“If we weep from emotion on hearing it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of” Richard Wagner on Bellini’s most famous opera Norma, the most successful work by the last and greatest composer of bel canto. This new production of Norma, directed by Grammy Award-nominated opera, theatre and film director Kevin Newbury and starring Sondra Radvanovsky as a “powerful, elegant” Norma (New York Times) and Gregory Kunde as Pollione, is “something very special. The word ‘historic’ is used perhaps a little too often but tonight there really is no other adjective to describe the sensational performances offered to us by Sondra Radvanovsky and Gregory unde.” (operatraveller.com)
Glyndebourne has brought to light a long-overlooked winner in Donizetti’s Poliuto, delivering ‘a superb musical performance’ (The Telegraph) offering ‘lucent accounts of the principal roles and an incandescent London Philharmonic Orchestra, under Enrique Mazzola’ (New York Times). This first ever professional UK staging of the story of third-century Armenian martyr St Polyeuctus features a ‘trio of world-class young singers’ with Fabiano, winner of the Beverly Sills and Richard Tucker awards, displaying a ‘thrilling, vibrant tone’ in the title role, Martínez providing Paolina with ‘pinging coloratura’ and Golovatenko giving a ‘radiant-toned’ voice to Severo. (The Guardian)
The Mariinsky label is delighted to release the first of four operas on DVD in 2013 with Verdi’s 'Attila'. Released in celebration of Verdi’s anniversary year, acclaimed Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov stars in the title role, in this the premiere of Arturo Gama’s production. He is ably supported by soprano, Anna Markarova in the role Odabella; baritone, Vladislav Sulimsky in the role of Ezio and tenor, Sergei Skorokhodov.
Glyndebournes Saul stole the summer and had critics raving. The Guardian (****) applauded virtuoso stagecraft from director Barrie Kosky in his debut production there, calling the show a theatrical and musical feast of energetic choruses, surreal choreography and gorgeous singing. For The Independent, which ranked it amongst five top classical and opera performances of 2015, there was no praise too high for the cast. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Ivor Bolton sparkles from the pit with period panache, and designer Katrin Lea Tags exuberant costumes (The Times ****) set the Old Testament story in Handels time, with a witty twinge of the contemporary.
Handel’s oratorio Theodora, in its first-ever staging at the Salzburg Festival ,was among the highlights of the Handel year in 2009. Great cast that features Christine Schäfer and Bejun Mehta, conducted by Ivor Bolton. Acclaimed stage director Christof Loy presented Theodora as the profoundly moving tale of a woman who prefers death to denying her own faith.
Philippe Jaroussky as Ruggiero is in thrall to Patricia Petibon as the sorceress Alcina in Katie Mitchell’s virtuosic production of Handel’s opera from the 2015 Aix-en-Provence Festival, described by Bachtrack as “a night of a thousand delights”. Conducted by Andrea Marcon, this was, in the words of Opera News, “musically … a performance of the highest festival level”. The production of Alcina, by the British director Katie Mitchell, was welcomed by the Financial Times as “meticulously executed …, rich in detail, consummately polished”. Like Mitchell’s Aix-en-Provence staging of George Benjamin’s hugely successful Written on Skin (first seen in 2012), it offers simultaneous action in multiple zones of the stage, with Alcina’s elegant boudoir taking pride of place. As the New York Times wrote: “It involves a huge sorcery machine for turning people into animals (or whatever). And Ms. Mitchell works magic of her own onstage, constantly showing the enchantresses Alcina and Morgana alternating between glamorous public personas and their ‘real life’, older, private selves …There are also bits of simulated sex, mingling genders and suggesting, among other things, inventive new ways to hit high notes.”
Boito’s resplendent retelling of Goethe’s Faust, a monumental work of "choral grandeur and melodic richness" (The New York Times) in one of the most impressive productions ever seen at the War Memorial Opera House. The cast includes Ramón Vargas, a tenor "in ravishing voice" (Financial Times), as the philosopher who sells his soul to the Devil; the "luminous, compelling" Patricia Racette (Washington Post) as the woman he desires; and, in the vividly menacing title role, the "seductively malevolent" bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov, a "fullbodied bass-baritone" renowned for his "wonderfully evil portrayals" (The New York Times).
Early Rossini has something buoyant, vibrant, youthful about it – even when it is a “dramma per musica” such as “Sigismondo”, a dark swirl of an opera revolving around a mad king and his delusions, his wife who is allegedly dead but very much alive, the fate of Poland and much more. Premiered in 1814 but rarely played thereafter, the work deserves to be resurrected, if only for its many beautiful and original arias and ensembles, some of which were such brilliant little masterpieces that he reused them in his later successes such as “Il turco in Italia”, “La Cenerentola” and “Il barbiere di Siviglia”. The work was given its first performance from the critical new edition at the 2010 Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. The press hailed the production as a “perfect symbiosis of music and stage work” that yields “truly brilliant theater”.
Verdi's late masterpiece is presented in Elijah Mashinsky's Met production with sumptuous sets and period costumes. Semyon Bychkov conducts an all-star cast led by South African Heldentenor Johan Botha in the title role with a voice of "impressive size and bronze color" (New York Times). Renee Fleming's Desdemona enshrines one of her signature roles in a definitive performance "she knows exactly how to spin the gentle lines of the "Willow Song" and "Ave Maria" so that they softly fill the hall" (New York Times). A strong supporting cast includes the superb Falk Struckmann as Iago and star tenor Michael Fabiano as Cassio.
Verdi’s epic drama of ancient Egypt comes to life in the Met’s monumental production, captured here in a breathtaking Live in HD presentation. Violeta Urmana stars in the title role of the princess-turned-slave girl, opposite Johan Botha as her lover and Dolora Zajick as her jealous rival. Maestro Daniele Gatti conducts.