Karyl Charna Lynn
The Opera Critic

Review Roundup -25th Festival Amazonas de Opera, Manaus Brazil

One of the world’s most beautiful opera houses, Teatro Amazonas, is also one of the most remote.  Located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the theater was build by the rubber barons in the late 1800s during the rubber boom, which eventually went bust. Most of the 20th century passed until the opera house was restored, reopening in 1998. That same year, the Festival Amazonas de Opera (FAO) was inaugurated, which became one of the great success stories of opera in South America.

For the 25th season, Anna Bolena, Peter Grimes, and two Brazilian works Ripper’s Piedade and Mignone’s O Contractador dos Diamantes were on the boards. The first night was (Diamond Contractor), a verismo Italian opera by Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone. Influenced by Giordano (Feodora), Mascagni (Cavalleria rusticana) and Puccini (Tosca) among others, the opera was tinged with Brazilian sounds. The theme of Brazilian nationalism permeated the work with an anti-colonialist message. Taking place in the 18th century Brazilian diamond district, the opera revolved around growing resistance to control and exploitation by the Portuguese crown of the diamonds mined there, declaring that the riches of the land belonged to the people who worked the land. Functional sets contrasted the elegant life of the aristocrats with the simple life of the workers and peasants. The characters themselves were not developed into believable people with whom you cared about, but were cardboard stereotypes, with no show-stopping arias expressing emotions larger than life or music swelling into spine-tingling climaxes. The opera was one continuous passionate recitative, with singers belting full throttle in stylized Italianate fashion, resulting in a disconnect of telling the story of Brazilian workers wanting freedom from the Portuguese crown through the prism of Italian verismo music and style of that era. Yearning for freedom is a universal theme, but the opera itself lacked the inspiration of its message. The opera’s deficiencies did not detract from its precise execution, beautiful voices, and splendid conducting by FAO’s artistic director Luiz Fernando Malheiro, who painstakingly reconstructed the opera, making the revival possible. After its 1924 world premiere in Rio de Janeiro, the work disappeared. Political-message operas are difficult to pull off unless the composer’s name is Giuseppe Verdi. O Contractador dos Diamantes was no exception.

The remoteness of the festival played a major role in the performance of the Peter Grimes I saw the following evening. Fernando Portari in the title role had lost his singing voice. With no cover or possibility of a replacement, he bravely shouted his way through the evening, with a gripping portrayal of Grimes as the outsider, hostile, tortured, and enigmatic. The opera addressed several societal issues, from tensions in relationships both between individuals, and individuals and society, to hypocrisy, gossip, and herd mentality, specifically regarding homophobia, personified in the condemnation and suspicion Grimes was subjected to, and the psychological consequences. Unfolding amidst a nautically inspired set with a small, wooden boat, huge winch, rope, and house on stilts, the opera was propelled by the haunting motif of doom, shrouding the production with a mysterious atmosphere. Daniella Carvalho (Ellen Orford) sang with heft, alternating between soaring fierceness and plunging quiet, as situations dictated; Homero Velho made a forceful Captain Balstrode. Maestro Malheiro brought the score to life.

n the third evening, Brazilian director André Heller-Lopes reimagined Anna Bolena as a tribute to Maria Callas on the centennial of her birth, calling his production, “classic with a twist.” Since the 1840s, Anna Bolena had not been staged in Brazil so Heller-Lopes paid homage to Callas’ portrayal of Anna Bolena in Visconti’s 1957 La Scala production which sparked the bel canto revival. Dealing with power, politics, lust, love, betrayal and adultery, the opera unfolded within an LED rectangle, with a throne chair center stage and two huge chandeliers hanging on either side. In this symbolism-laden production, the “musical chairs” game (also projected) inspired the set design. During the overture, images of the famous love triangle of Maria Callas, Aristotle Onassis, Jackie Kennedy were projected, then paralleled to the Anna Bolena, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour triangle. The opera was set in its historical time period, leaving it to the audience to trace the connections between the opera characters and the 20th century celebrities with Tatiana Carlos, Sávio Sperandio, Luisa Francesconi appearing as Bolena-Henry-Seymour respectively, but occasionally as Maria-Aristotle-Jackie. (Jackie’s blood-stained suit appeared frequently.) Only issue was the flimsy backdrops of La Scala’s auditorium. Carlos made a strong Bolena, with her powerful vocal instrument, hitting the notes with heft. Only the highest were more shouted than sung. Sperandio was an imposing, kingly presence. But it was Francisco Brito as Percy whose sweet lyricism and glistening vibrato who had the quintessential Italianate bel canto voice. Maestro Marcelo de Jesus offered a precise reading with superb style.

The title of the fourth opera at the festival, Ripper’s Piedade, takes its name from the neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro where the real crime took place, the murder of a famous Brazilian writer, Euclides da Cunha by his wife’s lover. Premiered in 2012, the work, a combination of singing and spoken dialogue is a haunting, moving, visceral piece with mesmerizing musical tension. There is a stark delineation between the three protagonists: Euclides da Cunha, his wife Anna da Cunha, and her lover, Dilermando de Assis, caught in the deadly triangular love affair that was psychologically destructive and violent. The guitar intermezzo of Brazilian folk songs between each act evoked a particularly Brazilian nostalgia to the contemporary, melodic score which sounded, at times, like a movie soundtrack. Lasting around 1.5 hours with no intermission, the opera unfolded on a large metal structure which anchored platforms at different levels, symbolically indicating who was in power at that moment. Distorted photographic images were projected. Suggestive scenery and props indicated different locations, like office, hotel, etc. Homero Velho portrayed Euclides as a tortured man even before his wife took a lover, with his harsh and intense singing, carrying the tragic epic until his death. Gabriella Pace convincingly portrayed Anna, who took a lover to combat loneliness and boredom, although she occasionally had to fish for her high notes; Daniel Umbelino, embodied the idealism of Dilermando. Otávio Simões expertly led the Amazonas Philharmonic in this memorable production.

Theodor by Cnaan & Ricklin - World Premiere

Israel Opera, Tel Aviv

Israel Opera commissioned Theodor, a politically-revealing opera about the life of Israel’s Founding Father, Theodor Herzl, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the birth of Israel. On the day of the world premiere, there was as much drama off-stage as on. Hamas was firing rockets into Israel with several reaching Tel Aviv. But the show must go on and it did, with Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog in attendance. looked at pivotal moments in Theodor Herzl’s life, showing his transformation from a totally assimilated German-speaking Jew to a modern Moses-like prophet. It was told in two parallel realities: Theodor at 21-years-old, clean-shaven, dressed in white, student in Vienna, confident, idealistic, who was transformed into a humiliated outcast; Herzl at 35-years-old, full black beard, black hat and coat, a Viennese journalist in Paris, skeptical, desperate, embittered, who became optimistic, and (ironically) inspired by German nationalism, saw his vision for a future Jewish state.

The opera began in Paris in 1895, with Herzl (Oded Reich) covering the Dreyfus Trial. Mobs, held back by a large black wrought-iron gate, were shouting virulent antisemitic comments. Scene changed to Herzl’s Paris home, suggested by a bed, desk and rocking horse where we witnessed the disintegration of his marriage with wife Julie (Anat Czarny). Next, we were transported to 1881 at a beer garden in Vienna with Theodor, (Noam Heinz) proud and boastful to have become the first Jew accepted into the German nationalist fraternity Albia, and unaware of its inherent antisemitism. The opera continued in this vein, alternating between these two time-periods with the younger (Theodor), and the older (Herzl). The first part culminated when Herzl entered a Paris church. Inspired by the priest’s words and choral singing, he visualized leading all Jews in a mass conversion to Christianity. Slowly lowered from above was the image of his younger self nailed to a large cross.

The scenery was minimal, with a few suggestive props, allowing for seamless set changes. Scenes were contrasted. For example, the stark Paris winter, shadowed in dark hues was juxtaposed to a verdant beer garden bathed in warm colors. The Vienna Opera scene, suggested by heavy opulent curtains and a crystal chandelier, with young Theodor cheering a performance of Tannhäuser clashed with older Herzl’s revulsion at the speech given at Albia at Wagner’s death that blamed the Jews for the corruption of German purity. The finale brought both young Theodor and old Herzl together with a desperate, imaginary duet where his vision of the establishment of a Jewish state was born.

The music is intuitive, forceful, and haunting, filled with inspiration that evolved with the dramatic situations as they unfolded. Its kaleidoscope of sounds engulfed a wide spectrum, creating a broad palette of colors and textures from Strauss to Israeli pop, from classical and late Romantic to cabaret, topped by a sprinkling of Puccini. Ido Ricklin, who both wrote a taut libretto and directed, took a realistic approach, avoiding crowding the stage with superfluous activities or details. Reich made a towering, haunting Herzl with his dark-timbered baritone, and convincing metamorphosis from ridiculed dreamer to visionary. Heinz as the younger Theodor, was equally effective with his sonorous baritone and believable transformation from youthful narcissism to social pariah. Czarny made a credible Julie with her piercingly expressive voice. Despite the occasional stage/pit imbalance, the orchestra under the baton of Maestro Nimrod David Pffeffer played like a well-oiled machine, keeping the tension, and cohesion.


Festivalino Mascarade - Italy

Palazzo Corsini al Prato, Florence

Teatro La Fenice, Venice

Karyl Charna Lynn


Formal-dress gala fundraising events showcasing recitals by talented young singers, amidst lavish dinners, and overflowing wine and champagne have been plentiful (and necessary) in the USA for many years, due to the almost complete absence of government funding of the arts, but are a relatively recent phenomenon in Italy. Festivalino Mascarade, in its second iteration in support of the Mascarade Emerging Artists program created in collaboration with the Teatro La Fenice Foundation, is a uniquely conceived, four-day festival which takes place in the two Italian cities most closely connected to the origins and early flourishing of the genre: Florence, the birthplace of opera at the end of the 1500s with the Camarata dei Bardi and pastorals by Cavalieri, and Venice, the opera capital of Europe during the 17h century with 16 theaters hosting 388 opera by the end of the century, including the opening of the world’s first public opera house in 1637 with Manelli’s Andromeda.

The Festivalino opened in Florence in the 16th century Palazzo Corsini al Prato and its breathtaking gardens, lined with majestic stone statues, and illuminated with rich lavender lighting. Waiters meandered among the formally-attired guests offering trays of sparkling prosecco and mouthwatering hors d’oeuvres. The celebratory atmosphere continued with the alumni of a previous festival supported by the Foundazione Mascarade Opera, giving a recital in the small, acoustic-friendly Salone Principale. Featuring soprano Anna El-Khashem, mezzo Beth Taylor, and tenor Xavier Hetherington, the program offered arias ranging from Monteverdi, Handel and Mozart to Rossini, Donizetti, and Gounod that highlighted their vocal strengths, from the opening vocal fireworks of Da tempeste il legno infranto (Giulio Cesare in Egitto) in which El-Khashem displayed seamless and effortless coloratura, focusing on the character’s emotional nuances to Caro! Bella! a duet with Taylor that both executed in a dramatically commanding fashion, to Taylor assaying Priva son d’ogni conforto, with feeling and heft that held across her entire vocal range to Hetherington, singing the only French aria in the program, Salut! Demeure, chaste et pure (Faust) with ideal French intonation and heartfelt determination. After five more arias, the program ended on a playful note with Rossini-attributed Duetto buffo di due (o sono tre?) gatti as the trio meowed to each other clawing and crawling around like cats. Afterwards, guests filled magnificently decorated state rooms, the most stunning of which held a very long banquet table fit for a king, as guests relished a multi-course dinner.


For the Mascarade Opera Showcase, several emerging talented young singers performed in staged scenes from La scala di seta, L’elisir d’amore, Die Zauberflöte, and La Cenerentola. Using a gigantic screen which filled La Fenice’s entire proscenium, on which clever and amusing computer images (Anouar Brissel, video designer) were projected, combined with some of the finest stars-of-tomorrow voices, the gala was a treat for both the eyes and ears. The opening scenes were from La scala di seta, setting an entertaining and slightly risqué atmosphere. Against a backdrop of a painting of a nude female, Giulia (Floriana Cicio) stepped into a bathtub, as an exotic-looking chandelier fell, giving her “privacy” as she “bathed” while singing Il mio ben sospiro. Her voice embodied Giulia’s emotional state with fluid coloratura, good vibrato, and capturing her character’s essence. When she hit her high notes spot-on, the legs in the nude picture moved, adding a bit of comedy. Germano (William Desbiens) executed Brava: vada, si serva with burnished power. Several entertaining images hilariously connected the scenes of the L’elisir d’amore love triangle. Updated to 1930s Paris and set against the video backdrop of Paris with oversized Eiffel Tower, which fell over when Adina (Marianna ) rejected Nemorino (Angel Vargas) and righted itself when she had a change of heart. It then glowed when Adina danced with Nemorino, adding sparkle to the set. Hovhannisyan sang Ella crudele Isotta with authority, expressiveness, and brightness while Vargas assayed Caro Elisir showing a gorgeous instrument, filled with powerful yearning, Italianate richness, and focused tone. Belcore (Griisha Martirosyan) arrived flying a 1930s-era plane that blew up after his deplaning, as he executed Come Paride vezzoso with boastful self-importance. Then a Vargas and Hovhannisyan duet, Tran Tran In guerra ed amore contrasted Nemino’s full-bodied, richly hued yearning against Adina’s flippant indifference. Scenes from Zauberflöte took place against changing backdrops of pyramids and sky and clouds. In Papagena’s aria Ach ich fühl’s showed she had the most dynamic voice of the three sopranos with a solid, bright top register that was always spot. in Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen, Debiens played Papageno as a clownish buffoon who tried to kill himself by jumping off a cliff that ended in freeze-frame. Connor Baiano performed Sarastro in an unaffected, almost hymn-like tone, carefully reflecting his character’s essence. The final opera scenes were from La Cenerentola. Aebh Kelly made the ideal Angelina, singing with a desperate yearning sublimated with passion and heartbreak in her Perdona la tenera incertezza. Aaron Godfrey-Mayes as Don Ramiro exhibited delightful vocal embellishments in Si, ritrovarla with all the needed high notes.

The only issue I had which is a common problem inherent in staging comic opera is superfluous slapstick that increased as the evening progressed, especially when the works were inherently funny and the voices outstanding. The singers had an impressive understanding of their character’s mindset. Maestro Jonathan Santagada kept good pacing and coordination between singers and orchestra, although I would have preferred more nuanced playing and distillation of notes, along with more consistent stage pit balance.

Dvorak’s Rusalka, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy

Rusalka received its world premiere at the National Theater in Prague in 1901. It took 122 years before its prima assoluta reached the stage of La Scala. Based on Fouque’s Undine and Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, the opera is a fairy-tale about the water nymph, Rusalka, who fell in love with a human prince and her desire to become a human. Jezibaba, a witch, transformed her according to her wish, but extracted a steep price: she would be eternally cursed with no voice, and if betrayed she must kill the prince to break her curse. Director Emma Dante took this story of sacrifice, love, and desire for human connection and created a psychological fairytale, tackling the contemporary issue of prejudice against people who are different, brilliantly making Rusalka a narration on people with disabilities, whether physical or mental, and the need to accept them.


The costumes were symbolic and visually striking. Bezsmertna made a tantalizing Rusalka, both strong-willed and vulnerable, displaying an amazing vocal range with bright and full-bodied sound. Her remarkable upper register, filled with vibrato, especially in the fortissimo, contrasted with her controlled pianissimo. Her voice cut-through the loudest orchestra playing, which unfortunately was not the case with Dmitry Korchak as the Prince. His voice, although possessing a vigorous and silvery quality, was covered during the dramatic, fortissimo orchestral sections and was no match for Bezsmerna power. Maestro Tomas Hanus drew luxurious sounds from the orchestra, filled with bold colors, lavish chords, although at times the stage/pit balance was lost, covering some of the voices.

The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson, Kennedy Center, Terrace Theater, Washington DC

On August 28, 1963 Martin Luther King gave his famous “I got a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC for civil and economic rights for blacks and an end to racism in USA. But more than two decades earlier, in 1941, a little know African American woman, Mary Cardwell Dawson, who was singer, pianist, educator, established the National Negro Opera Company, the first permanent African-American opera company in the country to give African American singers a stage on which to perform. She staged the operas on a floating dock on the Potomac River, next to the Watergate, with singers subjected to boat wake, airplane noise, and at the mercy of the weather, but in front of a non-segregated audience seated on the lawn.

With racial equality again in the limelight, especially in the opera world, the work was especially germane. The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson is a play which began and ended with a few solos filled with racial equality, and live free messages for Denise Graves as Mary Cardwell Dawson. For much of the work, which unfolded in a rehearsal studio in Washington DC with a stormy sky visible above an uneven brick wall, and a rehearsal piano on the left, and a few chairs on the right, Graves was an overbearing teacher, continually coaching, coaxing and criticizing three singers as they rehearsed their respective famous arias of Micela, Carmen and Don Jose for the evening’s performance of Carmen.

The previous night’s Traviata was subjected to the worst mother-nature could offer, with a very small audience. The weather forecast for this evening’s Carmen was the same, but Union rules dictated that Dawson must pay her singers, even if the show was cancelled. This became one of the two conflicts in the work which led to the second, to accept an inside, yet segregated performance venue to get enough revenue to pay her singers, or to refuse to give in and perform again on the dock, risking another financial failure, which would put the company in even deeper debt.

Although Graves’ voice still had heft, her lower register sounded more baritone-like in its deep-seated tone quality and her upper register had as much vibrato as a boat’s wake on the Potomac. The three singers, Amber Monroe (Isabelle), Taylor-Alexis Dupont (Phoebe), Jonathan Pierce Rhodes (Frank) executed their roles with aplomb. There’s no doubt as to the value of shining light on Dawson, a pioneer for racial equality in the opera world, but the play with musical embellishments is still a work in progress. There needs to be a more involving, emotionally gripping way to formulate the “opera.” It has too many “dull” spots, and Graves “coaching” and directing of the singers is so overbearing with her continual “suggestions” and arm waving that it distracted and grated rather than adding to the experience.

Fellow Travelers, Center for the Arts, Fairfax, VA

Virginia Opera, Norfolk VA, February 5, 2023

Seven decades ago, in 1953, President Eisenhower passed an executive order prohibiting homosexuals and lesbians in US government jobs, alleging they were deviants and posed a security risk. This law became known as the Lavender scare. An estimated 5,000 lost their jobs, many were persecuted, some committed suicide. It took place during the Red Scare, the infamous McCarthy era witch-hunt for Communist. Amid this historic backdrop, based on a novel by Thomas Mallon, a poignant, intimate, forbidden love affair unfolded between a naïve, politically conservative, devout Catholic journalist Timothy Laughlin and the suave, manipulative, promiscuous State Department official Hawkins Fuller called Hawk. Hawk became Tim’s first taste of sexual fulfillment, pitting his love for Hawk against his deep religious beliefs, expressed in Tim’s only major (and show-stopping) aria, “I died last night.” In this moving musical drama, filled with explicit homo-erotic love scenes as both leading men engaged in passionate love-making, most of the vocal score was recitative with aria-like pieces punctuating the work as expressions of the emotional markers in their forbidden love affair. The music leaned towards Minimalism, reminiscent of Phillip Glass with frequent repetitive, pounding chords, interspersed amidst a musical undercurrent reflective of a cinematic-sound-track vein that created a tense, passionate, or playful atmosphere that reflected the changing characters’ emotional states. As the opera progressed, it moved from the warmth, sweetness and liveliness of the early scenes, developing into a complex, introspective, and ultimately personal character dissection of two incompatible men entangled in a destructive relationship, ending with Hawk’s betrayal of Tim, knowing exposing him as homosexual would ruin his career. Andres Acosta imbodied the essence of Timothy Laughlin with an intense performance and heartfelt singing. Joseph Lattanzi as Hawkins Fuller sang with a full-bodied, rich voice, imbued with his character’s sleaziness. Katherine Pracht assayed Hawkins’ best friend, Mary Johnson, with a piercing, yet buoyant, luxurious sound. Adam Turner coaxed supple and lush sounds from the 23 musician-orchestra.

The one disappointment was the inability to understand much of the dialogue, which in this work was essential, a result of poor diction, bad acoustics, or overpowering orchestra, or combination of all three, requiring the frequent reading of the super titles. Often they were displayed in such quick succession that it was impossible to completely read them.

With Norfolk, home to both the Virginia Opera and the world’s largest Naval base, it was telling that many in the audience were older, gay Navy guys who felt they were seeing their own lives, watching the homoerotic scenes and doomed relationship play out.

Elektra, Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington DC, November 4, 2022

The WNO’s production of Elektra was the finest performance the company has staged in a long time. From the opening forebodingly dissonant “Elektra chord,” to the final note, it held you captive, mesmerized by the horrors unfolding on stage of this quintessential dysfunctional family. A taut 100 minutes of intense, thrilling terror as we watched Elektra’s slow descent into madness and death, plotting to avenge the murder of her father, Agamemnon by her mother Klytämnestra and her lover Aegisth. (Klytämnestra was avenging Agamemnon’s sacrifice of their daughter Iphegenia for favorable winds for the Greeks to sail to Troy). The opera unfolded amidst a distillation of classical, modern, and abstract fragmented structures, symbolizing a falling empire, with a single standing column and Agamemnon’s name engraved among the collapsed building ruins. The spectacular success of this Elektra rested with visceral acting and overwhelming vocal and emotional power which Christine Goerke imbued into her Elektra. She was filled with such vengeful energy, and murderous obsession that you could experience it vicariously. Her soaring vocal range was equally impressive spanning the gamut from the highest notes to the lowest. Sara Jakubiak’s Chrysothemis was the ideal counterpoint to Goerke’s Elektra, desiring only a loving family and home, exhibiting her longing with a lovely voice and fine acting. Katarina Dalayman portrayed Klytämnestra as a resounding murderess and Ryan Speedo Green made a convincing Orest. Conductor Evan Rogister did justice to Strauss’s monumental score drawing powerful, bold sounds.

Lohengrin, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, May 7, 2022

You couldn’t find a more perfect performance of a Wagner opera to turn a Wagner skeptic into an aficionado. It was almost as if Lohengrin’s supernatural power infused the performance propelling it to new heights. Pitting good, innocence and trust against evil, revenge and deceit created innate tension in the opera that director David Alden’s striking production kept taut and engrossing, infusing it with majestic grandeur and making this Lohengrin one for the ages. He filled the work with generic symbolism. The Nazi eagle had metamorphosed into Lohengrin’s swan, and characters’ relative “heights” changed according to who was the most powerful at the moment. Costumes were black and red for Ortrud and Telramund, white for Lohengrin and Elsa. But the straightforwardness of the production focused attention on the singers, drama, and music, instead of itself, as it should be, with a performance that mesmerized for almost five hours.

Alden updated Lohengrin from 10th century Antwerp to a 20th century dystopia of decaying industrial buildings, tilted at different angles that were noiselessly pushed and pulled into different configurations allowing for seamless transitions for changes in visual perspectives. The stage was often filled with surging crowds in confining spaces, restrained by the building’s iron bars or armed soldiers. The dark, foreboding shadows and out-of-kilter structure resonated with German Expressionist cinema, focusing on the threatening magnetism of the outer-worldly savoir on a desperate populous and gullible king. Elsa entered through a trap door under the stage and huge menacing shadows of swan wings heralded Lohengrin’s barefoot entrance. Act III opened with Heckel’s painting Lohengrin arriving in Antwerp on a swan pulled boat on the (paper) wall which Telramund tore through, attempting to murder Lohengrin but resulted in his own death.

Brandon Jovanovich made a convincingly heroic and powerful Lohengrin with a voice displaying both heft and passion. Jennifer Davis used her sweet, soaring vocal instrument to reflect Elsa’s innocence and determination, making her ideal for the role. Craig Colclough aptly showed Telramund changing fortunes with his nuanced singing and acting. Anna Smirnova grippingly assayed Ortrud, with harsh, piercing tones that seethed with venom, capturing Ortrud’s evil intensions. From the exquisitely played overture to the final soft chords, maestro Jakub Hruša ignited the ROH orchestra and chorus to sublime execution, while harnessing the overwhelming power and scale of the work with formidable results.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Teatro alla Scala May 3,2022 The last time I saw Ariadne auf Naxos at La Scala was April 2000, notable as the final opera maestro Sinopoli’s conducted in Italy, before his death of a heart attack while conducting Aida at Deutsche Oper, Berlin. That Ariadne auf Naxos, directed by Luca Ronconi, was traditional. The Prologue unfolded on the backstage of a theater and Act One amidst soaring rocks and trees surrounded by water (Island of Naxos). This sharply contrasted with 

Sven-Eric Bechtolf’s updated, symbolically laden vision, created a decade ago for Salzburg Festival. Using “theater within a theater” concept, set in the early 20th century when the opera was composed, (1916 version staged), the prologue opened in a large hall of the mansion of the “richest man in Vienna.” There were numerous verdant trees visible through a wall of huge glass windows which were replaced in act one by rows of red armchairs forming the theater with its stage between La Scala’s audience and a stage “audience.” Abandon pianos, symbolizing Ariadne’s abandonment were strewed on the proscenium. These keyboard musical instruments also symbolized the decline of “high-brow” culture (reflecting the opera creators’ beliefs which they incorporated into the opera) when the party’s host deemed the fireworks more important than the opera, demanding the scheduled commedia dell’arte and opera Ariadne auf Naxos be performed simultaneously thereby deftly interweaving comedy with tragedy.

This not only included a hilarious portrait of the opera world filled with its neuroses and fears, singers’ hysteria, prima donna rivalries, and colleague tensions but allowed for a jarring contrast between the irreverent energy of Zerbinetta and harlequins in their commedia dell'arte as they disrupted and revitalized a hyper-exaggerated portrayal of Ariadne’s tragic myth. Subsequently Zerbinetta (who had many lovers) convinced Ariadne that no man is worth dying for, capturing the contrasting essence of the antique melodramatic opera with practical down to earth opera buffa. Ariadne, initially believing Bacchus to be Hermes, followed him but then fell in love with him. Bechtolf’s vision channeled the opera into a continuous dialectic between the opera, fiction, and real life, making it especially relevant for today.

With an outstanding cast especially Zerbinetta (Erin Morley), Primadonna/Ariadne (Krassimira Stoyanova) Der Komponist (Sophie Koch) and precise execution by maestro Michael Boder, evoking pure Straussian sound, in a measured reading with enough flair for an entertaining, and involving evening, that checked all the boxes.

Come Home: A celebration of Return - Washington National Opera, unlike the other large US opera companies, did not inaugurate its 2021-2022 season after its forced closure due to Covid with a fully staged opera, but instead a combination of narration and video projections interspersed with a showcase of arias assayed by world class talent and young and emerging artists who were either alumni or current members of the Cafritz Young Artist Program. The program opened with a video on the construction of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Back in September 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Cultural Center Act planting the seeds for what would become the Kennedy Center. But the project soon stalled. There was a dispute over the new Center’s location, finally placed on the banks of the Potomac. Architect Edward Durrell Stone designed an exorbitantly expensive, clam-shaped building, ultimately redesigned to today’s rectangular structure. There were fund-raising issues. But after President Kennedy was assassinated, a strong impetus took hold to get it built as a living memorial to the slain president and in July 1964 President Lyndon B Johnson authorized the remaining funds. Ground was broken for the Kennedy Center in December 1964 and inaugurated in September 1971 with Bernstein’s Mass, composed in memory of the slain president.

The choice for the Come Home program’s opening aria was no surprise, “Dich, teure Halle but its execution was. It was electric, sung by Cafritz alumna Alexandria Shiner, whose mesmerizing voice pierced the voluminous orchestral sounds. Isabel Leonard’s entertaining The Girl in 14G, a contemporary piece by Jeanine Tesori was another highpoint. But the first half was marred by conductor Evan Rogister failure to find a proper stage pit/balance or extract finely distilled, nuanced music from the orchestra with cacophonous results. The second part, in which Rogister’s transgressions of the first half were largely eliminated, was a much-improved experience. Dedicated to the late supreme court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second part opened with a video about her followed by some of her favorite arias. Of note was Pretty Yende and Duke Kim excerpts from Traviata, Brownlee’s from La fille du regiment, Christian Van Horn from Macbeth, among others. Overall, despite Rogister’s inconsistencies, the program was executed with precision by talented singers. If only the WNO could incorporate the same high level of singing with equally precise execution in their fully staged opera…

Fidelio – The second offering of the San Francisco Opera’s 99th season was Fidelio. Beethoven’s singspiel, where spoken dialogue separates musical numbers, is laced with themes of tyranny, hope, love, and perseverance. The composer believed in the ideals of enlightenment: defeat of tyranny and trump of good over evil. Originally called Leonore, ou l'Amour Conjugale  it is based on a true event during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, but it wasn’t until the 3rd version, renamed Fidelio, that his opera met with success. Fidelio’s wife Leonore, disguised as a man, gets a job in the prison to rescue her husband from unjust incarceration. Updated by director Matthew Ozawa from 18th century Spain with its deep subterrain dungeon to a modern political prison complex defined by an enormous, rotating cube of metal bars, chain-link-fencing, harsh florescent lights and omnipresent video cameras. Prisoners were packed like sardines and surrounded by armed guards wrapped in bullet proof vests emblazoned with SECURITY. The contemporary attire appeared to reflect that seen in today’s news broadcasts. The threatening, claustrophobic atmosphere was hard to escape. Russell Thomas and Elza van den Heever in the title roles, (current and former versions respectively) had deep rooted heroic voices that unequivocally conveyed their struggle against tyranny and oppression with heft, nuance, and conviction. Of note were van den Heever’s Komm, Hoffnung and Abscheulicher, wo eilst du hin, and Thomas' poignantly powerful “Gott, welch Dunkel hier. The rest of the cast, especially Greer Grimsley as the evil Don Pizarro executed with aplomb. The weak line was the uneven conducting of Eun Sun Kim, who at times was brilliant and at times disastrous. She didn’t give the singers sufficient guidance and her pacing was often erratic resulting in the singers and orchestra marching to the beat of different drummers. The chorus, however shone brightly throughout.

L’amant anonyme (Anonymous Lover) – streamed on Marquee TV

The LA Opera brought diversity to a new level with its staging of the long-forgotten opera, Anonymous Lover by the unknown mulatto composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges. A contemporary of Mozart, Bologne infused his music with Mozartian sounds, but his compositions lacked Mozart’s genius and ability to stir emotions. Of his six operas, only L’amant anonyme has survived. The final outcome of the opera was “love conquers all,” overcoming hurt, betrayal, and (failed) attempt to avoid another heartbreak.

The approach of the LA Opera was diametrically opposed to Wolf Trap Opera’s production concept (see review below). Although both were cast with singers from their young artist programs, Wolf Trap Opera kept it in the era in which the work was written, executing the entire piece in French whereas LA Opera updated the action to the present with the singers clad in colorful, artsy contemporary clothes, with spoken dialogue in English. Also, Covid guidelines became an integral part of the choreography and direction. Masks and gloves materialized when the singers or dancers needed to get close and ribbons often united the lovers while keeping their distance.

The gamut of cinematic techniques and editing was on full display, as might be expected from an LA based company, that gave life and involvement to the production. Varying camera angles, dissolves, and lighting played the principal roles, changing to reflect characters’ feelings, emotions, and creating the atmosphere of the moment. Sometimes singers were silhouetted against a riot of background colors, other times each singer was dissolved into the next; often duets and trios saw all singes (separately filmed) spliced into one image. Often changing background colors bled into the next like purple/pink into green/ blue then transforming into red.

The opera, cast from the LA Opera’s young artist program at the Colburn School, was performed live in Zipper Hall (with no audience). Two of the six roles in this chamber opera Leontine (Tiffany Townsend) and Dorotheé (Alaysha Fox) were assayed by promising African American singers, especially Townsend who imbued her voice with appropriate expression and nuance to convey her character’s emotional turmoil. The Anonymous Lover Valcour (Robert Stahley) and his friend Ophémon (Michael Hawk), and the ballet couple executed their roles with aplomb. Maestro James Conlon, LA Opera’s music director, expertly conducted the orchestra.   http://www.marquis.tv

Wolf Trap Opera inaugurated its 50th season celebrating diversity with the unearthing of a neglected opera by a contemporary of Mozart, the forgotten mulatto composer, Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges. Born in 1745 in Guadeloupe to wealthy plantation owner Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges, and his wife’s 16-year old African slave, Joseph was a victim of France’s Code Noir and racist attitudes prevalent in 18th century France. Bologne composed six opera comique, of which only L’amant anonyme (The Anonymous Lover) a comédie mélée d’ariettes et de ballet has survived. With his music similar to Mozartian compositions, the Chevalier was unable to infuse his works with the complexity and nuance of Mozart’s. Nevertheless, his L’amant anonyme served well as light comic entertainment after the annus horribilis of Covid as the first staged opera by WTO in front of a live, socially-distanced audience in their large, outdoor Filene center venue.

The first few bars of the overture sounded promising sounding as if borrowed from a Mozart opera, but instead of building emotional power any potential tension was quickly dissipated. Only the second act, with hints of Don Giovanni in the overture and a show-stopping aria for Léontine did the work come alive. The orchestra, seated in the rear of the stage behind the singers, was separated from them by a row of topiary trees and white wrought iron benches. During the first and second act overtures, a series of 18th century stock comic characters in period costumes paraded back and forth across the stage with exaggerated pantomime movements holding one’s visual interest and setting the stage for the period piece, a welcome pause from the endless infusion of cell phones, selfies and videos that seem to have invaded most updated opera productions.

With themes of love, romance and betrayal, the work was admirably sung by the 2021 Filene Artists, emerging young artists, who are between academic training and professional careers. Léontine (Chanáe Curtis) a young widow disillusioned by love due to her late husband’s betrayal was receiving a steady stream of letters and gifts from an Anonymous Lover who (spoiler alert) turned out to be her friend Valcour (tenor Ricardo Garcia). Valcour’s friend Ophémon (baritone Jonathan McCullough) assisted in his quest and Léontine’s friend Dorothée (mezzo Gretchen Krupp) supported her through her emotional rollercoaster. The young artists usually perform operas in the cozy Barnes with ideal acoustics for their young voices. The large, open air Filene Center required amplification, often resulting in a muddle of cacophonous sounds making it difficult to accurately judge their singing. Curtis’s voice, however, stood out. She possessed a sterling instrument that pieced through the cacophony with power, purity and grace. Garcia appeared to sing with uncertainty, and McCullough became the quintessential commedia character. The exceptional playing of the National Symphony Orchestra was led by Geoffrey McDonald.

Israeli Opera, Interview with Zach Granit, Massenet’s Manon, Tel Aviv, Israel

Since Zach Granit took the reins of the Israeli Opera in 2016, the company has soared from being a good national company to the pinnacle of success in the international opera world. When I spoke to Granit in his book filled office at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, he told me he had three goals. The most important was to create first class opera productions that ensure people will not only come, but comment, “that’s great art.” Second was to cultivate a new generation of Israeli opera artists, singers, directors, designers, and conductors, and the last, create the next generation of opera lovers in Israel so children and young people will have access to, learn about, and feel comfortable with opera.

His first goal was evident in Massenet’s Manon which I attended in November. It was an insightful, relevant and entertaining production. Its themes of youth, first love, choices, wealth, greed, pleasure and revenge are as relevant today as in Massenet’s time. The audience was as captivated for the opera’s 3.5 hour-length as Manon was by a life of pleasure and wealth. Director Vincent Boussard, employing the Regietheater concept, successfully created a bridge between the beginning of the 18th century, when the opera takes place, the 1880s when the world premiere took place, and today, making the opera contemporary so today’s audience could relate to it. Unfolding on a minimalistic set with a curving wall serving as backdrop and projection surface, the opera took place on two levels with props atop the wall that changed as opera locations did. There were clever touches like a mirrored glass stage floor that served to intensifying the action that seamlessly passed from nosey gossiping townspeople crowded above the wall with a line of chairs below, to a Parisian skyline with bed and table for the garret below, to the dinner party, where chef and waiters paraded around the stage with their culinary creations while big ribbons and colorful balloons hovered overhead. Characters were conceived more as caricatures of themselves with costumes defying categorization that included wigs, ruffles, sparkles, and even a bird embellishing the formally attired men in tails and top hats, and the women in exquisite gowns. Dramatic lighting created shadows of the characters adding to the atmosphere which darkened at Manon’s death. A novel approach to the obligatory ballet saw a bottle spinning to the music. The minimalism allowed focus on the singers and music where it should be. Maestro Dan Ettinger did justice to the energetic overtures, soaring arias, and lush textures which combined with the glorious singing and splendid acting of Ekaterina Bakanova (Manon), David Adam Moore (Lescaut) made for an unforgettable evening.

Granit has a formula for scheduling each opera season: three “anchor” operas (this season Traviata, Pagliacci, Bohème) and hiring directors who will offer unique interpretations. Granit explained, “I feel that to do classic operas and operas that people don’t know, it is necessary to have a contemporary interpretation. For example, our Traviata takes place in today’s fashion industry where courtesans still exist who survive only if they find jobs as models, doing whatever they must to secure the job.” A couple of titles are Israeli premieres, like Manon, and Dead Man Walking. This, Granit clarified, was to help the audience understand the relevance of opera in our lives today and its meaning about our lives. Pagliacci has been paired with a short Israeli opera, planting the seeds for the growth of Israeli opera.

Financially the Israeli Opera is in an enviable position. It generates 55% of income from ticket sales, and combined with 35% government support, the company needs only 10% from donations to have a balanced budget of 25,000 million shekels to stage 9-10 productions a season. There are 7 main stage productions, one children’s or chamber opera, and 1 or 2 outdoor productions in the park in Tel Aviv which are free and attract around 35,000 attendees. Granit is fulfilling his second goal with the establishment of the Meitar Opera Studio which is successfully training young Israeli singers. His third goal has brought around 3,500 high school students to experience opera every year.

He is also cautiously optimistic about future cooperation with other opera companies in the area, despite Israel being located in a volatile, hostile Middle East neighborhood. “Opera is an art that can build bridges between people. People from 15 different cultures and languages communicate thru the language of opera where they have no choice but to work together since opera is team endeavor. If we can work to trust each other, together we can create something amazing. I dream to use this art form to build bridges between us and our neighbors and hope one day it might happen.”

Don Pasquale, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden London, UK

Don Pasquale is often regarded as Donizetti’s comic masterpiece, an inherently amusing opera buffa that, in this age of Regietheater and making opera relevant for today’s audiences, lends itself to directorial interpretation. Usually performed as a slap-stick comedy which is perhaps as Donizetti intended, it, nevertheless, could have a subtle message. In this new production at Covent Garden is how Italian director Damiano Michieletto interpreted “the message” thereby taking the opera to a whole new level. It is filled with stock comic characters: an old, rich bachelor Don Pasquale marries a beautiful young maiden Norina, who is in love with his nephew, Ernesto, whom he disinherits. A family friend, Dr. Malatesta sets up a ruse such that Pasquale marries Norina but ultimately the two young lovers win. In Michieletto interpretation, elements of cruelty and tension were introduced, as he delved beneath the superficial façade of the farcical, cardboard characters. Set in the age of cell phones and internet, with lots of selfies, mobile phones, and video projection, Pasquale’s house had no walls, lots of doors, neon tube lights suggesting a roof, and drab 1960s furniture, kitchen, bathroom, with old Fiat parked in the driveway until Norina replaced everything with striking 21st century modern furniture, bathroom and kitchen, and a Maserati. But the opera takes on a serious tone when Norina slaps Pasquale and Michieletto humiliates Pasquale with his final image being in a wheelchair covered with a blanket surrounded by gigantic projected images of similarly appearing nursing home residents. Michieletto also turned Norina into a make-up artist on a fashion shoot transforming the stage into a giant video screen on which her image is projected and added several silent characters, the most prominent being Pasquale’s maid, a character in itself, along with puppets!

Bryn Terfel performs magnificently in the title role, as does Olga Peretyatko, who assays Norina/Sofronia in splendid fashion. Ioan Hotea as Ernesto displayed a wonderfully sweet Italianate sound and Markus Werba as the manipulative Malatesta was impressive. Conductor Evelino Pidò kept ideal pacing allowing the tension and comedy to shine.

Orpheus Series, Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice English National Opera

The ENO offered an extraordinary fall 2019 season with its Orpheus Series. Staging four diverse operas that explored the Orpheus myth, the series spanned from Gluck’s Orfeo et Euridice (Berlioz version to honor 150th anniversary of his death), Orphée aux enfers, Birtwistle’s Mask of Orpheus, and Glass’ Orphée (1999). This review focuses on Gluck’s Orfeo et Euridice, in an updated production that gave equal weight to singers and dancers.

The minimalist concept opened with a mime dance sequence around Euridice, suspended in a transparent box center stage and killed by two injections (no snakebite here). Only attention-grabbing lighting, creating silhouettes of the chorus located in side boxes intruded on the otherwise bare stage. The underworld was conceptualized by black and white projections of psychedelic images resembling a migraine aura combined with red/green light show. A calming kaleidoscope of colors was projected on a rear screen for the Elysian fields. Throughout the evening, the dancers’ movements flowed in perfect harmony with the music, expressing with their movements and breathtaking leaps, lifts, and pirouettes the changing emotions of characters as the story progressed with parallel costumes. Initially the dancers wore b/w geometric designed garb. As furies, glowing psychedelic colors under red/green lighting prevailed as their contorted bodies mimicked the wrathful, threatening music. The Dance of the Blessed Spirits, despite the dayglo costumes, was an especially poignant, a beautiful ode to love, mourning, and peace, expressed with exquisitely affecting body movements. Mezzo Alice Coote (Orfeo) possessed a lovely voice but lacked the desperate longing for his Euridice. Sarah Tynan’s delicate Eurydice and Soraya Mafi’s mercurial Amor was manifest in a gorgeous vocal rendition. Maestro Harry Bicket’s conducting does justice to Gluck’s gorgeous music. The chorus was outstanding.


Rape of Lucretia, Boston Lyric Opera, Artists for Humanity Epicenter

Almost daily, the news contains reports of yet another celebrity accused of sexual misconduct, making the staging of The Rape of Lucretia more-timely than ever. The opera is a political allegory dealing with the use and abuse of power, taking place more than a half a century Before Christ. Lucretia’s rape, committed by the debauched ruling Prince Tarquinius, caused her to commit suicide which incited the people to overthrow the monarchy, resulting in the birth of democracy, the Roman Republic. With BLO’s continuation of performing in non-conventional spaces, the audience, many of whom sat on straight-back hard wooden benches for two hours straight and the remainder on metal folding chairs, suffered almost as much pain as Lucretia, despite the intimacy of the venue and gripping execution of a difficult subject. But the inherent problem rested with the opera itself, turning Lucretia’s suicide of dying for her sin (saving honor) and comparing it to the martyrdom of Christ. As timely as the opera is in dealing with male sexual abuse and the devastating consequences of rape, it is difficult to fathom that every rape victim is a martyr which made the preachiness of the work more problematic to relate to. In addition, the Christ-overlay broke the tautness of the opera’s structure. The opera unfolded on a minimalistic-set, circular stage with the orchestra located high above, behind a white gauze curtain. The expressive music, capably conducted by David Angus, reflected the actions and emotions of the characters, creating a tense and engrossing atmosphere. The artists, whose commendable acting skills only a few yards from the audience, created a visceral experience (directed by Sarna Lapine) to the horrific event. Only the actual rape, whose staging must have been influenced by Boston’s puritanical roots, was lacking any thread of realism. Duncan Rock made a fierce, and arrogantly intense Tarquinius whose second act aria captured his tortured feelings of lust. Brandon Cedel and David McFerrin, Collatinus and Junius respectively were powerful in their roles. All three in bare-chested costumes looked as if they had spent as much time working out as rehearsing! Kelly O’Connor created a gripping and heartfelt Lucretia, believably pining for her husband Collatinus and terrified of Tarquinius. The Female Chorus (of one) competently assayed by Antonia Tamer narrated the female perspective, especially what Tarquinius should have done vs what he did, with the Male Chorus (of one) capably sung by Jesse Darden in a predictably patronizing way.

The Princess Sophia by Emerson Eads and Dave Hunsaker (World Premiere)

Juneau Alaska

Following the recent trend in world premieres of operas based on real events and people including Dead Man Walking, Anna Nicole and El Cristo de Elqui, The Princess Sophia was commissioned to commemorate the Centennial of the deadliest maritime disaster in Alaska’s history. With special funding available for the commemoration of this little-known shipwreck near Juneau, the locally-based opera group (Orpheus Project) staged an admirable rendering of this work. On October 23, 1918, the Princess Sophia under command of Captain Locke, impressively assayed by David Miller, departed three hours late, causing Locke to steam ahead at full speed. Encountering a blinding snowstorm, fierce winds and rough seas, the Princess Sophia crashed into Vanderbilt Reef situated in the middle of Lynn Canal with all passengers and crew drowning.

The opera’s success resulted from simultaneously re-constructing the tragedy with three different visions by director (and librettist) Dave Hunsaker. First, non-stop projection of a dizzying array of paintings created by Juneau artist Dan Fruits specifically for the opera that visually recreated the tragedy: the ship, storm, impalement on the reef, drowned bodies, and the sole survivor, a dog that somehow swam 14 miles to shore. These were the backdrops for the ship’s deck, the uni-set on which the opera unfolded; Second, reenactment of the catastrophe by five dancers from the LA Contemporary Dance, strikingly choreographed by Genevieve Carson in which one dancer was the ship, and the other four the violent sea tearing her apart; Third, the vocally accomplished execution by a cast of two dozen soloists, most local, who did justice to Emerson Eads romantic music. Of note was Bernard Holcomb as the conflicted Captain Leadbetter of the potential rescue ship. Eads unabashedly tonal score was sprinkled with minimalist textures, non-tonal vocabulary, aleatory, and jazz.  A major part of the percussion section was the Lion’s Roar (friction drum) providing a low moan from the pit that mimicked the groaning of the ship as it was torn apart in the stormy seas. One also heard a strong Gershwin influence, especially from Porgy and Bess. Every victim’s name was incorporated into the opera.

Opera Quebec Festival 2017

This year, Canada celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Confederation and the Quebec Opera Festival commemorated the event in grand style, reviving Somers and Moore’s Canadian opera Louis Riel, composed half a century earlier to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Confederation. With more than 30 soloists, 40 chorus members, and 35 characters who all executed their roles with aplomb, the opera was an impressive undertaking, especially for a young festival with a budget less than $3 million. There were two additional operatic stagings: an amusing, updated, yet (very) abbreviated version of Don Giovanni, featuring young Canadian singers from Jeunesses Musicales Canada with whom the Festival has partnered, and a children’s opera Maskerade in Venice. An interesting free program Shakespeare à l’opéra, offered arias from certain operas inspired by Shakespeare’s writings—the selection dependent on the voices available, which were remarkable good. Louis Riel is an historic opera, dealing with the conflicts of Canada’s diverse population: English vs French; White Settlers vs First Nations (Indigenous people), Protestant vs Catholics, and those of Louis Riel himself, a Canadian Métis (mixed race) tortured by his conflicting responsibilities and obligations to his family, his people, his beliefs, and himself. Ultimately, he sacrificed himself (and his family) for his beliefs and his people. He was hanged for treason. With seventeen scenes in three acts, the opera unfolded on a stark stage with appropriate props and back-drops appearing and disappearing to indicate the myriad of geographic locations from Prime Minister’s office in Ottawa to Fort Gary, to Riel’s house, to Railway depot in Toronto, to Church in Saskatchewan, to courtroom in Regina with seamless transition. Dramatic lighting gave the scene character and depth. Impressively sung by an all Canadian cast in English, French, Latin, Cree, and Michif (Métis language) and effectively staged, with themes that still resonate, the opera itself is why the work has been rarely performed. Opera is foremost about music, yet Louis Riel was mainly about words-- prima la parole e dopo la musica—with recitative narrating historical events, and music slavishly following the words, without leaving time or space for emotional involvement to evolve. The 12-tone serialism with its atonal, harsh, grating, shrieking characteristics, and anti-melodic method of expressing emotions hasn’t aged well. The abrasive orchestration offered no melodic music to vicariously experience the moving struggles and psychological conflicts of one man, Louis Riel despite a mesmerizing presentation.In sharp contrast was Don Giovanni updated and relocated to Don Giovanni’s posh yacht with Donna Anna’s father the captain, and her fiancé Don Ottavio first mate—which stretched one’s imagination, especially when Giovanni murdered the captain of his own yacht. Lasting just over two hours, this was not a performance for purist but a fun evening to attract non-opera goers in hopes of converting them, and a chance to hear promising young singers.  Next summer promises another interesting festival that should not be missed.

OperaDelaware Opera Festival

Grand Opera House, Wilmington

Now in its 2nd season, the OperaDelaware Opera Festival proved that its outstanding singing, productions and unearthing of the forgotten opera Amleto in its inaugural season was not an anomaly. The company repeated its success with a stellar second season—this one dedicated to Rossini in celebration of his 225th birthday with the rarely performed Semiramide and  popular La Cenerentola. With themes of incest, matricide, power, forgiveness, and revenge, Semiramide is the last great opera composed in the classical structure/Baroque tradition, more akin to Mozart’s Idomenea and Clemenza di Tito than to Rossini’s best known opera, Il barbiere di Siviglia. The prima assoluta of Semiramide took place in 1823 at La Fenice, a theater similar in size to the Grand Opera House, the opera festival’s performance venue. The work’s popularity has waxed and waned during its almost two centuries of existence, but Opera Delaware successfully solved the two primary drawbacks for its neglect, length: by thoughtfully and carefully cutting an hour from the score giving the work new life and meaning with a cohesion and energy often lost in the 4 hour version with its numerous recitative secco; and difficulty in casting the vocally demanding roles: by finding outstanding talent for every part. The opera unfolded on a uniset, the focal point of which was a soaring arch with zig-zagged steps leading up to it, flanked by two massive columns to evoke the Temple of Baal that was illuminated by lights which rotated through a gamut of colors to reflect changing atmosphere and characters’ emotions, though not original it worked, and proved the ideal backdrop for the lush period costumes. Modern geometric-shaped “props” appeared and disappeared to indicate location changes. Lindsay Ohse excelled as Semarimide, imbuing the role’s challenging vocal fireworks with power and feeling. Aleksandra Romano in the trouser role of Arsace admirably mastered the demanding vocal acrobatics, and Daniel Mobbs made an evil, pompous prince Assur. Maestro Anthony Barrese’s taut pacing gave energy to the performance, making for an engrossing evening.

We all know the Cinderella fairy tale. Rossini turned it into a hilariously entertaining opera, only changing the matching slipper to a matching bracelet. Filled with mouth-watering melodies, the opera vacillated between hyperactivity and stasis with amusing characters and a storm scene rivaling Barbiere. The opera, nevertheless, has an undercurrent of serious themes still relevant today—greed, hypocrisy, superficiality, love and forgiveness. Only occasionally the production fell into over-caffeinated silliness with the excessively exaggerated stereotypical acting of Don Magnifico (Steven Condy), Tisbe (Alexandra Rodrick), Clorinda (Jennifer Cherest) , and Dandini (Sean Anderson). But there were also humanizing gestures like when Prince Ramiro (Jack Sawnson) first attempted to kiss Angelina/Cenerentola (Megan Marino) and she spurned him. He then tried to smell his breath, wondering if that were the reason. Sawnson possessed that elusive feature that many otherwise good tenors lack, those lusciously sweet, strong high notes. Marino easily handled the vocal acrobatics required for Cinderella. The remaining cast were equally top-notch.  Michael Borowitz drew lush sounds from the orchestra.

Portland Opera’s inauguration of summer festival 2016


Perhaps it was only a coincidence, but Portland Opera’s general/artistic director, Chrisopher Mattaliano chose Italiana in Algeri and Eugene Onegin as the two operas to inaugurate their new opera summer festival format, complementing their two-opera spring season, the same two operas that the Garrison country house opera circuit in England successfully staged albeit in different productions and singers.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. Two years ago I attended Portland Opera’s sparkling Fledermaus, celebrating their 50th anniversary season, around the same time Mattaliano told me about the company’s change to a spring/summer festival format in 2016, performing two lesser known operas in repertory in non-traditional productions to attract new audiences outside the Portland area, thereby making Portland an opera destination. This has been a popular move among small- and medium-sized US companies not only for survival, but to expand and grow the companies in this difficult financial climate.  The company staged Italiana in Algeri and Eugene Onegin in repertory in updated, non-traditional productions in the cozy, 880-seat Newmark Theater, their summer festival’s new home.


Eugene Onegin was cleverly updated to 1980s Russia by director Kevin Newbury who reset the work predominately in a public neighborhood park filled with playground equipment.  Bright colored striped and plaid clothing and electronic gadgets of that era were much in evidence among the younger generation.  Although a clever idea and visually stimulating, Newbury took the concept too far introducing too much visual stimulation by having his lead singers climb on the monkey bars, spin on a merry go-round, and ride a bicycle while assaying their beautiful melodies that both distracted and detracted from the opera’s essence, Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music and vocal lines.  


Nevertheless, a praiseworthy cast of young singers, especially Alexander Elliott’s Onegin whose transformation was effective both vocally and physically from a pompous, bored aristocrat who lectured Tatiana (Jennifer Forni) about her “letter”, (in this production an audiotape) to a haunted man after having killed his best friend Alexander Elliott in a senseless duel, to an excruciatingly desperate lover when Tatiana refused his pleas to run away. Forni showed equally commendable character development and vocal competence, metamorphosing from an innocent, love-sick girl pouring out her heart to Onegin in the “audiotape” to her steely determination at the conclusion to not compromise her noble position as the wife of Prince Gremin (Konstantin Kvach). Kvach with his harsh, grating sound, and not always in tune was the only disappointment in the cast. Abigal Dock (Olga) whose soaring singing and Aaron Short (Lensky) whose heartfelt yearning  were also commendable.  Maestro Fox drew the best sound possible given the reduced orchestra size, which at times sounded thin.


Rossini’s amusing  Italiana in Algeri contrasted with the somberness of Eugene Onegin. The work is inherently funny so director Christian Rath’s slapstick approach came across as overkill. Unfolding on a uniset formed by a gigantic carpet, the updated opera opened with the chorus dressed as a group of tourists in Bermuda shorts taking selfies. But by the end, the choristers were having a pillow fight with feathers flying all over the stage.  Nevertheless, the uniformly outstanding singing from the cast and chorus made it an entertaining evening. 

Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

London, UK

The concept looked good on paper: make Lucia a strong-willed woman, one that fits with the role of women in today’s society, instead of a weak girl going mad in succumbing to her brother’s wishes. But it lost something in the transition to the stage. Despite moments of brilliance and genius in director Katie Mitchell’s concept, the production suffered from excesses and fussy contrivances: too many pails of water washing blood from the stage; too much dressing and undressing; too many appearances of ghosts of dead characters; too literal a reading of the script; and too many simultaneous activities on different parts of the stage. In sum, the plethora of superfluous activities distracted from the emotional power and beauty of Donizetti’s music. If Mitchell’s ideas were streamlined, it could have been a unique and gripping experience.


With themes of love, betrayal, deception, and power, Lucia di Lammermoor unfolded in different areas of a recreated 1800s house. Almost immediately we saw Lucia dressing, disguised as a man, to meet Edgardo. In addition to exchanging rings, they ripped off each other’s clothes, had sex (in rhythm with Donizetti’s music) while singing exquisitely. We witnessed Lucia throwing up (she’s pregnant) and Alicia cleaning the toilet afterwards; Lucia climbing all over a pool table while assaying the mad scene; Lucia seemingly forever suffocating and stabbing Arturo in an act of pre-mediated murder (not madness) as afterwards, Lucia and Alisa methodically cleaned up the bloody mess. Finally, Edgardo slit his throat sitting next to Lucia who took poison while sitting in a bathtub.


Aleksandra Kurzak (Lucia) made up in acting ability what she lacked in high notes, which by the end of the evening were reduced to screeches. Nevertheless, she possessed fine tone, nuance, and inflection in executing in the middle and lower registers. Stephen Costello (Edgardo) assayed with an ideal Italianate sound, showing a beautiful timbre. Despite that fact that at times the singers and orchestra were not always on the same page, Daniel Oren drew solid playing from the ROH orchestra.





Delaware Opera Inaugural Grand Opera Festival, Wilmington

Faccio’s Amleto, Verdi’s Falstaff


The global recession during the past several years has forced many opera companies to permanently close or retrench to survive. Opera Delaware was very close to joining the ranks of USA’s defunct opera companies when Brendan Cooke took the helm in 2012. He took the path that other regional opera companies have taken, both large and small, that of metamorphosing into a festival format from a fall/spring season to survive. The advent of HD Met broadcasts has also played a role in the financial problems of the regional companies, decimating their audiences. One goal of an opera festival is to be regarded as a destination, attracting audiences from outside their region. To succeed, they must offer new, rarely performed or forgotten operas to make it worthwhile for patrons to travel. Opera Delaware in their inaugural festival format season offered the “forgotten” Faccio’s Amleto and Falstaff to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

Amleto had not been heard for almost 150 years when the conductor Antony Barrese unearthed it and painstakingly reconstructed the opera, revealing a work that didn’t deserve the neglect it had been accorded. It also appeared to play a role in the evolving of Italian opera from Verdi to verissimo.

Unfolding on a stark set with multi-level metal scaffolding (essential to fit the dozen principals, almost three dozen choristers, and four dancers on the tiny stage) with changing projections including a huge flag of Denmark, ghost of murdered king, and copious amounts of blood, this tragic Shakespearean story’s quest for revenge and justice explored themes of madness, corruption, unrequited love, and appearances and reality, taking place on different levels, both physically and psychologically.


Filled with animated melodic music with majestic chords and lush orchestral interludes, maestro Barrese kept a brisk tempo and ideal pacing so the action flowed seamlessly. The theater’s lively acoustics and ideal-sized-for-opera auditorium made it easy for the outstanding cast of young singers to make a dynamic statement, filling the space with their lovely voices. Especially noteworthy were Joshua Kohl assaying Hamlet with heartfelt and beautifully wrenching Italianate sound, expressing his indecision and conflict. Sarah Asmar’s was a devastatingly beautiful and tragic Ofelia. But the precision of execution and quality of the production was amazing for such a small company, even amazing for one ten times its size.  

One heard both Verdian influences including the funeral march from Nabucco and some middle Verdi melodies along with precursors to verismo in Faccio’s music, especially in the famous “to be or not to be” aria” which had a distinctly verismo quality. There were beautiful solo instrumental line introducing character’s monologues, especially the arias of Claudio and Gertrude where they expressed guilt. Flute and strings accompanied Ofelia’s mad scene, but the coloratura was not at Donizetti’s level.  

Despite the inherent risk in performing unknown works, it is clearly the better road to follow than offering another Boheme or Traviata, that couldn’t possibly measure-up to the Met’s extravagant productions of the same operas.



Il Volo – Italian Opera Pop – Kennedy Center, Washington DC

For those not familiar with the singing group Il Volo (The Flight), it is a trio of young Italian men, Piero Barone (tenor), Ignazio Boschetto (tenor), and Gianluca Ginoble (baritone), with beautiful voices that harmonize magnificently who have taken the pop music world by storm, not unlike the Beatle-mania more than half a century ago. But unlike the Beatles whose following were predominately screaming young women, Il Volo appeals to a very different and unusual audience, at least in the USA, the kind that attend opera--  baby boomers and senior citizens--who are just as enraptured, although their screams are not as loud or piercing.  You might ask, “Why would an opera crowd be attracted to an Italian opera pop group.”  The answer lies in their repertoire, songs made popular by Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, mixed with classic Neapolitan songs like O Sole Mio and Torna a Surriento sprinkled with famous opera arias like E lucevan le stelle, but with 21st century trappings: changing colors of piercing beams of lights and almost unbearably loud playing accompanied by their quartet and a mini-orchestra, which often almost drown out their singing, despite ample amplification of their voices. Adding to the operatic touch, each received a bouquet of roses after a moving solo piece, and to spice up the pop aspect, they added some hip and pelvic gyrations, ala Elvis Presley which in the 1950s was shocking, but today was just amusing and appeared to thrill the elderly ladies. They also broke that invisible barrier between stage and spectators by going into the audience, taking selfies with some very happy spectators, sitting down next to others, and even singing while standing on the back of a seat. 

This group has sold-out the 15,000-seat Arena in Verona, Italy and 18,000-seat Madison Square Garden, in New York, but in Washington DC, they performed in the Concert Hall in Kennedy Center. And that was the only negative aspect of their show. With a little more than 2,000 seats, it was essential that the volume of the music and quartet be modified, but it wasn’t leading to sounds that at times were deafening and often covering this groups amazing harmonizing.   They could be the answer to the dearth of young Italian opera singers, none of whom were finalists in three of the opera world’s most prestigious singing competitions for emerging opera stars: Cardiff Singer of the World, Operalia, and Jette Parker Young Artists. It used to be that American and British groups dominated the pop music world and Italians the opera world. It looks like the tables have turned, with Il volo dominating the pop world, and American and British singers (along with Eastern Europeans, Russians, and Asians) dominating the opera world.

Better Gods, Luna Pearl Woolf and Caitlin Vincent

World Premiere, Washington National Opera

The world premiere of Better Gods was part of the company’s American Opera Initiative, whose goal it is to give rising young American artists a platform for their work. The opera is creatively original, fusing traditional Hawaiian music and language into a grand opera format to tell the historically-based story of the last queen of Hawaii, Queen Lili’uokalani, who was overthrown by greedy white American businessmen, who wanted to preserve their business interests and wealth. They staged a coup d’état against the queen when she proposed a new constitution to limit voting rights to native Hawaiians. An AP reporter sent to write about the situation, was duped by the business men to write a positive report of the coup and provisional government. When the native Hawaiians staged an unsuccessful coup to regain power, the queen was convicted of treason on circumstantial evidence, despite her innocence, forcing her to abdicate and sentencing her to 5 years in prison rather than watch those loyal to her be executed. This paved the way, a half a century later, for Hawaii to become the 50th state of the USA.

Unfolding against a backdrop of a gorgeous Hawaiian sunset with Hawaiian instruments played on either side of the stage and relevant props appearing and disappearing denoting changing locations including the queen’s palace and the trial, Better Gods was a heroic effort and definitive statement about yet another injustice white Americans caused a native population. (WNO had just performed Appomattox about racial injustice in America.) Woolf fused classical genre with authentic Hawaiian music that resulted in dissonant and strident music that carried a harshly surreal sound. Atonal recitatives (parlando) infused with Baroque’s endless word and phrase repetition were sprinkled with a modern take on coloratura.  Perhaps the music reflected the injustice and desperation felt by the Hawaiian people but the result was so grating, harsh, and discordant, especially the sextet near the conclusion, it sounded more like excruciatingly painful noise. Nevertheless, the vocal executions, especially Daryl Freedman as Queen Lili’uokalami, were commendable, especially considering the difficulties inherent in the vocal line.

There is no question that this young composer has talent and originality, and has tackled a significant topic in a unique manor. But for this historical event to warrant being an opera, some degree of lyricism is essential, especially when borrowing from Baroque and bel canto, particularly with the sextet because at only 75 minutes, it felt too long. Otherwise, this story is be better told as a play.

Glass/Hampton’s Appomattox (revised world premiere) Washington National Opera, Kennedy Center

In the Penal Colony (new production) Boston Lyric Opera, Cyclorama, Boston Center for the Arts

 To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the Washington National Opera, in its justification to being the “national opera” of the USA, presented a “revised world premiere” of Appomattox. First premiered eight years ago by the San Francisco Opera, it told the story from the fall of Richmond and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, which ended the Civil War, to the murder of three civil rights workers in Tennessee.  In the revised version, the first act ends with the 1865 Confederacy’s surrender, and Act II deals with President Lyndon Johnson and his groundbreaking Voting Rights Act legislation,  with a chilling postscript, the jailed murderer of the civil rights works spewing racial epitaphs and boasting of his crime. The real subject, however, is racial inequality in America, and the topic couldn’t be more germane with the continuing storm over the Voting Rights Act, and the current unrest with Black Lives Matters movement.

Despite the works relevance to today’s society, for an opera to succeed, it must be dramatically intense, emotionally forceful, and musically strong, all of which, with a few exceptions, were missing. Glass’s trademark surging arpeggios and rolling variations never went anywhere, and at crucial moments were MIA. The only memorable music from the first act was the musical expression of Ulysses Grant suffering a migraine with piercing chords and explosive harshness. Although the second act fared better musically, Appomattox was much better suited as the theatrical piece into which Hampton had already turned this historical narration.

The recreations of these historic encounters,  including diplomatic wrangling, stylized dancing, and rousing orations, with a comic interlude of President Johnson’s bodily crudeness unfolded on a functional sets with props and scenery suggestive of the ever changing locations. The opera featured an extensive cast of historical figures: from Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Douglass, Chester to Johnson, King, Hoover, Wallace, Killen, and many of their wives, all of which sang with conviction.


Five days earlier I attended Glass’chamber opera, In the Penal Colony, based on Kafka’s short story written in October 1914, only a few months after the onset on WWI. It was uncannily prophetic of the tyrannical dictators and mechanization of death that followed with the horrors of the two world wars. Based on the premise that guilt is always beyond doubt and the only punishment is torturous death, the opera’s themes of abuse of power and moving on from the old order are still relevant topics. Kafka’s tale is simple: a Visitor arrives at a penal colony to witness the gruesome execution by a torture machine of a Prisoner who is never informed of his crime. The Officer is obsessed with the virtues of the torture machine and wants the Visitor’s affirmation of its benefits. But the Visitor is appalled and leaves. The Officer takes the Prisoner’s place and experiences a gruesome death by this machine. Kafka himself, as an onlooker and narrator, was added to this operatic adaptation!

Director R.B. Schlather minimalistic, abstract approach meshed with an excruciating stylized performance, fitting the unbearable punishment awaiting the Prisoner and the relentless repetition of Glass signature arpeggios. But his heavy directorial hand mitigated the impact of Kafka’s chilling allegory. The Prisoner (Yury Yanowsky) is a bare-chested muscular ballet dancer, performing endless grotesque acrobatic pantomime, joined by the Visitor (Neal Ferreira), who is equally athletic, leaping, spinning, writhing around the stage, dressed in a T-shirt and jogging pants . Only the Officer (David McFerrin), in a red, hazmat-like suit seems Kafka-esque, firm in his belief in the torture machine. Both Ferreira and McFerrin sang with conviction, despite the disturbing homoerotic overtures of the Officer to the Visitor. The Prisoner is a silent role.  The string quintet was thoughtfully led by Ryan Turner.    


Sibelius Festival 150
th anniversary celebration of Sibelius’s Birth

Lahti, Finland

My first visit to Lahti was in the dead of winter, when everything was white, covered with a foot of snow. Vesijarvi Lake was frozen solid and it was impossible to see where land ended and water began. It is there, on the shores of Vesijarvi Lake in Lahti that an annual summer festival devoted to Finland’s most famous composer, Jean Sibelius, takes place in a magnificent concert hall, Sibelius Hall. So when I arrived for the festival, it was amazing to see this frozen tundra now lushly green, teeming with people and activities on a vibrant waterfront.

In the 16 seasons since the festival’s inception, Lahti has become to Sibelius what Bayreuth is to Wagner, renown as a festival devoted exclusively to the music of its namesake, showcasing the range of his work.  The previous 15 festivals had taken place over a long week-end, but the 16th festival, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’ birth, was turned into a weeklong celebration of his music with all seven of his symphonies performed, along with his symphonic poems and fantasies, his violin concerto, ballet for orchestra, and an assortment of his chamber music, and works for piano, voice, and stage. One of his early master works, Kullervo, called the “window into the Finnish soul” mirrored the eruptive nature of its then young composer: ferocious, expressive, and tormented, a reflection of his emotional state. The week-long festival was a complete immersion into his works, and both an education and delight for me whose familiarity of Sibelius’s music was limited to his best known work and the “calling card” of Finnish culture, Finlandia.

To find out what was next for the Sibelius Festival and Lahti Symphony Orchestra, I had lunch with Teemu Kirjonen, the general manager of the orchestra. There will be a changing of the guard, so to speak, as Russian born Dima Slobodeniouk will take over next season as the festival’s artistic director and orchestra’s chief conductor. Unlike the previous artistic directors and chief conductors, Slobodeniouk is not a Sibelius expert. But as Kirjonen explained, “We feel he is right person at this time for the festival’s and the orchestra’s development. Our goal is to make the festival and orchestra more international in scope. Although Slobodeniouk knows Sibelius, he is not a Sibelius expert, but an expert in other composers. This will help increase the profile of the orchestra and festival. We play 18 concerts in Lahti and 18 concerts in Sibelius birthplace, Hämmeliana, during the regular season. 90% of our funding comes from the city.” The 2016 Sibelius Festival will feature a trio of concerts by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, taking place September 8-11 . www.sinfonialahti.fi

I found the range of Sibelius’ music astounding, from barely audible to explosive, daunting yet familiar, riveting but also at times puzzling. So for additional insight I visited Hämeelinna Historical Museum and birthplace of Sibelius, only an hour drive from Lahti. www.hameenlinna.fi/historiallinenmuseo. There I learned about the driving forces and emotions, conflicts, hardships and successes in the composer’s life and how they influenced his music. Also to know more about Sibelius’s life and music, I visited Ainola, his family home near Lake Tuusula, a few-hour drive from Lahti. He lived at Ainola for more than half a century and composed many of his works there. www.ainola.fi.

Read more about Lahti and Sibelius Hall below, after my article on Helsinki and Russian era architecture.

L’amour de Loin by Kaija Saariaho and Amin Maalouf

Quebec Opera Festival


Director Robert Lepage created a mesmerizing visualization and symbolization of this story of idealized love, death and redemption, inspired by the 12th century historical figure of Jaufré Rudel, troubadour and Prince of Blaye, France and his idealized love for Clémence, countess of Tripoli, Libya, whom he heard about from a pilgrim who frequently crossed the sea that separated them physically and symbolically -- West from East. LaPage’s concept was an ingenious solution for translating a psychological drama into a meaningful opera. The set transformed the stage into a sea of changing passions which propelled them towards their unreachable dream.  


The work is internalized and reflective with Lepage creating an ethereal world of air and water to reflect the simmering passions of Rudel and Clémence which broke through as giant waves both on the continuously changing colors of a sea of 28,000 LED lamps and a moving, rotating, tower-like contraption, rising high above the sea that held the prince and countess, at first separately and then together as their desires and passions overwhelmed, compelling the prince to cross the sea to meet her. The pilgrim traveled between them in a tiny gondola-boat. The chorus appeared as floating heads on the sea, their bodies beneath the surface. But the prince fell ill during the voyage and died in the countess’s arms with Clémence then realizing that the only “love from afar” was that of God.


This psychological work of repressed passions and feelings was accompanied by controlled, structured music which only occasionally erupted into stirring passages of voluptuous sounds mirroring the characters’ emotional states. There was an unearthly fusion of sounds: jarring electronic tones, medieval modal harmonies, troubadour songs, melancholic tunes, a sprinkling of dissonance and piecing overtones. The chorus ranged from conversational to melancholic spiked with shouts and handclaps.

Although the opera was composed as five continuous acts (and so performed at its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000) this production had an intermission after the third act.


Phillip Addis’s Jaufré Rudel was sung with a heartfelt dynamism and reflective tonality, Tamara Mumford made a contemplative pilgrim, but it was Erin Wall’s transcendent vocal expressiveness and touching vulnerability that “stole the show.” Maestro Ernest Martinez Izquierdo drew stunning sounds from the Orchestre symphonique de Quebec.


Halka - New Production, Teatr Wielki, Poznan, Poland

Halka, considered the national opera of Poland, could be called a polish-version of Lucia di Lammermoor. Although I would not view it as a masterpiece, Halka, with its lushly Romantic score and tightly knit libretto has been unjustly neglected, deserving a place in international opera houses' repertory.

Based on Wolski's narrative poem of the same name, inspired by the 1846 Peasant Rebellion and focusing on the poisonous tension between the mountain peasants and land-owning nobility, the opera dealt with class structure and conflicts, noble privilege, national identity rooted in folk tradition, and unrequited love. Set in the Tatra mountains, this story of a naïve young girl's love, which ignored the era's rigid social order and convention, led to her madness and suicide. Initially one could equate Halka to Donna Elivra, pursuing a man (Janusz, a nobleman) who seduced her and left. But when Janusz married a wealthy noble lady Zofia, despite Jontek, a fellow Highlander's efforts to save her, she metamorphosed into Lucia with a superb mad scene, as she went insane and died, singing exquisite music.

Due to its iconic status in Polish culture (first Polish opera to include folk motifs) Halka has been resistant to non-traditional productions. Director Pawel Passini, however, brought cutting edge concept. The delineation between the two cultures--nobility and peasants--was razor sharp. Act I opened not on stage, but with all nobility, male and female, identically attired in white tie and tails sitting in the audience, only standing to sing. A grotesquely-stylized Polonaise was danced in the aisles. The implication was unsettling but immediacy was involving, although it caused some stiff necks. The remaining three acts were on stage, unfolding against an abstract depiction of mountains with crisscrossed, randomly placed logs and beams in the background suggesting a church. Symbolic, subliminal videos were intermittently projected on the proscenium sides. The contrast of the noble's formal attire (symbolic of industrialized society) to the voodoo-inspired peasant attire (symbolic of the third world) was striking: Halka's white (wedding?) dress was a series of long paper tubes, Jonek's primitive attire was decorated with Rams' horns, and mountain villagers were dressed like savages wearing masks and horns. Although the libretto is steeped in Polish history, its themes are universal. And Passini added a message of his own: nobles raping peasant women was akin to the industrial world raping the third world.


The score drew operatic elements and idioms from Italian, German, and Russian sources, specifically Donizetti, Mussorgsky, and Shubert, which were interspersed with folk tunes, hymns, and dances--polonaise, godak, and mazurka--along with magnificent chorus pieces. The music was heartfelt, tightly-knit, filled with leit-motifs and thematic sounds. The Polish cast sang with aplomb. Although conductor Gabrial Chmura kept good pacing, the orchestral music lacked shading, nuance, and needed a finer distillation of sounds.



Space Opera – World Premiere by Aleksander Nowak and Georgi Gospodinov

Poznan Opera, Teatr Wielki, Poland


Space Opera was a visually striking, philosophically provocative, and musically challenging work infused with satire, irony, and symbolism. There were a diverse potpourri of themes ranging from endless tributes to the flies, dogs, and chimpanzees sacrificed for man’s dream of conquering space to the relationship crisis of the first (middle-aged) space couple (aptly named Adam and Eve) caused by their inability to communicate, realizing they had different dreams; from the consequences of lies and deception of a producer in a snake-skin suit from the (ostensibly American) media company sponsoring the expedition as the greatest reality show ever to the unanticipated consequences of “progress”(advanced technology) making earth a prison as claustrophobic as the space capsule in which Adam and Eve were confined for interplanetary travel. The opera’s conclusion: the only hope for the human race to survive is to find a new home on another planet and revert to a simpler life.


The opera took place against a backdrop of extraordinary video projections of outer space and a Mars landing with various sets and props appearing and disappearing, indicating location changes. The most impressive set was the space module supplemented by trip-simulating video suspended above the reality show’s producer and audience.


Composer Aleksander Nowak amalgamated music from a wide array of styles and eras, ranging from the Greek chorus to a Hollywood soundtrack similar to the space movie Interstellar I watched flying back to the USA. There were Gregorian-like chants in memory of the sacrificed creatures with visuals of their encapsulation hurling across the stage; Philip Glass mantra-like chords and notes with names and pictures of sacrificed dogs recited; opening chords from Das Rheingold along with other Wagnerian references, American swing, jazz, and lots of drum percussion. Adam (Bartlomiej Misiuda) and Eve (Magdalena Wachowska) communicated predominately in recitative. A pair of flies, soprano (Martyna Cymerman) and cross-dressed counter-tenor (Tomasz Raczkiewicz) in identical long evening dresses, commanded the best vocal lines with elaborate bel canto and pseudo coloratura, the only music with any emotional heft; and the producer (Andrzej Ogorkiewicz) barked in Sprechstimme. The vocal lines often ended as a cacophony of sound and the music as noise, perhaps as opera in space might be perceived. Maestro Marek Mos expertly coordinated these diverse and complex sound-threads with formidable results.


To take an art form born at the end of the 16th century and create a work anchored in future space exploration, making it appealing to a 21st century audience accustomed to instant gratification and visual overload is a difficult task. Space Opera succeeded on an entertainment level, but miscarried in the opera-music-driven emotional experience level, partially hampered by Georgi Gospodinov cerebrally complex libretto.

See more on Lahti and Sibelius Hall below, from my previous winter visit. It is after article on Helsinki and Russian era architecture


Ariadne auf Naxos – Virginia Opera

George Mason’s Center for the Arts, Fairfax, Virginia


From its birth, opera has always been dependent upon wealthy patrons for support, making Strauss’ opera which deftly and seamlessly fuses hilarious comedy with larger-than-life emotions and achingly beautiful music as germane today as it was at its premiere, around a century ago. A wealthy patron has hired an opera company and a commedia dell’arte troupe to entertain his guests, forcing them at the last minute, to perform simultaneously to the horror of the opera company but the delight of the comedy troupe, who cleverly insert themselves into the opera, spoofing the stereotypical overblown operatic singing and acting.   


Director Sam Helfrich’s moved the opera to an American city and updated the commedia dell’arte troupe to an American burlesque led by the saucy comedienne Zerbinetta dressed in a black and green lacy bodice, and surrounded by four quintessential American characters, including the Lone Ranger. The troupe inserted uproarious stunts, such as a shark’s fin moving around the island (a green couch) where Ariadne lie as the three Nymphs (dead ringers for the Rhinemaidens) bemoaned her sad fate, causing the Nymphs to lose their solemn composure and climb on the couch. When the four comedienne try to seduce Zerbinetta, the island-couch opens into a bed, and when Zerbinetta surrendered to Harlekin,  explicit sexual acts take place. Backstage during the prologue, the contrast between the two troupes is sharply delineated, perhaps reflecting the division in society regarding the arts. The burlesque troupe are dressed as punks, in black leather, spiked hair, and lots of tattoos. The properly-attired, impassioned  composer vehemently resists performing with the comedy troupe and cutting his work, until reminded he must accept it to get paid with the tenor and soprano each try to have the others’ role diminished.


This crisp, clean production was wonderfully accessible and delightfully sung. Of special note were Christina Pier (Ariadne) with her soaring voice, Audrey Luna (Zerbinetta) with her acrobatic and comic appeal, but the entire cast executed their roles with aplomb with maestro Garrett Keast keeping excellent pacing.


This wealthy man throwing a party for friends pointedly demonstrated the culture clashes present in society and how art and artists are beholden to the wealthy patrons.  The questions about funding for the arts that the opera raises are as relevant today as they were when the piece was composed: one is always at the mercy of the patrons who pay the bills.


Cyberiada (The Cyberiad) by Krzysztof Meyer – Premiere

Teatr Wielki, Poznan, Poland


Based on short stories by Stanislaw Lem, Cyberiada is an allegorical dark comedy with serious overtones, dealing with the evils of totalitarianism, oppression, greed, deception, sexual addiction and the mysteries of life. Using a story within a story format, the opera fuses the science fiction world of flying through space, a brilliant fiery red-haired constructor Trull who journeys from planet to planet and builds machines which narrate three different allegorical tales symbolized by huge suspended masks, and a pseudo-Medieval world populated by kings, queens, witches, knights, and obedient subjects encased in identical multi-colored boxes. This strange variety of characters re-enacted the stories with visually compelling images and entertaining acting that captured its essence.


Conceived as a Theater of the Absurd by director Ran Arthur Braun and set/costume designer Justin Arienti, the precisely-executed production unfolded on a stage dominated by five huge percussions located on two levels. Each instrument incorporated 12 different percussions which produced 60 different types of sounds and noises, (noise being as integral a part of the opera as the musical tones). The percussionists were clad as astronaut. A parade of characters in “over-the-top” costumes, (including “advisors” who were gray featureless, blown-up balloon-men) acted with exaggerated and stilted mannerisms, parodying societal roles. From breath-taking acrobatics, including two red-clad ballerinas pantomiming erotic dreams for King Zipperupus, to the conniving King Mandrillion to the finale of constructor Trull killing a clone of himself as he had been granted eternal life by Queen Genius as payment for his three story telling machine, the opera was simultaneously amusing and thought provoking. Although composed during the 1960s, the final message touched on 21st century technology, nothing is eternal, not even machines.  


The music included twelve-tone, sonorism, and aleatoric techniques, resulting in a work with unconventional sounds and vocal lines almost devoid of melody, harmony or rhythm in the traditional sense. Instead it generated its own by combining serial and electronic music, jazz, repeated chords, sound clusters, and the grotesque to reflect the action and feelings of the characters. The extensive spoken dialogue was delivered melodically, ranging from rhythmical recitation to story-telling. The singers, acrobats, dancers, chorus and orchestra of Teatr Wielki of Poznan, under maestro Krzysztof Stowinski did a superb job in keeping  the complex elements of the work together to offer a worthwhile and admirable execution of the multi-faceted opera

Savolinna Opera Festival July 1-27, 2011

Olavinlinna Castle, Savollina, Finland


Karyl Charna Lynn


Only reachable by crossing two bridges, one of which opens occasionally to allow ships to pass through, the 15th century Olavinlinna Castle, built by the Swedes as a defense against the Russians, is a unique and magical setting for opera, which takes place in the Castle’s courtyard, filled with 2,260 seats and covered by a wave-like plastic roof during the festival. The surrounding stone walls offer ideal acoustics and as a launching pad for the stars of tomorrow, it’s idyllic by adding a natural resonance to their young voices. However, the very wide and shallow stage, with steep stone side staircases, is a challenge for directors, producers, and designers, but for those with a creative bent, there is a world of opportunities. I attended five productions, two of which were from the visiting opera company, Hungarian State Opera.


Before the first chords of Lohengrin were played, “Gottfried” appeared, playing with a toy swan in a (stage) pond. The opera ended in a similar fashion. In between, director Roman Hovenbitzer created a multifaceted, multi-leveled, symbolically laden production that kept for the most part true to Wagner’s intent: Lohengrin as the misunderstood, lonely artist--he’s painting and making videos in this production--made superhuman (artist worship), dressed as the “knight in shining armor,” who becomes very human after his marriage to Elsa, dressed in painter’s work clothes, taking “wedding night” videos of his bride and painting a stylized red and white z-like shaped swan figure on her white gown.


Mirroring today’s politics, Telramund was a contemporary military dictator symbolizing the evil of Totalitarian governments, and Lohengrin, leader and founder of the “Swan party,” with its stick-like swan symbol of his party and power, was possibly inspired by the swans painted 3,000-7,000 years ago on prehistoric rocks around Savolinna. But like many directors with creative ideas, Hovenbitzer carried the symbolism too far. There were hundreds of swans, swimming, floating, flying, on jackets, armbands, shields, paper airplanes, and in videos and paintings. Even some chorus members were dressed and moved like ballerinas from Swan Lake. But the quintessential swan (and only real misstep) was a gigantic one carried in by soldiers before Lohengrin’s entrance, and de-winged and set on fire by Lohengrin when, his identity revealed, was forced to depart. (Although his power and party were gone and therefore burning its symbol seemed logical, the swan is a messenger from the realm of the dead in Finnish Mythology.) Lohengrin then climbed up a high aluminum scaffold, fastened the swan’s wings to his arms and spread them. No swan was left to pull a boat for his departure!


Nevertheless, Hovenbitzer succeeded in making the long opera dramatically riveting and grippingly effective. And dividing the stage for the different locations and scenes, designer Hermann Feuchter gave an intimacy to the action. Set simultaneously in three different time periods (Medieval, late 1800s, and contemporary) the production had some jarring juxtapositions and anachronistic actions.


Richard Crawley’s Lohengrin was a narcissistic and charismatic leader with divine deportment, who also displayed humanizing characteristics after his wedding. He sang with a clear and supple voice. Amber Wagner as Elsa displayed a voice of ethereal beauty, commanding the role with her powerful instrument, filled with feeling and sensibility. Jordanka Milkova exuded piercing evil and wickedness as Ortrud while Telramund’s transition from absolute dictator to henpecked husband was credible. Although his sound was harsh, it was, perhaps, suitable for his character. Maestro Philippe Auguin had Wagner in his blood, coaxing thrilling playing and spine-chilling power from the Savolinna Opera Festival Orchestra, making the long evening fly by.


I’ve seen Don Giovanni where sex (Festival de Mexico) or death wish (Teatro Colon) or fear to commit (Washington National Opera) were the overriding themes. Here director Paul-Emile Fourny kept more to Mozart and Da Ponte’s concept that Don Giovanni is about the disintegration of the class society, and Fourny made the tensions between the classes the theme that Mozart brilliantly demonstrated with his minuet for Donna Anna and Don Ottavio, a folksy German tune for Leporello and Masetto, and a contradance for Giovanni and Zerlinda, along with the rebellion against the droit du seigneur (or droit de cuissage) at the wedding celebration.


Set against the backdrop of the castle’s ancient stone wall with steep stone stairs at either end of the very long but narrow stage, the opera unfolded amidst three moveable fragments of palatial facades that were twisted, turned and occasionally joined to suggest the different locations. The production was straight forward with a couple of exceptions. At the final supper, a defiant Giovannni instead of eating at the dining table had intercourse with a nude woman on the table in response to Donna Elvira’s pleas, and the Commendatore did not become a stone statue but instead was dressed in a white suit, appearing at the top of the stairs amidst a smoky background. Giovanni’s hell is the “ghosts” of his conquests (women in diaphanous black dresses) chasing him up the stairs.


Carlo Colombara made a defiant and dissolute Don Giovanni, capturing the opposing aspects of his character while properly nuancing his expansive voice, from powerful to smooth to cunning allowing him to deceive, command, persuade, and seduce with equal believability. Carlo Lepore’s Leporello was the ideal counter-balance to Colombara singing with well-balanced intensity. Jennifer Rowley captured Donna Anna’s anguish and conflicting emotions with a magnificently vibrant voice. Alyson Cambridge as Donna Elvira was convincing as wronged woman, singing with ardent concentration. Michele Angelini’s Don Ottavio displayed some forceful singing and good high notes, though occasionally strained. Will Humburg drew admirable playing from the orchestra.


The high point of Tosca was the mesmerizing singing that kept one completely engaged, despite an unusual heatwave plaguing Savolinna. Keith Warner’s “literal” production (opening with Angelotti’s shimmying down the side of the castle wall on a rope and ending with

Tosca jumping into the water (video) surrounding the castle), had, however, some bizarre and incongruous moments. A couple of examples, Scarpia’s dining table opened to be his casket, and Mario climbed a steep staircase to exit after being tortured. Tiffany Abban showed depth and breadth as Tosca, beautifully floating her high notes. Massimo Giordano possessed the role of Cavaradossi, fervently singing with a voice of pure Italianate lyrical sound. Juha Uusitalo was convincingly evil as Scarpia and under the baton of Srboljub Dinic, there was finely nuanced orchestral playing.


The Hungarian State Opera’s Don Carlo was a conventional production, the stage set with only a large iron gate and basic props. After Attila Fekete in the title role overcame some initial nervousness and note fishing, he was a very intense and believable Don Carlo. Eszter Sümegi assayed Elisabeth with a regal voice and deportment. Although Bluebeard’s Castle was presented in concert form, the psychological implications of dark gloom and horror were painted in the music and hauntingly melodic vocal line of Judith, which Andrea Meláth captured with her soaring voice. Changing colored lights reflected the horrors behind the different doors.


2012 Savolinna Opera Festival will run from July 5-August 4, 2012. There are two world premieres: Kimmo Hakola’s La Fenice and Vapaa Tahto’s Free Will, along with Aida, Magic Flute, Flying Dutchman. The visiting opera company, Den Norske Opera, presents Gisle Kvernokk’s Den Fjerde Nattevakt (The Fourth Night Watch) and Peter Grimes


Guide to Helsinki: World Design Capital 2012


With Helsinki celebrating its designation as World Design Capital in 2012, the city and its surrounding area should be on the must-visit calendar of every design-, architecture-, and opera-lover. From the legendary Finnish designs to its architectural treasures, especially the new Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Center) and the Opera House (Oopperatalo) you will find here all you need to best experience and enjoy Finland’s architecture and design either in person or from the comforts of home.


Architecture and Design in Helsinki and Lahti

Helsinki’s Modern Architecture


Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Center) Mannerheimintie 13a, (http://www.musiikkitalo.fi/web/en)

The newest addition to Helsinki’s modern architecture along Mannerheimintie is the Music Center which held opening ceremonies on August 31, 2011. An enormous, imposing glass rectangular structure housing a 1,708 seat concert hall and five smaller venues, the center includes one venue suitable for chamber opera. At the center of the building, the concert hall is approached via glazed foyers. Encased in sound-insulating glass, it is visible from the foyer and lobby areas. The architecture and overall design was by LPR-Arkkitehdit Oy (www.ark-lpr.fi) with acoustic design by Yasuhisa Toyota and Keiji Oguchi from Nagata Acoustics, Inc. (www.nagata.co.jp). It is a joint project of the Sibelius Academy (www.siba.fi), Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra (www.hel.fi/filharmonia), and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (www.yle.fi/rso), the three resident companies.


Oopperatalo (The Opera House) Mannerheimintie and Helsinginkatu; www.opera.fi sits on a site once occupied by a sugar mill. Opening in 1993 at a cost of $190 million, and designed by Eero Hyvämäki, Jukka Karhunen, and Risto Parkkinen, the Oopperatalo is an imposing white concrete structure faced with white square ceramic tiles, granite slabs, and brickwork fused into a variety of geometric shapes and forms. Large expanses of glass windows and walls allow commanding views of Töölö Bay, Hesperia Park, and the "green-heart" of Helsinki . On the Mannerheimintie plaza main entrance, a large sculpture Alkunäytöksi (First Act) by Kain Tapper welcomes visitors. Inside, hanging on the walls of the entrance foyer is Alla Marcia (In the Style of the March) by Juhana Blomstedt, a four part work of art in terrazzo concrete that weights more than two metric tons. On the foyer’s end walls, textile artist Kirsti Rantanen created a two part rope sculpture: the red hued one is called Carmen and blue-hued Juha. The foyer’s spaces are defined by stark white walls reflecting natural light from the skylights and muted blue-grey Carrara marble floors. In contrast to the cool outdoor feel of the foyer, warm reddish-yellow beechwood wall surfaces, cherry wood floors, three sparkling white parapets topped by chrome railings that contrast with rows of black cloth seats, and an unadorned black proscenium arch crowned by two acoustic panels define the intimate feel of the horseshoe-shaped 1,365-seat auditorium. Of special note is the abstract fire curtain on which Kohta, by Kristiina Wiherheimo is painted. The building also holds a self-contained performing arts factory with large rehearsal spaces, production facilities for scenery- and costume-making, and a black box for experimental works. If there are no performances, tours of the Opera House are available.


Finlandia Talo (Finlandia Hall) Mannerheimintie 13, www.finlandiatalo.fi. Opened in 1975, it is a striking geometrically shaped structure, designed by Alvar Aalto. It was the former home of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra but since the opening of the Musiikkitalo is used exclusively for conventions.


Museums of design, architecture and famous architect-designed houses: in/around Helsinki:

Designmuseo (Design Museum) Korkeavuorenkatu 23, www.designmuseum.fi. Suomen rakennustaiteen museo (Museum of Finnish Architecture), Kasarmikatu 24, www.mfa.fi. The two museums are only a block apart and part of Design District Helsinki www.designdistrict.fi. Villa Didrichsen, Kuusilahdenkuja 1, www.didrichsenmuseum.fi designed by Viljo Revell in 1957, with a museum wing added in 1965 which houses Didrichsen Museum of Art. Aalto House, Riihtie 20, www.alvaraalto.fi . The house and adjoining studio Alvar Aalto designed for himself, opening in 1936. Hvitträskintie, Hvitträskvägen 166, Luoma (on the shores of Lake Vitträsk, 30 minute drive west of Helsinki), www.hvittrask.fi. was build between 1901-1903. It is a collection of three houses designed, built, and lived in by architects Eliel Saarinen, Armas Lindgren, and Herman Gesellius. A bit of a soap opera also took place here: Gesellius’ sister married Eliel after Eliel divorced his wife who, in turn married Gesellius, who was a bachelor.


Helsinki’s Russian era architecture (1808-1917)

Around the Senate Square are elegant Empire Style buildings. Examples of Carl Engel’s most important works are Cathedral (1852), Council of State Palace, main University building, and University library. At the turn of last century, National Romantic style came into favor. Examples of this style are seen in the National Museum by Saarinen, Gesellius, and Lindgren, the Central Railroad Station by Saarinen, and the National Theater by Onni Tarjanne.  



Only 60 miles north of Helsinki, there is direct train service between the two cities which takes less than an hour. Lahti is the home of Sibelius Hall, Ankkurikatu 7, http://www.sinfonialahti.fi, an architectural marvel in wood, and the Wood Architecture Park www.woodinculture.net. Lahti Symphony Orchestra, resident company of the concert hall, hosts an annual Sibelius Festival which takes place in September 8-11, 2011. www.sinfonialahti.fi. Lahti was established as a woodworking town that essentially died when the woodworking factory, which had operated for 130 years, closed. The construction on the shores of Lake Vesijärvi of Sibelius Hall in 2000 as a wooden addition to the historically preserved factory, revitalized the area, not only architecturally but also culturally. Opening on March 9, 2000, the Hall was the largest wooden structure built in Finland in the past 100 years. A marvel of wood craftsmanship and design, it boasts perfect acoustics, designed by the late Russell Johnson (Artec Consultants, N.Y.). Architects Hannu Tikka’s and Kimmo Lintula’s design made innovative use of wood, both structurally and decoratively. The branches of the massive wooden pylons in the middle of the foyer, known as Metsähalli (Forest Hall) extend towards the ceiling and one of the most unique features of the space: the position of the small lights on the ceiling replicate the position of the stars in the sky when Sibelius was born, and are reflected on the walls of glass on either side. The glass also allows the fusion of views of the lakeside exterior with the foyer’s interior. The hall is decorated with contrasting colors and woods, with a French Romantic style 52-pipe the hall’s focal point. Its acoustics are adjustable by a canopy that can be raised or lowered from the ceiling depending upon the type of performance. More than 30 wooden sculptures and other works of art by Mauno Hartman are displayed around the building. Wood Architecture Park (Lahden Puuarkkitehtuuripuisto) www.woodinculture.net The park, located near Sibelius Hall, the lake and the harbor, is an ongoing project. Currently one can visit the Illuminated Canopy (2005) by Kengo Kuma with its slatted wood top and side construction and nighttime illumination symbolizing the Aurora Borealis. Wooden Spiral (2006) by Richard Leplastrier consists of four blocks of stone topped by a spiraling grid of logs. Piano Pavilion (2008) by Gert Wingårdh resembles a ship about to be launched, celebrating the history of Lahti habor. Viewing Terrace by Peter Zumthor (2010) is a place from which to admire the view across Lake Vesijärvi.


For Aalto enthusiasts, 170 miles north of Helsinki there is the Alvar Aalto Museum, Alvar Aalon katu 7, Jyväskylä. www.alvaraalto.fi, a special museum of architecture founded in 1966 that is housed in a building designed by Aalto (1973) on a slope leading to Lake Jyväsjärvi.


Art Museums of note in and around Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art, Mannerheiminaukio 2, www.kiasma.fi. Ateneum Art Museum, Kaivokatu 2, www.ateneum.fi. Didrichsen Museum of Art and Sculpture Park, Kuusilahdenkuja 1, www.didrichsenmuseum.fi; Villa Gyllenberg, Kuusisaarenpolku 11, www.villagyllenbrg.fi. EMMA-Espoo Museum of Modern Art, Näyttelykeskus WeeGee, Ahertajantie 5, Espoo www.emma.museum


For Sibelius lovers - Jean Sibelius sites: Ainola, (Sibelius’s home) Ainolantie (www.ainola.fi). is in the Tuusula Lake Road Artists’ Community, around 30 minutes from Helsinki. Sibelius and his family lived in Ainola for more than 50 years. He and his wife are buried in the garden. Sibeliuksen Syntymäkoti (Birthplace of Sibelius), Hallituskatu 11, Hämeenlinna www.hameenlinna.fi/historiallinenmuseo. around 60 miles north of Helsinki. Sibelius was born in 1865 in a wooden house in the center of the town, which is now the museum. Sibelius Museum, Biskopsgatan 17, Åbo (Turku) www.sibeliusmuseum.abo.fi, around 100 miles northwest of Helsinki. The museum is devoted to music with exhibits on Sibelius’ life and work. The building, designed by Woldemar Baeckman and constructed of concrete, glass, with funnel-shaped pillars around an atrium garden, is itself architecturally interesting.


Opera in Helsinki (in addition to the Finnish National Opera)

The opening of the Musiikkitalo (Helsinki Music Center) in August 2011 brought the world premiere of Olli Kortekangas’s Yhden yön juttu (One Night Stand) in October 2011 by the Sibelius Academy, one of center’s resident companies. The Opera Skaala Kapsäkkia is a small adventurous company that commissions new Finnish Opera each season, performing in a variety of unique and challenging venues.


Practical Information for visiting Helsinki


Information on the World Design Capital 2012 (Ramander House, Aleksanterinkatu 16; www.wdchelsinki2012.fi.

How to get there: Fly British Airways (www.ba.com) to Helsinki’s International Airport (HEL). Bus service by Finnair Airport Bus into Helsinki leaves every 20 minutes with stops at the Central Railway Station and Scandic Continental Hotel. The cost is approx. €6.00 and takes 30 minutes. Taxis are quite expensive from the airport into town. Probably the most convenient way to get around Helsinki is to buy either a tourist ticket (www.hkl.fi) for unlimited travel on public transportation or the Helsinki Card (www.helsinkiexpert.com) for both unlimited travel on public transportation and entrance to museums, and discounts on tickets to the opera and symphony, restaurants, shopping, car rentals, and tours.

Suggested Reading: on Finland: Portraying Finland: Facts and Insights (Otava Publishing), Find Out about Finland (Otava Publishing); on Finnish National Opera: 100 Years Finnish National Opera (100th Anniversary souvenir book); Finnish Opera by Pekka Kako (Finnish Music Information Center) on internet at http://www.fimic.fi/contemporary/opera; Oopperatalo (The Opera House) editor Tapani Eskola, Kustannus Oy Projektilehti Publisher,1995 in English, Finnish, German. An illustrated book on the architecture and construction of Helsinki’s Opera House. Recommended DVD: excellent FNO performance of the Finnish opera, The Red Line.


For more information, contact the Helsinki Tourist & Convention Bureau, Pohjoisesplanadi 19, email: tourist.info@hel.fi. www.visithelsinki.fi

Festival Amazonas de Opera Photos courtesy of Saleyna Borges
O Contractador dos Diamantes
O Contractador dos Diamantes
O Contractor dos Diamantes
Peter Grimes
Peter Grimes
Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena
Anna Bolena
Piede - credit Karyl Charna Lynn
World Premiere 
Credit Yossi Zwecker
Vienna Opera Ensemble
Paris Anat Czarny (Julie) Oded Reich (Herzl)
Older/Younger Versions Herzl Naom (Theodor) Oded Reich (Herzl)
Oded Czarny (Herzl)
Entire Cast-rejecting Herzl's vision
Imaginary duet of younger Herzl (Theodor) and older Herzl Noam Heinz (Theodor) oded Reich (Herzl)
Beer Garden-Noam Heinz (Theodor), Yair Polishook (Hermann Bahr) Shaked Strul (Paul von Portheim)
Festivalina Mascarade Photos by Karyl Lynn
Palazzo Corsini
Gardens of Palazzo
Anna El-Khashem, Beth Taylor
Xavier Hetherington
State Room
Gala Dinner
Gondola Grand Canal
Small canal
Teatro La Fenice
Main Entrance
Entrance Hall
Stairs to Auditorium
Ceiling Auditorium
Details boxes
Decoration Detail
Program Giovani Voci
Photos courtesy of Teatro alla Scala. Credit Brescia and Amisano
water nymphs
Olga Bezsmertna (Rusalka)
Prince (Dmitry Korchak) and huntsmen
Rusalka and Jezibaba (Okka von der Damerau
Rusalka and Water Spirit (Jongmin Park)
Rusalka and dying Prince
Photos courtesy of WNO/Kennedy Center and Karyl Charna Lynn
Denise Graves coaching Isabelle, Frank, Phoebe
Graves singing solos on racial equality
Poster from Dawson exhibition
View stage in terrace theater
Vintage photo Dawson performing
All photos courtesy of Virginia Opera
Cast ensemble
Andres Acosta as Tim Laughliin and Joseph Lattanzi as Hawkins Fuller
Katherine Pracht as Mary Johnson with Katrina Thurman as Miss Lightfoot
Andres Acosta as Timothy Laughlin and Joseph Lattanzi as Hawkins Fuller
All production photos by Scott Suchman courtesy of Washington National Opera
Christine Goerke as Elektra
Ryan Speedo-Green as Orest
Katarina Dalayman as Klytamnestra (center)
Photos of Lohengrin courtesy of Royal Opera House, by Clive Barda
All photos of Ariadne auf Naxos courtesy of Teatro alla Scala by Brescia & Amisano
Guests waiting to enter mansion
Music master and Major domo
Composer and Zerbinetta
Zerbinetta and Clowns
Zerbinetta and Ariadne
Teatro alla Scala, view towards royal box. 
Chandelier in La Scala's auditorium
All photos courtesy of Kennedy Center by Scott Suchmann
Christian Van Horn with Chorus in background
Isabel Leonard

Alexandria Shiner, Suzannah Waddington, Yende, Leonard, Rehanna Thelwell, Brownlee, David Butt Philip, Duke Kim, Christian Simmons, Van Horn

Lawrence Borwnlee and Pretty Yende
All Fidelio photos courtesy of San Franciso Opera by Cory Weaver
Omnipresent security camera images from every cell
Elza van den Heever as Lleonora
Russell Thomas as Fidelio. Projection of wife Leonora
All photos of Anonymous Lover courtesy of LA Opera. All photos by Larry Ho
Tiffany Townsend,, Robert Stahley, ballet couple (masked).
Robert stahley as Valcour (Anonymous Lover)
Alaysha Fox as Dorothee
Michael Haek as Ophemon.
TIffany Townsend as Leontine. 
Curtain call  Anonymous Lover. 
All photos Courtesy of Wolf Trap, A.E. Landis, photographer
Filene Center, view from stage. 
FIlene Center view towards stage
Full Cast Anonymous Lover
Chanae Curtis, Ricardo Garcis
Jonathan McCullough (arms raised)
Full company with Maestro Geoffrey McDonnald
Below is Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, home of the Israel Opera and venue of Manon Production
Entrance to the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center
Designed by Israeli architect Yaakov Rechter, the Center was opened in 1994
Israeli Opera House
Busts of famous opera composers line the artist entrance to the Israeli Opera House
VIew towards proscenium arch in Israeli Opera House
View of auditorium in Israeli Opera House
VIew of crisscross lighting on ceiling of Israeli Opera House
Curtain call at performance of Manon
Israeli Opera after performance of Manon 
Exterior facade of Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center at night
Façade Royal Opera House, Longon, UK
Annex to Royal Opera House, London, UK
VIew of the proscenium arch in auditorium of Royal Opera House
Detail above proscenium arch
View of ceiling in Royal Opera House auditorium
View of side balcony in Royal Opera House
Coliseum in London where the English National Opera Performs. VIew of proscenium arch with curtain specially designed for opera Orpheus and Eurydice 
View of auditorium inside Coliseum, London, UK
View of ceiling in auditoriun of Coliseum
View of side boxes in Coliseum
Detail of boxes in Coliseum
Detail of parapet in Coliseum
Side boxes in Coliseum
Curtain call at Orpheus and Eurydice
Rape of Lucretia-Photos Liza Voll
Nurse Bianca (Margaret Lattimore consoles Lucretia (Kelley O'Conner)
Tarquinius (Duncan Rock and Junius (David McFerrin
Lucretia and Tarquinius
Tarquinius and Junius
Lucretia and Female Chorus 
(Antonia Tamer)
The Princess Sophia 
David Miller as Captain Locke on deck of Princess Sophia
Princess Sophia in frozen Lynn Canal by Dan Fruits
Passengers on deck of Princess Sophia
Dancers re-enacting the tragedy
Sinking of Princess Sophia by Dan Fruits
Lone survivor of tragedy-- a dog by Dan Fruits
Princess Sophia at bottom of Lynn Canal by Dan Fruits
Quebec Opera Festival
Russell Braun as Louis Riel
Scene from Louis Riel
Scene from Don Giovanni
Artists singing at Shakespeare a l'opera.
Scene from Louis Riel
Scene from Louis Riel
Scene from Louis Riel
Scene from Don Giovanni
Scene from Don GIovanni
Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Delaware
Set for Semiramide, Delaware Opera Festival
Lindsay Ohse, Semaramide
Aleksandra Romano  (Arsace)
Don Magnifico's livingroom 
Sean Anderson (Dandini) Young-Bok Kim (Alidoro) Megan Marino (Cenerentola) Jennifer Cherest (Clorinda) Alexandra Rodrick (TIsbe) Steven Condy (Don Magnifico)
Megan Marino,JackSwanson (Prince Ramiro)
credit above photos to Moonloop Photography 
Newmark Theater, Portland, Oregon
Tatiana recording love letter on audiotape (boom box)
Lensky watching Onegin flirting with Olga (Abigail Dock) 
Above Eugene Onegin Photos by Cory Weaver
Pillow Fight concluding Italiana in Algeri - photo James Daniel 
Royal Opera House, London, Facade
Royal Opera House banner
Detail of Royal Opera House facade
Posters for Lucia di Lammermoor
ROH - view towards stage
Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Delaware
Detail façade, Grand Opera House, Wilmington, Delaware
Grand Opera House auditorium
Grand Opera House, view toward stage and Amleto production
Auditorium ceiling of Grand Opera House, Wilmington
Grand Opera House auditorium detail of lighting
Auditorium of Grand Opera House, Wilmington
Below are pictures from Il Volo concert at Kennedy Center and of Il Volo
Better Gods photos by Scott Suchman
Rexford Tester as Lorrin Thurston, Timothy J. Bruno as Judge Albert Judd, Daryl Freedman as Queen Liliʻuokalani, Ariana Wehr as Kahua, and Hunter Enoch as James Miller
Timothy J. Bruno as Judge Albert Judd, Rexford Tester as Lorrin Thurston, and Daryl Freedman as Queen Liliʻuokalani
Daryl Freeman is Queen Lili'uokalami

The below photos are from the revised world premiere of Appomattox at the Kennedy Center and are by  Scott Suchman

Solomon Howard (Martin Luther King Jr.) Tom Fox (President Lyndon Johnson
David Pittsinger (Robert E. Lee)
Robert Baker (Edward Alexander) David Pittsinger (Robert Lee) Aleksey Bogdanov ( John Aaron Rawlins) Richard Paul Pink (Ulusses Grant)
Solomon Howard (MLK)
In the Penal Colony Photos by T.Charles Erickson. Yury Yanowsky (Man) rear. Neal Ferreira (Visitor) David McFerrin (Officer)
Neil Ferreira (Visitor)
Yanoswsky (Man) McFerrin (Officer)
From top: Man, Visitor, Officer
Sibelius Hall on Lake Vesijarvi evening.
Foyer Sibelius Hall during intermission.
Lake promenade outside Sibelius Hall during intermission.
View towards stage with Lahti Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius Hall
Awards for recordings received by Lahti Symphony Orchestra
Staircases leading up to auditorium's tiers
Music Institute recital
Room of Sibelius' birth.
Setting sun over Lake Vesijarvi. End of perfect Sibelius week.
Phillip Addis as Jaufre RUdel, troubour and Prince of Blaye and Erin Wall as Clemence, Countess of Libya
 Phillip Addis as Jaufre Rudel and Erin Wall as Clemence
Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim and Phillip Addis as Jaufre Rudel
Erin Wall as Clemence, Countess of Libya
Tamara Mumford as the Pilgrim and Phillip Addis as Jaufre Rudel
Grand Theatre de Quebec, exterior
Auditorium of Grand Theatre de Quebec
Auditorium of Teatr Wielki, Poznan with singer in audience
"Nobles" singing amidst audience in auditorium
Halka, Zofia, and the mountain peasants
Halka (Magdalena Molendowska) and Jonek (Piotr Friebe)
Halka, Jonek, with the mountain peasants with masks
The Nobles: Zofia (Natalie Puczniewska) and Janusz (Bartlomiej Misiuda)
Adam and Eve  (Bartlomie Misiuda and Magdalena Wachowska) in Space Capsule landed on Mars

Adam and Eve in space capsule:greatest reality show ever

"Two flies in space capsule, Martyna Cymerman and Tomasz Raczkiewicz

Cross-dressed fly (counter-tenor Tomasz Raczkiewicz

The producer (Andrzej Ogorkiewcz)  cajoling the crowd.
Adam and Eve above in Space Capsule preparing for lift-off with producer below of greatest reality show ever
Producer of greatest reality show ever - Space Opera
Space Opera
Harrison Opera House, home of VIrginia Opera
Foyer of Harrison Opera House
Chandeliers of stacks of sandblasted acrylic disks connected by stainless steel rods in foyer of Harrison Opera House
Proscenium arch and stage of Harrison Opera House
Boxes in Harrison Opera House
King Kipperupus and erotic (dream) dancers from Cyberiada
Suspended mask with Queen Genius and percussion instrument - Cyberiada
Erotic dream acrobatics - Cyberiada
Constructor Trull with two suspended story telling masks and flying astronauts in background among percussion instruments
King Mandrillion with gray blow-up advisor and astronaut
King Mandrillion's subjects in identical boxes with Queen Genius in background.
Pseudo medieval knights
Views of Olavinlinna Castle, Savolinna Opera Festival and surroundings
Jan Hultin, SOF General Director at helm
Jan Hultin, Karyl Lynn, Artistic director of SOF,  Finnish Ambassador
Images from Helsinki
New Helsinki Music Center
Concert Hall in Music Center
Foyer in Music Center
Facade Opera House on Mannerheimintie
Opera House facade facing lake

Auditorium of Opera House

Art Work in Opera House
FInlandia Hall auditorium
Lahti - Sibelius Hall auditorium 
Lahti - lake in front of Sibelius Hall
Lahti Sibelius Hall foyer
Didrichsen Museum of Art and Sculpture Park

Hvittraskintie: house of Saarinen, Lindgren, Gesellius

View of lake from Hvittraskintie
New Music Center
Sonora Hall in Music Center
 One Night Stand - world premiere opera in Sonora Hall
One Night Stand