Opera Warhorses

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

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Review: Vittorio Grigolo’s Star Shines Bright in L. A. Opera’s Stellar “Tales of Hoffmann” – March 25, 2017

March 27th, 2017

Los Angeles Opera audiences witnessed an extraordinary performance of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, in which Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo was the most lustrous of several on-stage stars, while an all-star Hoffmann of the preceding generation, Plácido Domingo, presided as conductor.

[Below: the poet Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, left) is revived by his muse (Kate Lindsey, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

The production includes most of Offenbach’s “lost” music for the opera that has been discovered in the past half-century and incorporated into alternative performing editions of the work, affecting the entire work, but especially expanding the opera’s prologue.

Vittorio Grigolo’s Hoffmann

For his Hoffmann, Vittorio Grigolo not only brought his richly expressive tenor voice with its weighty baritonal timbre, but an astonishing athleticism that included duck-walking while singing the entire first verse of the lengthy Kleinzach aria in both the opera’s Prologue and Epilogue.

[Below: Vittorio Grigolo as Hoffmann in the opera’s prologue; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

In demand throughout the world, Grigolo returns to Los Angeles after a five year absence since his impressive L. A. Opera debut [see my review at Vittorio Grigolo, Nino Machaidze Sublime in Ian Judge’s Romantic, Erotic “Romeo et Juliette” – Los Angeles Opera, November 9, 2011.]

Kate Lindsey’s Muse and Nicklausse

No other part in the opera has been so fundamentally changed as the role of the Muse/Nicklausse, who in the performances incorporating the “lost” material, has a substantive presence in every scene.

(Although in some performances a single artist sings the roles of Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia and Stella, the roles are often sung by different artists, as they were by three different artists in this performance. In the latter circumstance, the mezzo-soprano singing the Muse and Nicklausse – that Offenbach intended to be different manifestations of the same person and is always sung by the same artist – has the longest role in the opera written for the female voice.)

[Below: The poet Hoffmann’s Muse (Kate Lindsey) emerges from a wine cask in the opera’s prologue; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

The dual roles of the Muse and Nicklausse have become signature roles for Virginia mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey. (I have previously reported on her triumphant appearance in Santa Fe [Groves, Wall, Lindsey Excel in Christopher Alden’s Harrowing, Hallucinatory “Hoffmann” – Santa Fe Opera, July 17, 2010]).

Lindsey provided a masterful portrayal of this role who is central to the drama.

[Below: Nicklausse (Kate Lindsey, left) entertains his sidekick Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, right) with his guitar-playing; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Diana Damrau’s Antonia and Stella

German soprano Diana Damrau’s performance as Antonia was beautifully conceived and vocally expressive. Her affecting death, following the brilliantly performed trio (sung with California contralto Sharmay Musacchio as Antonia and bass-baritone Wayne Tigges as Dr Miracle), ended with a trill as her dying breath.

[Below: Stella (Diana Damrau, right) reconsiders her evening’s plans as Andres (Christophe Mortagne , left) looks on; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

In the epilogue, Damrau appeared in a memorable costume as Stella, the object of Hoffmann’s unrequited desire.

So Young Park’s Olympia

South Korean coloratura soprano won audience favor with a delightful performance of Olympia, the mechanical doll, pursued by a deluded Hoffmann. Her chanson with its coloratura fireworks twice interrupted by the need of her creator to rewind her was delivered with precision (both vocally and physically), resulting in a sustained ovation at aria’s end.

[Below: The rose-colored glasses that Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, right) wears obscures the fact that Olympia (So Young Park, center) with whom he has fallen in love, is an automaton; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

I had previously praised Park’s Queen of the Night [Review: Sean Panikkar, So Young Park Brilliant in Madeline Sayet’s “Magic Flute” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 20, 2015]. An alumna of the Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists program, Park has emerged as a coloratura artist of the first rank.

Kate Aldrich’s Giulietta

Maine mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich, was  reunited with Grigolo and Maestro Domingo, with whom she previously performed at the Washington National Opera [See The Donizetti Revival, Second Stage: Radvanovsky, Grigolo in Pascoe’s WNO “Lucrezia Borgia” – November 17, 2008.]

[Below: the courtesan Giulietta (Kate Aldrich, right) has become the new object of desire of the poet Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, left); editd image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Although I found the direction of Giulietta to be curious (the courtesan’s campiness seeming to be at cross-purposes with her intended seductiveness) Aldrich was vocally on her game, her duet with Grigolo’s Hoffmann especially noteworthy.

The Four Villains, Sung by Wayne Tigges, Acted by Nicolas Testé

Prior to the opening scene, Maestro Domingo stepped through the stage curtains to announce that French bass-baritone Nicolas Testé was vocally indisposed but would act and mime the roles of the “Four Villains” while Iowa bass-baritone Wayne Tigges sang all four roles from the orchestra pit.

[Below: Bass-baritone Wayne Tigges, who sang the roles of the Four Villains; edited image, based on a publicity photograph from waynetigges.com.]

Tigges, who includes these roles in his performance repertory and is currently preparing them for performances next month with the Hawaii Opera Theater, was vocally effective, evoking the evil that surrounds these sinister characters.

[Below: Dapertutto (Nicola Testé) admires a precious diamond; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Testé’s acting performance sustained the illusion of malevolence throughout the quite different characters – the mad Coppelius, the menacing Dr Miracle, the dour Dapertutto and the practical Lindorf. The latter knew that by merely waiting for Hoffmann to drink himself into a stupor, that Lindorf would end up replacing Hoffmann as Stella’s consort for the evening.

Cristophe Moragne’s “Four Servants”, Rodell Rosel’s Spalanzani, Nicholas Brownlee’s Crespel and Other Cast Members

Just as the four “villains” are often played by the same artist, there are four “servant” roles, sometimes referred to as the “grotesques”, that one artist traditionally plays.

If the roles of Andres (prologue) and Pitichinaccio (Giuletta scene) are relatively insignificant, the roles of the automaton Cochenille (Olympia scene) and Frantz (Antonia scene) are meaty comedic assignments, with Frantz having a significant comic aria.

[Below: Christophe Moragne as Cochenille; edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]

Parisian character tenor Cristophe Moragne was memorable as Cochenille, the mechanical toy companion to So Young Park’s Olympia, and as the deaf servant Frantz, whose aria Jour et nuit je me mets en quartre he performed with distinction.

[Below: the deaf Frantz (Christophe Moragne, right) misunderstands Hoffmann (Vittorio Grigolo, right); edited image, based on a Ken Howard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera. ]

Special note should be taken of the performance of character tenor Rodell Rosel as Spalanzani, the creator of the mechanical toys Olympia and Cochenille.

I have long admired Rosel’s work [see, for example, Review: Jay Hunter Morris, Christine Goerke Lead a Vocally Strong “Siegfried” Cast – Houston Grand Opera, April 20, 2016.] He was a vigorous Spalanzani, excitedly hopping around, leaving a strong impression of a toymaker living in a world of fantasy.

The role of Crespel, Antonia’s father, needs a strong bass-baritone presence, and is often assigned to an “up and coming” artist. That is the case in the fine performance of Alabama’s Nicholas Brownlee.

Other members of a carefully chosen cast included Texas baritone Daniel Armstrong as Schlémil (Giuletta scene), and, from the prologue, New York baritone Theo Hoffman as Hermann, Ohio tenor Brian Michael Moore as Nathanael and South Korean baritone Kihun Yoon as Luther.

Plácido Domingo and the Musical Performance

Los Angeles Opera’s General Director Plácido Domingo, conducted the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra in a a passionate reading of the opera.

The performing edition he chose retains the all of the lush music of the operatic performing edition that Domingo personally performed in the earlier part of his distinguished operatic career. (I saw him perform the role at the San Francisco Opera in 1987.)

The revised edition that Maestro Domingo chose for the performance contains a wealth of Offenbach’s music unknown to the late 19th through mid-20th century. Under his baton, the orchestra performed the entirety of Offenbach’s music – “old” and “new” –  with affection.

[Below: the “Venice scene” from Marta Domingo’s production of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”, with a view of the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra; edited image of a production photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]

Marta Domingo’s Production and Staging

Marta Domingo has created four of Los Angeles Opera’s cherished productions, including her famous 1920s Hollywood version of Verdi’s “La Traviata” [See Review: Nino Machaidze and the Domingos (Placido and Marta) Create a Memorable “La Traviata” – Los Angeles Opera, September 13, 2014 and an alternative version of Puccini’s “La Rondine” [Marta Domingo’s Reconceptualization of “Rondine” Returns to L. A. – June 7, 2008].

Always an imaginative production designer, Marta Domingo created attractive settings for her 2002 “Hoffmann” production, in its first Los Angeles Opera revival, which she stages with swift-moving action.

A Personal Observations

Although I’ve reviewed hundreds of opera performances in the past decade, and many more over my lifetime, this is only the second time I’ve ever observed a performance in which a principal singer’s indisposition has been addressed by having that artist act the role onstage while another artist sings from the pit. [For the other instance, see: A “Faust” Surprise in Houston – January 23, 2007.]

(It is a far more satisfactory solution to the solution of an indisposed artist, than trying to negotiate a performance without a cover in which a major artist suddenly is unable to perform. [See No Norina: A “Don Pasquale” Showstopper in Zurich – September 23, 2007.])

At the least in most of the major American opera houses, there is a “cover”, either a major artist who knows the role and the production who has been engaged to be in the vicinity, lest she or he be needed to step in at the last moment.

Often the cover is a member of the company’s Young Artist’s program, who in some cases may have been selected for the program with the idea that the young artist would be groomed as the cover for a principal role in the company’s upcoming repertory.

This was the opening performance of a prestigious “Tales of Hoffmann” production, important to the artistic team of Placido Domingo, the conductor, and Marta Domingo, the production designer and stage director.

Knowing that most operatic artists who might be available to do so would respond to any request from Maestro Domingo to participate at the last minute in one of his projects, I am confident that the solution that he chose was calculated to give the Los Angeles Opera audiences the best performance possible under the circumstances.

The result was a theatrically cohesive, beautifully sung performance, with which the “dual” performance of the four villain roles was hardly even a distraction.

Recommendation

“Hoffmann” is one of the “hot tickets” in this world center of the entertainment industry.

I recommend the opera, cast and production enthusiastically, both for the veteran opera goer and the novice to opera (and to anyone able to secure a ticket to it.)

 

Tags: Quests and Anticipations

In Quest of Handel and Vivaldi Opera Performances – May to November, 2017

March 18th, 2017

The baroque revival by “mainstream” opera companies of early 18th century operas by the composers Vivaldi and Handel is a phenomenon that has grown in popularity since the 1970s.

I will be reporting on a Vivaldi production at the Korea National Opera, and Handel productions at the Glimmerglass Festival, the Santa Fe Opera and the Houston Grand Opera. 

 

Orlando Finto Pazzo (Vivaldi), Korea National Opera, Seoul, Republic of Korea, May 10, 12, 13 and 14, 2017.

Italian director Fabio Ceresa, the winner of the 2016 International Opera Award for Young Directors, will direct a production of Vivaldi’s “Orlando Finto Pazzo (The Fake Madman)” for the Korean National Opera.

[Below: A scene from “Orlando Finto Pazzo”; edited image, based on a photograph from fabioceresa.com.]

Greek Maestro George Petrou conducts. The opera will be performed at Seoul’s LG Arts Center.

 

Xerxes (Handel) Glimmerglass Festival, July 15, 17(m), 20, August 1(m), 6(m), 12 and 18, 2017

Countertenor John Holiday, who had a triumphant success in Vivaldi’s “Cato in Utica” at the Glimmerglass Festival, will take on the lead role in Handel’s “Xerxes”. Alegra De Vita is Arsamenes. Emily Pogorelc is Romilda and Abigail Dock is Amastris.

[Below: Countertenor John Holiday (left) as Xerxes; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Nicole Paiement conducts, Tazewell Thompson directs, with sets by John Conklin and costumes by Sara Jean Tosetti.

 

Alcina (Handel) Santa Fe Opera, July 29, Aug 2, 11, 17 and 23, 2017.

New York director David Alden reprises Handel’s “Alcina”, mounted for the Opéra national de Bordeaux in 2012. Alden’s musical collaborator in Bordeaux, Maestro Harry Bicket and key members of the Bordeaux cast (Elza van den Heever as Alcina, Anna Christy as Morgana and Alek Shrader as Oronte) will appear in those roles at the Santa Fe Opera.

[Director David Alden; edited image of a Mikhail Rashkovsky photograph.]

Joining the Bordeaux veterans will be Paula Murrihy as Ruggiero, Daniela Mack as Bradamante, Jacquelyn Stucker as Oberto, and Christian Van Horn as Melisso.  Gideon Davey creates the scenic and costume design.

 

Guilio Cesare (Handel) Houston Grand Opera, October 27, 29(m), November 4, 8 and 10, 2017.

Houston Grand Opera’s 2003 production Handel’s “Julius Caesar”, set in 1930s Hollywood, is revived. Anthony Roth Costanzo makes his HGO debut as Julius Caesar. Heidi Stober is Cleopatra, David Daniels is Ptolemy, Stephanie Blythe is Cornelia andMegan Mikailovna Samarin is Sextus.

[Below: Anthony Roth Costanzo; edited image of a Mattheu Placek photograph.]

Patrick Summers conducts, James Robinson directs. The sets by are by Christine Jones, the costume designs by James Schuette.

 

This list is supplementary to previous lists in this “Quests and Anticipations” series of selected operas being performed through August 2017:

Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” at the Santa Fe Opera [See In Quest of Operatic Comedy – July 2016 – August 2017.]

Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” at the Los Angeles Opera and Wagner’s Götterdammerüng at the Houston Grand Opera [See In Quest of Less-Often Performed Core Repertory Operas – November 2016 – May 2017.]

Bellini’s “Norma” at The Dallas Opera, Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Santa Fe Opera and Donizetti’s “L’Assedio di Calais” at the Glimmerglass Festival [See In Quest of Donizetti and Bellini – November 2016 to August 2017.]

Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and Puccini’s “La Boheme” at the San Francisco Opera [See In Quest of Italian Opera Masterpieces, February – July, 2017.]

Tags: Quests and Anticipations

Review: Sarasota Opera’s Affectionate Mounting of “Love for Three Kings [L’Amore dei Tre Re]” – March 11, 2017

March 13th, 2017

The Sarasota Opera, as part of its 2017 four production Winter Opera Festival, has created a new production of Montemezzi’s lyrical opera “L’Amore dei Tre Re (The Love of Three Kings)”.

The  opera was a staple of the repertory of European and North American opera houses in the 50 years after its 1913 premiere. Yet, despite its rich orchestration and sweeping melodies in the Romantic tradition, it has rarely been performed in the past half-century.

The plot is centered in a metaphorical medieval Italian world called Altura (suggesting an historical era – the tenth century – when the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto I conquered Italy).

Archibaldo (who may be thought of as representing the elderly Otto I) and his son Manfredo are occupiers of the Italian people, and Manfredo is constantly away from home at war to defend the family’s conquests. For political and dynastic reasons, Manfredo has married an Alturan (Italian) wife, whom he has fallen in love with; but she, herself, is in love with the Alturan prince, Avito, deposed heir to the throne that Archibaldo has seized.

The blind Archibaldo lives in a castle with his daughter-in-law Fiora, but suspects (correctly) that she is unfaithful to his son, Manfredo. Archibaldo is determined to uncover Fiora’s infidelities and to do what needs to be done to protect the family’s honor (and his dynasty’s power).

Kevin Short’s Archibaldo

District of Columbia bass-baritone portrayed the murderous Archibaldo, one of the iconic bass-baritone roles of Italian opera.

Kevin Short’s bravura performance is, in itself, a reason to see this production. His first act aria Italia! Italia e tutto il mio ricordo! received an audience ovation.

[Below: Kevin Short as Archibaldo; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Obviously comfortable in a role he also sang in the Sarasota Opera’s 2003 production of the work, he was a menacing presence in every scene.

Elizabeth Tredent’s Fiora

Ohio soprano Elizabeth Tredent sang the role of Fiora, to whom the three kings (the former king Archibaldo, the present king Manfredo, and the deposed prince Avito) are attracted.

The artist who plays Fiora must convey her reaction to each of these royal men – her desire for Avito, her respect for her husband Manfredo, her justified fear and disgust of Archibaldo. This Tredent did elegantly.

[Below Fiora (Elizabeth Tredent, right) reacts with horror to the suspicions of her father-in-law Archibaldo (Kevin Short, left); edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Matthew Vickers’ Avito

Pennsylvania tenor Matthew Vickers was an ardent Avito. Vickers possesses the requisite spinto voice and command of the role’s high tessitura.

[Below: Avito (Matthew Vickers, standing) mourns the death of Fiora (Elizabeth Trident (lying on bier); edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Marco Nisticò’s Manfredo

The role of Manfredo is one of the shorter of  Italian opera’s principal baritone roles, but its lyrical music requires a major voice. Italian baritone Marco Nisticò was enlisted for the task and performed the role with distinction.

[Below: Marco Nisticò as Manfredo; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Victor DeRenzi’s Conducting and the Musical Performance

New York conductor Victor DeRenzi, who is artistic director of the Sarasota Opera, led the Sarasota Opera Orchestra in a persuasive performance of the lushly romantic work.

DeRenzi, who last year was knighted by the Italian Government for his contributions to Italian opera, art and culture, has presented the opera in a production and musical performance that I believe Montemezzi himself would have appreciated.

The chorus is under the direction of the chorus master Roger L. Bingaman. The chorus appears as mourners in the final scene.

The major comprimario role is that of Flaminio, Archibaldo’s Alturan servant, nicely performed by Sarasota Opera Studio artist, Illinois tenor Dane Suarez.

Sarasota Opera Apprentice Artists sing several small roles – Massachusetts tenor Mark Tempesta (A Young Man), Missouri soprano Anna Bridgman (A Handmaiden), Ohio soprano Caitlin Crabill (A Young Woman) and Georgia mezzo-soprano Molly Burke (An Old Woman).

Stephanie Sundine’s Direction, David P. Gordon’s Sets and Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s Costumes

For the opera’s revival, an authoritative staging was sought, informed by Montemezzi’s original stage directions. The artists’ movements are stylized and will seem to some as melodramatic or “operatic”.

Although a 21st century British production combined all three acts of the relatively short work into a single act, the Sarasota Opera separated the three acts with two intermissions. Sarasota Opera retains the convention, abandoned elsewhere, of curtain calls after each act.

The attractive sets were the work of New York designer David P. Gordon, defining two different spaces within the castle walls for the first two acts, and a crypt for the final scene. The costumes evoked the work’s medieval setting.

[Below: David P. Gordon’s Act II sets on which Elizabeth Tredent (center on staircase landing) is Fiora and Matthew Vickers (right, on lower floor) is Avito; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Personal Observations

Montemezzi is one of the major composers associated with the verismo movement in Italian opera. Verismo operas are strongly influenced by Wagnerian music drama in which the opera’s thematic structure and orchestration are crucial to the story-telling. Except for the works of Puccini, the number of performances of verismo operas has been in sharp decline in recent years.

It is my argument that the verismo operas that had great success in the early part of the 20th century are ripe for re-examination by a new generation of opera-goers. These operas deserve greater appreciation for both their musical content and their inherent theatricality.

As a college student, I saw a San Francisco Opera production of “Love for Three Kings” with the Fiora of American soprano Dorothy Kirsten, whom Montemezzi mentored and admired, and the Avito of Italian tenor Giuseppe Campora. Even before that performance, I had been familiar with the music of the opera at a much younger age. I would not have believed that it would be a half-century before I was to see the opera again.

Earlier I wrote an essay on the influence of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” on the opera “Manon Lescaut”, the first great success of Giacomo Puccini [see Echoes of Tristan – Thoughts on Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”.] “Love for Three Kings” is written two decades after “Manon Lescaut” but the “Tristan” influence on Montemezzi’s “Three Kings”  is as clear to me as it was on “Manon Lescaut”.

Sarasota Opera plays the “Love of Three Kings” straight, which at once highlights the opera’s strengths and exposes some features that might seem to some as weaknesses.

In the latter category might be the content of librettist Sam Benelli’s now unfashionably florid words one might associate with a Burgundian troubadour, that Montemezzi has set to music for Avito to sing. (For those who are attending later performances in Sarasota and reading the English translation in the supertitles that Maestro deRenzi has accurately translated, my suggestion is to give the character’s over the top expressions of ardor a pass – after all, he’s madly in love and risking his life to have this time with Fiora).

Recommendation

The Sarasota Opera Winter Festival has scheduled six performances of “The Love of Three Kings’ – what is now an operatic rarity – in rotation with Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”, Rossini’s “Italian Girl in Algiers” and Poulenc’ “Dialogues of the Carmelites”.

I recommend “Love of Three Kings” for the veteran opera-goer and for all those who are attracted to highly romantic, intensely melodic musical theater.

Tags: 2005-2017: William's Reviews