Girl at the Opera


Graf Conducts at Houston Symphony
Monday February 23rd 2015, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Houston Symphony

It was a slow night of Hindemith, Saint-Saëns, and Schumann at Jones Hall on Friday. Read my review at Bachtrack.



Status Report on Opera in the Heights
Thursday February 12th 2015, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Opera in the Heights

Deji Osinulu Photography

A year in review: Read my report on the (soap) Opera in the Heights at Houstonia Magazine.

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Magic Flute at HGO: Bad Conducting, Great Singing
Tuesday February 03rd 2015, 9:36 am
Filed under: Houston Grand Opera

Photo by Lynn Lane

It was the slowest Magic Flute I’d ever heard. Read my review at Houstonia Magazine.

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Relish the Clemency in OH’s La Clemenza
Sunday February 01st 2015, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Opera in the Heights

 

Celeste Fraser as Vitelia and Zach Averyt as Tito. Deji Osinulu Photography

“I must win the loyalty of my people through love,” sings the beneficent Tito in Act Two of Mozart’s rarely performed opera La Clemenza di Tito. Opera in the Heights bravely took on this neglected late opera and performed it with heart, reminding me that it had been one of Mozart’s most popular operas until about 1830, and perhaps it should be again.

It is another rarity when a sovereign rewards honesty with amnesty, even when a subject confesses to plotting his assassination. And as such, La Clemenza is a plot that relies on the ensemble numbers that are so celebrated in Mozart’s other operas. Watching the Emerald cast—a passionate collection of talented young singers—it was clear they had taken great care of the trios, the quartets, and the chorus numbers.

The early chorus march “Serbate, o dei custodi” led by tenor Zach Averyt in the role of Tito, was full and lively. The fiery trio “Vengo! Aspettate!” between Justin Hopkins, Jennifer Crippen, and Celeste Fraser (which comes when Publio and Annio tell a shocked Vitellia that Tito wants her as a consort) rang together with attention to the harmonic subtleties while also communicating Vitellia’s veiled despair.

Hopkins, a bass-baritone whose full, light timbre as Leporello stole the show in OH’s production of Don Giovanni last season, was a stand out again. Making her OH debut as Sesto, mezzo soprano Vera Savage left an impression vocally and otherwise. The victim of Vittellia’s seduction, Sesto is a desperate man. Sure, we’ve seen trouser roles before—when a female singer dons the character of a man—but have we seen a woman in a trouser role slowly strip off her suit and tie in an act of frustrated passion to stand confidently in only underwear? Savage pulled it off with panache.

Stage director Keturah Stickann has done exceptional work with the Lambert Hall stage. The blocking was smart, never feeling overcrowded, and the window cut-out at center stage proved a visual treat. The stage, papered from floor to ceiling with newspapers and charcoal pitchforks, bespoke a timely present-day obsession with gossip and misconceptions. The costumes designed by Dena Scheh—sharp suits set against decadent gowns—were tasteful and divinely popped against the newspaper background.

The orchestra, under the new direction of interim conductor Eiki Isomura, was reliably solid. Even so, there were a handful of unfortunate moments when the singers lagged behind the orchestra. Isomura notes in the program that initially he felt intimidated by La Clemenza. While he seems in many ways to have conquered this (a triumphant downbeat to the overture surely testified as such), overall he directed with a slight awkwardness, as though he were still getting to know the score and his musicians.

It’s not often that opera celebrates the deep virtues of forgiveness, generosity, and love, where the opera ends with a chorus of loyal subjects asking the gods to grant their sovereign a long life. More regularly, audiences are confronted with prolonged death, lingering deceptions, and questionable moral codes that no doubt delight us (Don Giovanni, for example), but are nevertheless commonplace in the genre. Here, we are left with a uniquely comforitng blanket absolution thanks to the zeal of OH’s cast and the warm familiarity of Lambert Hall.



A Soprano saves HGO’s Madame Butterfly
Tuesday January 27th 2015, 8:26 am
Filed under: Houston Grand Opera

Photo by Lynn Lane

What would this production be without soprano Ana Maria Martinez? Read my review of Houston Grand Opera’s Madame Butterfly at Houstonia Magazine.

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Fisk and Phan at the Menil
Friday January 23rd 2015, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Da Camera,Houston Grand Opera

Eliot Fisk. Courtesy Da Camera

 

Two phenomenal artists are coming together on Tuesday night in a concert filled with Britten and Dowland song cycles. Nicholas Phan, a spectacular tenor, is no stranger  to Houston. From 2002-2005, Phan was a Houston Grand Opera Studio Artist. After his appearance here in January, he will return to close HGO’s season in the role of Tobias Ragg from Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.

He is joined by Eliot Fisk, a musician who has long been a hero of mine and who is widely considered to be the best classical guitarist in the world. I had a brilliant time speaking to them both and not nearly enough space to do them justice. Read my preview of Tuesday’s concert at Houstonia Magazine.

Their concert is Tuesday, January 27 at 7:30pm in the Menil Collection. For tickets and more info, visit Da Camera of Houston.

 



Mozart and Shostakovich at HSO
Monday January 19th 2015, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Houston Symphony

Water sprites and revolutions–a delight indeed this weekend at Jones Hall. Read my review of Houston Symphony’s concert at Bachtrack.

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Goodbye Enrique
Friday December 19th 2014, 10:36 am
Filed under: Opera in the Heights

In a press release yesterday Opera in the Heights announced Eiki Isomura would be taking over as interim conductor effective immediately, replacing Enrique Carreón-Robledo.

It’s surprising news, to say the least, given the accolades that Carreón-Robledo has received as OH’s artistic director. At least from an outsider’s perspective, Carreón-Robledo was the strongest part of OH, as his most recent, stunning production of Hänsel and Gretel attests. Of course, appearances aren’t always what they seem, I suppose. But in this case it seems unlikely. Carreón-Robledo is the most enthusiastic, passionate conductor I’ve seen, and I will miss him.

Let’s hope this “new artistic direction” actually has some substance. It’s hard to imagine the company without their intrepid leader.

 

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Sequence of Sounds: Brandon Bell at Rice University
Thursday December 11th 2014, 8:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

 

How does sequence affect sound? I wondered this last night watching Brandon Bell move quietly from playing a wine glass with a bow to wringing wet washcloths out on his knees. His dynamic recital in the Hirsch Orchestra Rehearsal Hall, “Plugged In: New Music for Solo Percussion and Electronics,” began with a bell, ended with a flame, and made aural chronology an introspective experience.

Bell is the Malcolm W. Perkins Teaching Fellow at the Rice University Shepherd School of Music, and innovation seems to attach naturally to his work. Last September, for example, he organized the Houston premiere of John Luther Adams’ 2009 “Inuksuit” at the James Turrell Skyspace. Adams, who won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for the mysterious and epic “Become Ocean,” is rising quickly in the ranks of great American composers, although his work is rarely heard in Houston.

Unwinding sounds, Bell programmed a concert of four premieres. The first, “[relictumne sum]” is a new piece by Ian Power, commissioned by Bell with the support of a Presser Graduate Music Award from Rice. A memorable piece of music will ask provoking questions. [relictumne sum] began with a repeated ringing sound, shifted to a bowed wine glass, and culminated with washcloths and water dripping musically off of Bell’s fingers. It’s an understatement to say the piece was refreshingly evocative. It was followed by Andrea Mazzariello’s “Forms of Practice,” which spiraled rhythm to finally groove into a common time signature.

The icy music of Matthew Burtner, “The Sonic Physiography of a Time-Stretched Glacier,” was stunningly beautiful. Electronic sounds of running water complemented shuddering pulsations from a golden vibraphone, inspiring mercurial visions of liquid. Bell is a serious performer who commits fully without any trace of pretentiousness. In concert, he gives the impression of respecting each sound individually, as if they have come to a peaceful understanding. As he slid a bow against a vibraphone key to end the piece, it was like watching two friends embrace.

Moving from ice to fire, the final piece on the program, “500 Great Things About Wichita,” was described in the program by its composer, Chapman Welch, in the form of a haiku:

ritual click bait

sparks on electric jelly

inside crab orchards

Bell started this piece by slapping his hands against his chest. The stark contrast between electronic sound blaring and the sound of the human body added incredible intention to the aural progression throughout the concert. This piece ended, dramatically, with striking flame from a Zippo lighter. “Sparks on electric jelly / inside crab orchards” lined up with the flickering purple glow. With such attention to the chain of musical sounds—increasingly new and surprisingly radiant—I can’t wait to hear what Bell does next.

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Christmas Lists
Monday December 08th 2014, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Da Camera,Houston Grand Opera,Houston Symphony,Opera in the Heights

HGO premieres A Christmas Carol with music by Iain Bell and libretto by Simon Callow. It is the worst kind of bad–a boring bad. Read my review at Houstonia Magazine.

In happier holiday news, read my Top 5 classical and opera picks of 2014, also at Houstonia. Cheers to a merry 2015!

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