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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Spring Breakdown 2016: The Operas

The Five Best Operas of Spring 2016
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Theo Hoffman (right) and Kara Sainz as Papageno and Papagena
in Act II of Die Zauberflöte at Juilliard. Photo by Richard Termine for the Juilliard School.
This was a strange operatic spring for Superconductor. I missed most of the Met season (which turned out to be due to a computer battery problem (I couldn't sync with their computer to get rush tickets and it is still house policy not to bestow press tickets upon bloggers) so there were no Superconductor reviews of Les Pecheurs de PerlesManon Lescaut or even Roberto Devereux. As they say, c'est la guerre.

In fact, my "spring opera season" didn't really start until April when I finally diagnosed my computer issue just in time to see Placido Domingo essay the title role in Simon Boccanegra.  Be that as it may, here are the five best opera performances that I saw in the Spring of 2016. As usual, all links have quotes from the relevant Superconductor reviews and clicking on the title will bring you to the whole article.

Metropolitan Opera: Elektra
"...a lucid, searching and unusually lyric reading of this score. With 120 players churning away in the orchestra, Strauss' barrage of leitmotifs and "special" orchestral effects can sometimes sound like orchestration for its own sake. (Esa-Pekka) Salonen's carefully paced interpretation went much deeper into this work's dark heart....In the title role, (Nina) Stemme showed that her abilities go far beyond good German diction and crystalline, dead-on high notes delivered with full dramatic force. She was deep in the role of Elektra from curtain-up, playing the traumatized princess as a figure to be admired for her tenacity and yet pitied for the fits and outbursts caused by the trauma of her father's murder."

Juilliard Opera: Die Zauberflöte
"Ms. Birnbaum solved a number of the dramatic problems of this show through unconventional means. The wood of the opening was a very Brooklyn-like back alley, with the Queen of the Night coming down a set of fire stairs and Tamino chased by animated shrubbery instead of a dragon. (Incidentally, the shrubs were animated by the spears of the Three Ladies, suggesting that the whole incident was some sort of set-up.) The three entrances to the Priests' temple had a broken doorknob, a faulty lintel and finally, a door that opened to emit the Speaker. And the long Masonic testing of the second act was all staged in one room, giving the feeling of what it indeed is, a hazing ceremony...."

LoftOpera: Le Comte Ory
There's high jinks, the aforementioned bed-hopping, lots of cross-dressing (including the whole male chorus in pink wimples) and a healthy dose of good dirty fun, including a jaw-dropping joke involving bananas in the first act. This shoe-string production by John de Los Santos had all those elements and energy to spare....Much of that energy stemmed from the performance of tenor Thorsteinn Arbjornsson in the high and vocally exposed title part. The singer sailed freely through the role, wheeling through outrageous disguises and never forgetting to play the comedy to the audience..."

On Site Opera: The Marriage of Figaro
"In the title role, Jesse Blumberg sang with a bluff baritone and the manic, Bugs Bunny-like energy needed for this quicksilver character, the Everyman who holds his own against his master's plots. Soprano Jeni Houser was a bright, pert Susanna, smarter than her intended and possessed of an inner flame that made her his perfect match....(Marcos) Portugal's score is no match for Mozart's endless invention and lacks the hummable hooks and tunes that make Figaro one of the keystones of the repertory. And yet, this performance revealed that the composer had a considerable gift for Haydn-esque melody, and that Beaumarchais' play still has emotional impact and heart."

operamission: Rinaldo
"The intimate setting allowed one to hear Handel's orchestration in detail, including how the composer would assign sections of the orchestra (first violins, oboes, bassoons) to accompany specific arias, reserving the whole power of the ensemble for when it was really needed. The score called for virtuoso passages from the principal violin, the first bassoon and the second harpsichordist, whose elaborate accompaniment for  certain arias was as impressive as the performance of the singers."

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