Theatrically Brilliant, Melodic “Moby Dick” at Dallas Opera – April 30, 2010.]


Adamo, Becoming Santa Claus, December 4, 6, 9 and 12, 2015.

Carlisle Floyd, the composer of “Susannah” and of “Of Mice and Men”, in the opinion of many opera-goers, including myself, is the Dean of American Opera Composers.  In my recent interview with him [see Dean of American Opera Composers: An Interview with Carlisle Floyd] he said that the two composers of the younger generation that most impressed him were Jake Heggie and Mark Adamo.

The Dallas Opera devotes its Fall to world premieres of operas by both Heggie and Adamo (and the Houston Grand Opera hosts the world premiere next Spring of Floyd’s new opera “Prince of Players”. My plan is to be at all three world premieres.)

[Below: an elf is The Dallas Opera’s symbol for Adamo’s “Becoming Santa Claus”; resized image of a illustration, courtesy of The Dallas Opera.]


Although Santa Claus is an iconic image for children, we rarely think about what Santa Claus himself was like as a kid. Adamo’s opera will fill in the backstory, based on a children’s story by Holly and Tom Mayer and Maile Shea.

The opera stars Juan José de León, Jennifer Rivera, Kevin Burdette and Matthew Boehler. Emmanuel Villaume conducts in a production staged by Scottish director Paul Curran.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations

Review: New Faces for “Marriage of Figaro” – Los Angeles Opera, March 21, 2015

March 22nd, 2015

The Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” in a performance that was cheered by the appreciative audience.

The cast demonstrated, not only the depth of the world’s operatic talent, but the commitment of the Los Angeles Opera to introducing new singers or singers in new roles to Los Angeles audiences.

The quintet of lead roles (the servant couple Figaro and Susanna, the Count and Countess Almaviva and their page boy Cherubino) were assigned to a youthful and enchanting group of artists representing four continents (Europe, Africa, Asia and North America).

[Below: Roberto Tagliavini (left) as Figaro and Pretty Yende (right) as Susanna; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Roberto Tagliavini’s Figaro

In his Los Angeles Opera (and American) debuts, Italian bass-baritone RobertoTagliavini was Figaro.

Tagliavini, who had sung recently in Vienna with the Los Angeles Opera’s general director, Placido Domingo (with the company’s music director James Conlon conducting) in Verdi’s “I Due Foscari”.

A specialist in Mozart and bel canto bass-bairtone roles, Tagliavini brought a lively vitality and lustrous basso sound to the title role.

Pretty Yende’s Susanna

Susanna was sung by South African lyric soprano Pretty Yende, who had made a strong impression as Micaela two seasons ago. [See Domingo at Helm for a Stellar “Carmen” – Los Angeles Opera, September 21, 2013.]

Singing the longest role in the opera, Yende, who has won several Placido Domingo-sponsored international competitions, was an eye-catching presence, a graceful actress, and as pretty-voiced as she is pretty-named.

[Below: the Count Almaviva (Ryan McKinny, left) is intent on seducing Susanna (Pretty Yende) who is determined he will not; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Ryan McKinny’s Count Almaviva

Over the past two years California baritone Ryan McKinny has added meaty roles of Wagner [Ryan McKinny, Melody Moore, Jay Hunter Morris Soar in “Flying Dutchman” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2013] Verdi [Dramatic, lyrical and powerful: Ryan McKinny’s Rigoletto Role Debut – Houston Grand Opera, January 24, 2014] and Previn [A Theatrically Brilliant “Streetcar Named Desire” Stars Fleming, McKinny, Tappan and Griffey – Los Angeles Opera, May 18, 2014] to his performance repertory.

Yet McKinny demonstrates comfort and the vocal control required of aa Mozartean, as well as brilliant comic timing for a character whose unceasing (and unsuccessful) schemes to sexually subdue Susanna are the center of Mozart’s comedy.  [See also Rising Stars: An Interview with Ryan McKinny.]

Renée Rapier’s Cherubino

Iowa mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier, an alumna of the Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist’s program, proved an endearing and funny Cherubino, who sings (beautifully) two of Mozart’s most famous arias and gets abundant laughs as Tagliavini’s Figaro sings Non piu andrai, the number one aria on the Mozart hit parade.

Although she has had important comprimario roles at both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Operas [see Vittorio Grigolo, Nino Machaidze Sublime in Ian Judge’s Romantic, Erotic “Romeo et Juliette” – Los Angeles Opera, November 9, 2011], her Los Angeles Opera Cherubino should be considered a breakout role for this talented mezzo.

[Below: Figaro (Roberto Tagliavini, right) explains to Cherubino (Renée Rapier, left) what life as a soldier will be like; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


 Guanqun Yu’s Countess Almaviva

I had admired Chinese soprano Guanqun Yu’s Countess Almaviva in the first segment of Los Angeles Opera’s “Figaro Trilogy” [See Review: Los Angeles Opera Launches Ambitious New Production of “Ghosts of Versailles” – February 7, 2015.]

Yet another artist who has sung with Domingo in Europe (as Lucrezia in “I Due Foscari” in Valencia, Spain) she is now an established presence at the New York Met, assaying Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” there.

Her two great arias Porgi, amor and Dove sono were spellbinding, delivered with the sensitivity and control that suggests this will be a role that is central to her repertory, even as she explores the Verdian dramatic soprano territory.

[Below: Guanqun Yu as Rosina, the Countess Almaviva; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Other Cast Members

The trio of elder conspirators was sung with the proper comic touches by the veteran team of Icelandic basso Kristinn Sigmundsson as Doctor Bartolo, Pennsylvania character tenor Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio, and Illinois mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina. All were effective comedians, Brubaker’s oily Basilio especially noteworthy.

[Below: Don Basilio (Robert Brubaker, left), Marcellina (Lucy Schaufer, middle) and Doctor Bartolo (Kristinn Sigmundsson, right) enter into a conspiracy to revenge themselves; edited image, based on Craig T. Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


New York bass-baritone Philip Cokorinos and Ohio tenor Joel Sorensen, both invaluable veterans of the comic character roles were respectively the gardener Antonio and Don Curzio.

South Korea soprano So Young Park impressed in the role of Barbarina, to whom is entrusted one of Mozart’s haunting melodies.

The Production and Staging

British director Ian Judge participated in the revival of his staging of his production for the Los Angeles Opera, previously seen here in 2004, 2006 and 2010 [See Domingo’s Domain: The Incredible Maestro Conducts Los Angeles Opera “Nozze” – October 6, 2010.]

The Los Angeles Opera has a special affinity with this imaginative director, who has staged several productions for the company [See Powerful, Edgy “Tannhauser” at Los Angeles Opera – February 28, 2007 for what is perhaps his most celebrated (and notorious) endeavor here.]

Mozart’s opera is eternally funny (those who have seen it multiple times know every joke and every comic bit, yet it can always be staged in unexpected ways, and Judge’s conceptualization of the piece was high-spirited and effective.

[Below: the first scene, taking place in Figaro’s and Susanna’s bedroom; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathews photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


The sets by Tim Goodchild and costumes by Deirdre Clancy time-shifted the action, but do not detract from the opera’s storyline.

The conducting by James Conlon was scintillating (his first Los Angeles Opera “Nozze” and as he related in the well-attended pre-opera talks over which he presides, his first-ever back to back performances of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” and Mozart’s “sequel”).


I recommend this production and cast enthusiastically for both the veteran opera-goer and the person new to opera.

Tags: 2005-2015: William's Reviews

Review: San Diego Opera’s “Nixon in China” with Pomponi, Kanyova, Kim and Shelton – March 20, 2015

March 21st, 2015

The San Diego Opera mounted the most complex production of its three-opera 2014-15 season – the first San Diego appearances of John Adams’ extraordinary 1987 opera “Nixon in China”.

The opera has been discussed on these pages, particularly the popular Vancouver (British Columbia) production seen in San Francisco [see  25 Years Old, “Nixon in China” Arrives at San Francisco Opera – June 8, 2012 and A Second Look: “Nixon in China” in San Francisco – June 17, 2012, part 1 and A Second Look: “Nixon in China” in San Francisco – June 17, 2012, part 2 and an earlier performance in Long Beach [Richard M. Nixon and Mao Zedong Dance at Smashing Long Beach Opera “Nixon in China” – March 20, 2010.]

Franco Pomponi’s President Richard Nixon

The opera’s principal star was baritone Franco Pomponi in a convincing portrait of United States President Richard Nixon. He embraced Nixon’s exhilaration in participating in the formal rapprochement between the U. S. and Communist China – arguably the most significant foreign policy achievement of his presidency.

[Below: United States President Richard Nixon (Franco Pomponi, front center) is excited about the world’s media coverage of his historic visit to China; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]


The president’s quirks and mannerisms, that were a gold mine for comic imitators during Nixon’s vice presidency, candidacy for the Governorship of California and his presidency, were clearly observable.

Yet, one had the strong sense that Pomponi (as I believe any interpreter of this role should do) truly strove to present a realistic portrayal of him, rather than a caricature.

Of course, Alice Goodman’s libretto itself quite deliberately exaggerates Nixon’s idiosyncrasies, particularly when she chooses the words   (News, news, news) to express Nixon’s strong interest in programming events to coincide with the “news cycles” or describing rats chewing at the sheets as Nixon’s metaphor for the political enemies who plot against him.

Although I am not convinced that everything in Goodman’s libretto raises to the same high standards, I find that the words she puts into Nixon’s mouth in the first act seem not only to suggest an essential Nixon, but may well apply also to many politicians in the U. S. and elsewhere at all parts of the political spectrum who have honed their political survival skills or have employed operatives to do so for them.

Chad Shelton’s Mao Tse Tung

It’s been almost eight years since I last saw Chad Shelton in performance (in one of the comprimario role in Glass’ “Appomattox” at the San Francisco Opera). I was very impressed by the his characterization of the decrepit revolutionary leader.

[Below: President Richard Nixon (Franco Pomponi, left) and Chairman Mao Tse Tung (Chad Shelton, right) exchange greetings as Chou En Lai (Chen-Ye Yuan) looks on; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]


The role of Mao, who sings in metaphors and whose thoughts are constantly repeated by his three sycophantic secretaries (Buffy Baggott, Sarah Castle and Jennifer DeDominici), is assigned to high tenors with vocal heft.

Shelton filled the bill vocally, and showed fine acting instincts with a portrayal of an eccentric aging leader that rings true.

[Below: Mao (Chad Shelton, seated, second from left) insists on talking philosophy, with his words taken down by his secretaries (Jennifer DeDominici, Sarah Castle and Buffy Baggott), while Richard Nixon (Franco Pomponi, right) would much prefer to resolve diplomatic issues personally; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]


Three of the artists from 2012 San Francisco Opera production – the Chou En Lai, the Pat Nixon and the Henry Kissinger = assumed their same roles in this often quite different production.

Chen-Ye Yuan’s Chou En Lai 

Chinese baritone Chen-Ye Yuan repeated his role  of premier Chou En Lai, the historical personage who worked with Henry Kissinger to open diplomatic relations between the two enemy nations. Yuan portrayed Chou as a tired former warrior. His representation of China in the banquet toasts between the two nations is one of the opera’s most memorable arias.

The second act is to a great extent centered on the character of Pat Nixon, the most sympathetic character in the opera, and one who humanizes Richard Nixon in the several scenes of their intimate moments together.

Maria Kanyova, who has been singing the role since the production’s first appearance in 2004 (the production’s debut taking place at the Opera Theater of Saint Louis), shows insight and mastery in Pat Nixon’s extensive scene that includes the famous aria This is Prophetic!

[Below: Maria Kanyova as Pat Nixon; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]


 Patrick Carfizzi’s Doctor Henry Kissinger

Patrick Carfizzi sings and acts the role as a boorish punk womanizer that librettist Goodman composer Adams and stage director James Robinson wrote, composed and staged. A fine artist, this role that he has done in important theaters, has become associated with him.

The role itself seems not to belong – at least as written – with an opera that finds character traits to praise and scowl at in the other characters.

One critic (Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times) suggested that the team that created the opera simply could not get to the essence of Kissinger’s character. I’m sure they did not, but am unconvinced that it was an inscrutable Kissinger made him a hard character to draw.

I have written in a previous review that Goodman, Adams and Peter Sellars, the original conceptualizer of the Nixon in China project were all based at Harvard University where Dr Kissinger was a tenured Harvard professor (albeit likely on leave for much of his career).

Perhaps it was an in-joke that some on the Harvard campus in the 1980s would have understood.  Maybe we’ll never know why it’s written as it is, but if there is ever to be a revision of “Nixon in China” (as we know that there is to be of Glass’ “Appomattox”), rewriting this part should be the first priority.

Kathleen Kim’s Madame Mao

For many fans of this opera, the rousing coloratura aria of Madame Mao (I am the Wife of Mao Tse Tung!) is the highlight of the show. Kim made it a positive blockbuster of a performance!

[Below: Kathleen Kim as Madame Mao Tse Tung; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Diego Opera.]


The 2004 production was directed by James Robinson with sets by Allan Moyer. The sets were provided rent-free to the San Diego Opera by the Opera Theater of Saint Louis as a contribution to the San Diego Opera’s rebirth after the company’s near-death experience in March, 2014.

Joseph Mechavich conducted the complex score. James Schuette designed the costumes. Charles Prestinari was chorus master for the opera’s demanding choruses.

Sean Curran deserves special praise for creating the many dances from the ballet sequences of the Revolutionary Theater to the gentle waltz of Pomponi’s Richard and Kanyova’s Pat.

The San Diego Opera once again proved its ability to present casts and productions worthy of opera capitals throughout the world.

Tags: 2005-2015: William's Reviews