OPERA REVIEW: Le Nozze di Figaro — 231 Years Old, and Sassier Than Ever

Patrick Carfizzi, Lucy Schaufer, Brandon Cedel, and Ying Fang in Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

Patrick Carfizzi, Lucy Schaufer, Brandon Cedel, and Ying Fang in Le Nozze di Figaro at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

Some days, I think the Act II finale of Le Nozze di Figaro is not only the greatest 20 minutes of music ever written, but also the greatest theater. I’m hardly a lone voice here—if there’s universal agreement about anything operatic, it could be that Mozart’s setting of Beaumarchais’ play is as close to perfect as art gets. And at 231 years old, it’s fresher, sassier, and more dazzling than ever.

What’s more controversial is how to do it. Is the emphasis comedic, or sentimental?… or, for that matter, politically pointed and angry? Should Figaro productions retain its 18th Century setting, or update it?  And we haven’t even touched on questions of musical style (Fast or Slow? To ornament, or not to ornament?). So, you see, there isn’t only one Figaro—there are many, and it’s reborn in each performance. Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: Tancredi had Pomp, Circumstance, and a Whole Lot of Voice

tancredi-03 2

Stephanie Blythe in Tancredi at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Kelly & Massa)

There’s a lot to be said for the old-fashioned pleasures.

Opera Philadelphia’s Tancredi was a throwback on several levels—starting with the work itself, one of Rossini’s first major successes. Tancredi’s plot (a political power struggle/star-crossed romance, set in the Byzantine Empire) and its rather sequential, stately dramatic structure are representative of early 18th Century style. Storytelling in opera would grow more nuanced and fluid over the next hundred years, but Rossini knew the power of virtuoso music—arias, duets, ensembles—to thrill an audience.  A similar sense excitement was very much present here at the Academy of Music. Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: Turandot — A Wild, Multicultural Ride

Christine Goerke in Opera Philadelphia's Turandot. (Kelly & Massa Photography)

Christine Goerke in Opera Philadelphia’s Turandot. (Kelly & Massa Photography)

Opera Philadelphia’s opening week is globe-trotting and time-traveling.  Breaking the Waves, their world-premiere production, takes place in a grim Scottish town in the 1970s. Verdi’s Macbeth resets the action to contemporary Africa.

In between is Turandot, Puccini’s beloved final opera, left unfinished at the time of his death in 1924. Turandot takes place in ancient Peking — make that ancient Peking, as adapted from an 18th century Italian play, influenced by 16th century commedia dell’arte, and set to music by an early 20th century composer (also Italian) with a 19th century sensibility. Read more »

OPERA REVIEW: A Compelling, Disturbing Breaking the Waves

Breaking the Waves at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Nicholas Korkos)

Breaking the Waves at Opera Philadelphia. (Photo by Nicholas Korkos)

It’s a week that effectively demonstrates Opera Philadelphia’s growing presence and ambitions.  There’s a gala opening in grandly traditional style — Puccini’s Turandot, at their home theater, the Academy of Music.  The next day brings a collaboration with the African company Third World Bunfight, in a remix version of Verdi’s Macbeth that is also part of the FringeArts.

No doubt the major news (and the biggest risk) took place Thursday night at the ideally-sized Perelman Theater — the world premiere of Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s operatic setting of Lars von Trier’s fascinating but bleak and disturbing film, Breaking the Waves. Read more »

Free Tickets to Opera on the Mall are Now Available

Photo by Philip Groshong for Cincinnati Opera

Photo by Philip Groshong for Cincinnati Opera

If you know one song from one opera, it’s probably Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” from the grand Turandot. Opera Philadelphia is performing the epic tale of the princess and her brave suitors at the Academy of Music later this month, but you don’t have to spring for tickets or get dressed up to see it. Turandot is the pick for this year’s always-popular Opera on the Mall, an HD broadcast outdoors on Independence Mall — and it’s free. Read more »

Arts Shortlist: See a Play About WikiLeaks

The Elixir of Love. Photo by Ken Howard

The Elixir of Love. Photo by Ken Howard

See What I Wanna See @ Christ Church Neighborhood House | April 28 to May 15
For 11th Hour Theatre Company’s 11th season, the founders collaborated on this musical about truth and perception, based on short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Here’s a menacing preview:

“Dear Julia” Opening Reception @ Philadelphia Magic Gardens | Friday, April 29
In the nearly 50 years Isaiah and Julia Zagar have lived on South Street, Isaiah has been the more recognizable name, known for his mural-sized, mirror-dotted mosaics adorning the neighborhood and the Magic Gardens. This new exhibit, on display through June 26, is a “visual love letter” to Julia, with mixed-media work by both Zagars alongside other artists. Proceeds are going to The Julia Zagar Residency Program for Women Artists.

The Elixir of Love @ The Academy of Music | April 29 to May 8
A poor car mechanic pines for a rich uptown girl, but she’s in love with a handsome sergeant. Find out if the love potion he drinks will win her in this Santa Fe Opera production at Opera Philadelphia. The show, set in the 1940s Italian countryside, is in Italian with English supertitles. Have you ever heard an opera in English? It’s disconcerting.

Read more »

Opera Review: Capriccio is a Triumph

Capriccio by Curtis Opera Theatre and Opera Philadelphia, at the Perelman Theater. (Photo by Cory Weaver)

Capriccio by Curtis Opera Theatre and Opera Philadelphia, at the Perelman Theater. (Photo by Cory Weaver)

In the middle of World War II, Richard Strauss premiered his final opera, Capriccio — an elegant “conversation piece,” set in a grand salon outside Paris, where an aristocratic brother and sister debate with their guests whether music or poetry matters more.

If this sounds unforgivably frivolous — trust me: it’s not. Capriccio is funny, beautiful, and profoundly moving. But it is difficult to get it right. So let’s cheer the co-production by Curtis Opera Theatre and Opera Philadelphia. Superbly done, both musically and theatrically — and presented in the ideally intimate Perelman Theatre — it’s a major achievement. Read more »

Opera Philadelphia is All About the Ladies Next Season

Christine Goerke

Christine Goerke

The big news from today’s 2016-17 season announcement from Opera Philadelphia is pretty simple: It’s all about the ladies.

In fact, when browsing the full lineup for the upcoming year, the three main highlights can easily be boiled down to Opera Philadelphia’s casting of two superstar singers for 2016 and 2017, plus the premiere of a female composer’s new work. Here’s a breakdown of the leading ladies that will be taking center stage:

Christine GoerkeThe soprano caused quite a stir back in 2013 when she appeared as Die Färberin in the Met Opera’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, garnering massive critical acclaim which led the company to sign her as Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring Cycle during the 2018-19 season at the New York venue. Goerke won’t be singing Wagner while in Philly, but she will star as the title role in Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, at the Academy of Music, September 23-October 2.

Read more »

REVIEW: Cold Mountain at Opera Philadelphia

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in "Cold Mountain."

Isabel Leonard and Jarrett Ott in Cold Mountain.

Most of the characters in Jennifer Higdon‘s first opera want to return to the literal Cold Mountain. However, at the end of the nearly three-hour show, which had its East Coast premiere with Opera Philadelphia on Friday evening, you’re left to wonder why. There’s no doubt that this operatic adaptation of the classic novel-turned-film sparks some sparks with a fabulous cast, but the overall pacing of the production makes you feel like you’ve been physically fighting in the drawn-out American Civil War depicted in the opera.

Part of that may very well have to do with the scope of narrative that’s trying to be covered here, told through a series of interconnected scenes and flashbacks. It’s almost too much: Gene Scheer‘s libretto is heavy and often times puts unneeded weight on both the action and the singers. The first act of Cold Mountain suffers tremendously from this, as the one huge stationary set piece (which eerily looks like the barricades from Les Miserables) doesn’t allow for the action to move beyond a small playing area.

Higdon’s score, while complex, layered, and interesting, often fell victim on Friday night to conductor Corrado Rovaris. The orchestra severely overpowered the singers, especially in act one, and there were multiple times when the top-notch performers could hardly be heard over the pit. Read more »

Isabel Leonard: Philly’s “It Girl” For 2016

Photo: Becca Fay

Photo: Becca Fay

Before the lights come up at some of the world’s biggest opera houses, you can hear Isabel Leonard‘s voice backstage. But you won’t catch her singing a tune from her wide classical repertoire, ranging from Mozart to Poulenc. She’s singing lullabies to her son over the phone.

“My son is older now and his new question is, ‘Mama, when are you gonna stay at home and work here forever?'” Leonard told me. “It’s like someone stabs me with a knife! I think he gets that Mama has to work. If you were to ask me what the most important thing in my life is, I’d say it’s my son and my work, because work is how I can give everything to my son.” Read more »

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