In…Spivey Hall kicks off season in perfect harmony with vocal group Chanticleer


Within his notorious Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer gave us “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” in which the rooster Chanticleer learns the hard way that one should never trust a flatterer. On Sunday afternoon, Spivey Hall opened its 2017–18 season with a performance by the men’s classical vocal ensemble that borrowed its name from Chaucer’s story.

Chanticleer has become known for its stunning sound and staggering breadth of repertoire since its founding by Louis Botto in 1978. Now, after almost 40 years, a discography of more than 40 recordings and three Grammy Awards, Chanticleer is likely no stranger to flattery — yet it’s well-deserved to say the least.

Music director and Atlanta native William Fred Scott programmed repertoire united by the theme “The Heart of a Soldier” and began with a 16th century sacred motet by William Byrd, but the music spanned centuries to include modern repertoire as well. We heard a recent commission of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts by Mason Bates called “Drum Taps.” The narrative text was based on a duo of Walt Whitman poems and described lawyers, mechanics and salesmen leaving for battle and finally of one family on an idyllic Ohio farm in autumn receiving news of their son’s death.

The through-composed work consisted of a vocal ostinato that mimicked the sound of snare drums, tone painting and a striking, lyric solo for countertenor above the sound of buzzing bees. Afterward, Chanticleer presented the chorus “Our Beautiful Country” from Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain, which premiered in Santa Fe in 2015.

But a great deal of the repertoire was a musicologist’s wonderland, a tour which took us to the Battle of Marignan in 1515 within Clément Janequin’s “La Guerre” — a work riddled with onomatopoetic sound effects suggesting the sounds of battle — or to a Russian landscape in 1812 inhabited by Napoleon and his 600,000 troops in Vladamir Mantulin’s arrangement of the “Battle of Borodino.”

Here we were able to hear several lovely solo voices within Chanticleer highlighted between refrains. Chanticleer even took us back to a delightful troubadour song called “L’homme armé,” which was the basis for 50 or so Roman Catholic Mass settings during the Renaissance. It’s a good reminder as some contemporary academics and liturgists attempt to purge secular music influences from the Mass.

The wonder of Chanticleer is its beauty and clarity of sound as 12 distinctive voices mingle so perfectly; it’s difficult to detect where each voice originates as the singers breathe silently in unison and move in and out of specific configurations on stage. Chanticleer temporarily lightened the mood in the second half with Murray Grand’s “Comment allez-vous” arranged by Evan Price and an Andrews Sisters’ song, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

But the afternoon was ended on a serious and inspiring note: a version of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” arranged by countertenor Alan Ward, which revealed unsettling dissonances alongside a glorious obbligato countertenor line. And finally, they closed with Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s “My Soul, There Is A Country.” The four-part harmony was a benediction and a reassurance that there is a life beyond this one for our fallen soldiers.

Stephanie Adrian

In the August 2017 Issue of Opera News Online: La Finta Giardinera

La Finta Giardinera

La Finta Giardinera

Atlanta Opera

THE ATLANTA OPERA’S partnership with OnSite Opera to produce The Secret Gardener (La Finta Giardinera), young Mozart’s 1775 opera, was simultaneously a rousing success and an unfortunate victim of circumstances beyond its control (seen May 20). Hosted by Atlanta’s stunning Botanical Gardens, a thirty-acre oasis seated in the middle of Midtown, all three performances of The Secret Gardener were sold out a year in advance. The collaboration was part of artistic and general director Tomer Tvulun’s newly initiated Discoveries Series, an attempt to bring opera to new audiences throughout the city. Visitors milling about the gardens were able to enjoy the singing as well—even without a ticket.

OnSite Opera, founded by stage director Eric Einhorn and Jessica Kiger, is a New York City-based company that strives to provide audiences with immersive opera-in-your-face experiences. Earlier this month the same production and cast was seen at New York’s Westside Community Garden, but the Atlanta show began in the Robinson Gazebo, just beyond the floating fiddlehead. Twenty minutes into the opera ominous weather forced a frantic relocation just inside the Fuqua Conservatory, home of tropical carnivorous plant life and multi-colored orchids. The ensemble resumed its ninety-minute version, a nicely pruned edition by Kelley Rourke with orchestration for wind octet and double bass scored by Yoni Khan and Thomas Carroll.

Mozart’s modus operandi: characters in disguise, fickle counts, and garden intrigue are all elements within The Secret Gardener and one can hear musical and vocal precursors to well-loved characters within his better know operas. The character Sandrina/Violante (Ashley Kerr) was Mozart’s Countess-in-the-making and Kerr, an emerging artist, sang with a sizable, yet innately charming soprano. Her rendition of “Listen…the dove is sighing” was sustained and technically demanding, reminiscent of Mozart’s future composition, “Porgi amor.” Kerr’s effervescent colleague Maeve Höglund, here heard in the role of Arminda, could have easily been cast as a Donna Elvira. Once relocated to the South American greenhouse, the audience had the benefit of hearing Höglund’s vibrant soprano in the aria, “Youthful lovers are too eager” and her easy ascent to what must have been a high E flat. As it turned out, the indoor setting (cramped as it was) provided a much more pleasing aural experience.

Spencer Viator made an instant impression in the role of Count Belfiore with his cool stage demeanor and elegant phrasing in “She’s a dream, a dazzling vision”, an aria that undoubtedly heralded the forthcoming “Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön.”

Music director Geoffrey McDonald kept tempos at a nice clip for his cast of well-coached and intelligible singers who bravely improvised staging in the new space. Baritone Jorell Williams (Nardo) managed lovely singing despite lots of active choreography. Mezzo Kristin Gornstein (Ramiro), soprano Alisa Jordheim (Serpetta), and Jonathan Blalock (Podesta) were engaged ensemble members, but the abridged version of the opera, compounded by some additional interruptions to the show, didn’t allow the audience to hear the full spectrum of their abilities. Yet despite the chaos, the Atlanta Opera pulled off a rarely-produced Mozart opus with budding young singers amidst blossoming florae. And audience members left chirping about all the excitement.  —Stephanie Adrian




In the July Issue of Opera News Online: REVIEW of Turandot at the Atlanta Opera


THE ATLANTA OPERA celebrated ten years at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre—the roadhouse that occupies a majestic post at one of Atlanta’s busiest intersections—with Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot (seen May 7). Puccini’s last opera was the work that former AO general director Dennis Hanthorn selected to begin the opera’s residency at the Cobb a decade ago; the company’s present general and artistic director, Tomer Zvulun, felt that Turandot provided a fitting close to the most successful season in the company’s history.

Turandot opens without an overture and the Atlanta Opera capitalized upon this, making an instant impact when the curtain ascended with the elaborate and obviously expensive set and costuming designed by André Barbe. The vibrant production was jointly funded by no less than five American opera companies and cost $1 million to realize: spectacular headdresses, flowing fabrics, and a plethora of props that furthered the fantastic (and grotesque) aspect of Turandot.

The blood red, reflective set, looked like a deconstructed sphere, one ring descending at an angle and serving as a raked stage. Stage director Kathleen Stakenas did a fine job utilizing the space to accommodate a sizable cast on multiple planes (including featured dancers). In Act I, Peking commoners groveled on hands and knees on both sides of the stage, choreographed to dip and bow while singing their opening number, “Gira la Cote!” And Krista Billings re-created lighting designer Guy Simard’s original lighting design, avoiding hard angles and utilizing side light in reds and yellows.

The opera, based upon Carlo Gozzi’s Chinese fable, has a heart-wrenching love-triangle at its center. Soprano Kelly Kaduce sang the role of the slave girl Liù, endearing herself with effective mannerisms that conveyed humility and self-sacrifice. Kaduce’s final aria, “Tu che di gel sei cinta” was provocative as was the interrogation scene, her middle voice rich-sounding and rising to the upper tiers of the theatre. Higher tones were more tenuous, sometimes teetering sharp. This was the final performance of the run in Atlanta and the object of her affection, Calaf (Gianluca Terranova), sounded fatigued as well. Nevertheless, Terranova’s beefy tenor filled the hall and the audience cheered predictably after his “Nessun dorma.” Terranova’s best singing occurred in Act II when he answered each of Turandot’s riddles with precision.

In the title role, dramatic soprano Marcy Stonikas dazzled with a bright laser beam of sound and tightly spun vibrato. A former young artist at Seattle Opera, Stonikas has a spine-tingling soprano that was worth the the price of admission. Positioned at the highest point of the raked stage at the foot of her father, the Emperor Altoum (Nathan Munson), Stonikas stoically spread her arms to reveal the gruesome faces of her beheaded suitors on long panels that draped down from her sleeves.

Wagnerian bass Steven Humes sang Timur in Atlanta back in 2007 and returned for this anniversary, sounding fresh. Daniel Belcher, Julius Ahn, and Joseph Hu served as the three quirky Imperial Ministers. Busy and highly choreographed, their comedy regrettably fell flat at times. This was a case where less could have been more for their distinctive voices fused nicely as a trio and paired with Puccini’s music their artistry would have been sufficient.  —Stephanie Adrian

From the March 2017 Issue of Opera News

Don Pasquale

Don Pasquale
Atlanta Opera

GAETANO DONIZETTI’S 1843 OPERA Don Pasquale is all about that bass: the basso buffo commedia dell’arte character who is manipulated by another low-voiced character, the scheming Dr. Malatesta. On March 31, The Atlanta Opera presented a 1950s Hollywood-ish version of Don Pasquale at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and rebranded the title character as the ‘Sovereign of the the Silver Screen’, a former silent film star who is far past his prime. The concept and set design, by Peter Nolle and borrowed from Arizona Opera, is a play on Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Sunset Boulevard. And Don Pasquale is Norma Desmond.

Stage director Chuck Hudson, a graduate of the Marcel Marceau International School of Mimedrama in Paris, brought his considerable expertise to the choreography of the show, especially with the role of spoiled (and recently disowned) rich kid Ernesto, played by tenor Ji-Min Park, who pantomimed an entire series of hilarious suicide attempts accompanied by a plaintive trumpet solo. He melodramatically tried to end it all first by dagger—followed by poison, rope, and finally a toy revolver that ejected a banner displaying the word, “bang.” A leading man in real life, having represented Korea at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in 2009 and singing leading roles at Covent Garden, in this production Park looked more like one of Ron Howard’s slow-witted gang from Happy Days, outfitted in too-short britches and a sweater vest. But when Park opened his mouth, he was anything but un-smart. His first solo moment, “Sogno soave casto” and ensuing Act II larghetto “Cercherò lontana terra” were carefully crafted, displaying what can only be described as raggio sonoro, an intensely ringing voice that cuts to the back of the theatre.

AO artistic and general director Tomer Zvulun brought soprano Georgia Jarman back to Atlanta to sing the role of Norina. Jarman’s Lucia here in 2011 was haunting and memorable. While Norina isn’t half as interesting as Lucia, Jarman’s rendition of “So anch’io la virtù magica” would have given any aspiring soprano pause. Jarman began the cavatina in a bathtub upstage, reading a screenplay, then emerged from the bubbles and into a quilted, purple bathrobe for the cabaletta. She interpolated fizzy triplets, meticulous grace notes, and improvised high notes to great effect after “subito languor.” The only tragedy was that the staging required her to sing half of the aria from the back of the stage.

Jarman’s dynamic chemistry with Dr. Malatesta (Alexey Lavrov), was so fast-paced that one had to pay close attention to fully appreciate it. Lavrov could be described as operatic eye candy at first glance, but it would only be half true. Exceedingly natural on stage, he sang the well-known larghetto cantabile, “Bella siccome un angelo,” with ease and surprising warmth in his upper and middle voice.

And what about the bass? Burak Bilgili was last seen in Atlanta as Frère Laurent in Romèo et Juliette, but he was much more fun this time around. The player who has been played, the character who lives among stacks of film reels and antiquated movie props, so endlessly nostalgic that he was literally black and white in this production, Bilgili’s Pasquale was brilliantly done. Bilgili was the lovable anchor of the show and of each ensemble—even when conductor Joseph Colaneri’s band got a bit unruly and made the singers work awfully hard to be heard at the end of Act II. The Turkish bass’s interpretation was an amalgamation of voice, movement, and comic verve. In the end, Donizetti’s hero was more than ready to release Norina from their fake union, taking up Mae West’s famous philosophy: “Marriage is a great institution – but I’m not ready for an institution.”  —Stephanie Adrian Review: Trumpeter Chris Botti seduces with jazzy pop mix in concert with Atlanta Symphony

In 2008, jazz trumpeter Chris Botti produced and recorded his Grammy-nominated concert recording, Chris Botti in Boston with the Boston Pops Orchestra. The formula was foolproof, featuring duets with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Lucia Micarelli and such pop icons as Sting, John Mayer and Steven Tyler. Known as a marathon performer who takes the stage some 280 days a year, Botti and his electric band have recently launched a new tour and will see concert venues in Warsaw and Westhampton Beach, San Francisco and Seattle among countless other cities this year.

Botti arrived at Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on Friday night in an attempt to recreate the alchemy he had found years ago in Boston, yet with a different ensemble of guest artists accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Albert-George Schram.

Playing on a 1939 Martin Committee Handcraft Large Bore, Botti opened with Ennio Morricone’s theme “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission in duet with violinist Caroline Campbell. Blonde and statuesque, Campbell is not only the first violinist in the Los Angeles-based Sonus Quartet, but is also a favorite collaborator for such illustrious artists as Andrea Bocelli and Barbra Streisand.

Appearing several times throughout the concert, Campbell’s playing is broad and at times fierce; she has impeccable intonation and executed string crossings and double stops with flair, prancing around the stage while playing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

Simultaneously regal and suggestive, Botti’s sound is what draws crowds. His clarity of tone is undeniable, but it’s not a burnished laser beam of sound he’s after. To the listener, it’s a luxurious blanket of sound that conjures a hint of nostalgia. Botti’s rendition of Joaquin Rodrigo’s “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” with Campbell and Brazilian guitarist Leonardo Amuedo summoned the audience’s attention and set the tone for a seamless, yet overly amplified first half that included Botti’s signature piece, “When I Fall In Love.”

He followed this with “For All We Know”and ”The Very Thought Of You,” sung by the effervescent R&B singer Sy Smith. Smith infused the night with her soulful brand of belting, delighting us as she easily popped up to whistle register. Later she and Botti jammed 18th-century style: singer vs. trumpet, trying to outdo each other in virtuosity and range.

A choppy, but somewhat exciting second half that featured drummer Lee Pearson in several exhaustive, polyrhythmic solo moments came to a close with a first-rate repertoire choice. The lights dimmed and only Botti and his pianist Geoffrey Keezer remained on stage to play “My Funny Valentine,” and we were at last able to imagine ourselves at the Blue Note Jazz Club rather than within a vast concert hall.

It was an intimate version owned completely by Botti, the framework of the melody there, but enhanced with alternate notes and embellishments alongside a wandering piano line. It was alchemy itself, a mysterious transformation of mood that only an artist like Botti can summon.

-Stephanie Adrian

In the May Issue of Opera News: Review of Maria de Buenos Aires at the Atlanta Opera


Atlanta Opera

PARIS AND THE MUSIC of Astor Piazzolla rendezvoused on February 4 at Atlanta’s Maison Rouge for the tango operita Maria de Buenos Aires. It was the latest offering in the Atlanta Opera’s Discoveries Series, general and artistic director Tomer Zvulun’s initiative to take the opera out of the opera house and explore more adventurous repertoire.

Maison Rouge is a shabby, slightly repulsive, venue that hosts wedding receptions as well as burlesque shows; it’s adorned with velvet, manikin body parts and mismatched light fixtures fitted with red light bulbs. When paired with the earthy tango music of Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer’s incoherent poetry, Maison Rouge was just seedy enough to transport the audience to the slums of Buenos Aires.

Operita (little opera) is an apt description for Piazzolla’s musical play that premiered at Sala Planeta in 1968—there’s only a little in the way of operatic singing that occurs during the eighty-minute opus. Maria gathers just two principal characters in addition to the title role: El Duende (Milton Loayza)—translated as “the troll”, he is actually an omniscient narrator who proclaims, rather than sings—and El Payador, Maria’s sympathetic lover. Luis Orozco sang the role of El Payador and possesses a youthful, but promising timbre that couldn’t be fully appreciated within the limited scope of Piazzolla’s vocal writing.

Maria de Buenos Aires is not plot-driven, but consists of fifteen numbers that loosely portray the tragic life of Maria, a courtesan who is seemingly the personification of the tango. Bathed in the plaintive organ sounds of a bandoneón, the audience is subjected to Piazzolla’s nuevo tango, a dream-like alchemy of jazz elements, chromaticism, and Argentina’s urban song.

Jorge Parodi conducted an intimate ensemble featuring bandoneón player Daniel Binelli, a friend and colleague of the late composer. And Zvulun directed the production, integrating a pair of tango dancers, Mariela Barufaldi and Jeremias Massera from Miami’s Tango Axis. The suggestive choreography of the tango, highlighted throughout, infused the Atlanta Opera’s production with an undeniable authenticity.

Just as Maria is killed on the bar top of Maison Rouge and later resurrected in the play, Piazzolla’s work has undergone a resurgence in Chicago, Cincinnati, and elsewhere. Columbian soprano Catalina Cuervo, now the foremost interpreter of Maria, sang this night in a chesty blend of quasi-recitative and belting. Cuervo seemed to embody Maria, erotic and lush sounding, even in the extreme low reaches of her range.

Maria de Buenos is not an opera per se; it’s Piazzolla’s attempt to add yet another layer— the human voice—to the sensuous tango of his native Argentina. Perplexing, engaging, and abstract, Maria is more than a woman, or even the personification of the tango. She is an instrument.  —Stephanie Adrian

www.ArtsATL Review: Vocalist Miah Persson improvises solo concert, brings life to Schumann’s songs of Clara

Swedish soprano Miah Persson and pianist Malcolm Martineau performed as a duo at Spivey Hall.

Every composer must have a muse, his raison d’être. For Robert Schumann that was Clara Wieck, the daughter of his piano teacher. Theirs was a forbidden romance, and Schumann’s longing for Clara manifested itself in both word and song. She pops up as a character named Beda in his highly narrative music criticism (The Editor’s Ball) and later when he reviewed a performance of her Soirées for Piano, Op. 6 in 1837, where he compared her composition to a bud before it breaks out into blossom.

But it was in 1840, the year of their long-awaited union, that Clara inspired in Robert a torrent of songs, including his wedding present for her, the song cycle “Frauenliebe und -leben” (“A Woman’s Love And Life”). On Saturday night at Clayton State University’s Spivey Hall, Swedish soprano Miah Persson and pianist Malcolm Martineau performed a recital of Schumann’s songs, embellished by a few other well-chosen selections by Clara Schumann and Edvard Grieg.

Spivey Hall was to be just one stop along the way on a U.S. tour for Persson and baritone Florian Boesch, but sickness prevented her duo partner from singing this night. No matter: Persson and Martineau improvised the evening’s programming with the piano solo “Träumerei” from Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” in addition to some rarely heard late works from his “Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart” and a few of his better-known Lieder such as “Mondnacht.”

Mozart roles — Susanna, Zerlina, Fiordiligi and Elvira — have been and remain the “bread and butter” of Persson’s career. While the programming for her Spivey Hall concert did not allow us to hear the full spectrum of her vocal ability or witness the spark of independent-mindedness that often characterizes Mozart heroines, the evening did reveal Persson’s proficiency and ability to sing an incomparable vocal line. Persson channeled a voix mixte that seamlessly bridged down into her substantial low voice, an endowment that undoubtedly won her soubrette roles early on in her career.

Persson opened with Edvard Grieg’s captivating Six Songs, Op. 48, a work that she recorded on disc with Roger Vignoles at Wigmore Hall. Grieg’s inspiration came from his wife Nina, a gifted pianist and singer, for whom he wrote all of his songs. The fourth song, “Die verschwiegene Nachtigall” (“The Secretive Nightingale”) was after a poem by Walther von der Vogelweide and exhibited the strophic, folk-like compositional flavor Grieg often showed. Persson executed lilting, melismatic figures with elegance, evoking the call of the nightingale — the little bird who witnessed her kissing her beloved in the woods.

Next came Schumann’s wedding gift, “Frauenliebe und -leben.” It was perhaps the most fluid rendition I have heard. Persson made some unexpected but smart phrasing choices from the first, delineating the youthful delight of a girl who moves from infatuation to radiant bride and expectant mother to grieving widow. Her life flashed before our eyes as Persson gave us consummate dynamic variation, thrilling with a pianissimo voice at choice moments. The richness and shadow in Persson’s voice for the final song, “Nun hast du mir den ersten schmerz getan” (“Now You Have Caused Me My First Pain”) created a feeling of tremendous sorrow. And Martineau’s ability to enchant and close each song with unspoken eloquence at the piano was quite something.

Robert Schumann’s muse Clara was a composer of songs too, but only saw 18 published during her lifetime. Persson and Martineau performed one of Clara’s jewels — “Liebst du um schönheit” (“If You Love For Beauty”) — which was written during the same year as “Frauenliebe und -leben” and published just two weeks after the birth of their first child. Although some scholars maintain that it has “an occasional master touch which is not hers,” one will never know. Regardless, it’s a song that begins simply and gains glorious intensity in the last stanza. Persson infused the song with both sincerity and luxurious sound, ultimately serving both Clara and the text.

In the February 2017 Issue of Opera News Online…Silent Night at the Atlanta Opera

Silent Night AO

Atlanta Opera

IN HONOR OF VETERAN’S DAY, Atlanta Opera offered Kevin Puts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Silent Night, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre (seen Nov. 5). Silent Night is a thoughtful opera with a libretto by Mark Campbell that recounts a Christmas Eve ceasefire on a Belgian battlefield during the first months of World War I.  Silent Night, which was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera New Works Initiative and debuted at the Ordway Theater in 2011, has seen subsequent performances at Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Philadelphia, Opéra de Montréal, and elsewhere.  Funded in part by a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Atlanta’s production was a collaboration with the the Wexford and Glimmerglass Festivals.

Silent Night is replete with dramatic and vocal possibilities.  Just a few years ago, this would have been too ambitious a project for Atlanta Opera, but now that the company has an orchestra that refines itself with each performance and an artistic vision that fuses traditional staging with cinematic scope, Atlantans were finally able to enjoy something new and unexpected.

The stage was set with a scrim upon which the names of 3,000 Georgia soldiers who served and died in World War I were projected, alongside the proclamation that all men are equal in death.  After a fluid prologue introducing us to key figures—opera singers Anna (Ava Pine) and Nikolaus (David Blalock) at the Berlin Opera, two brothers in a small Scottish church (Alexander Sprague and Andrew Pardini), and a young, married couple in a Paris apartment (Matthew Worth and Bryn Holdsworth)—the audience looked on as each pair learned of the war and prepared for their impending part within it.

Silent Night boasts a sizeable cast and Atlanta Opera cast several standout singers who had previous experience with Puts’s music.  Texas native Ava Pine recently sang the demanding role of Anna in Fort Worth; hers is a highly placed lyric voice that sounded particularly lovely in an a cappella rendition of “Dona Nobis Pacem” in Act I.  Dresden Semperoper veteran Alexander Hajek, one of the finest singers in the production, sang the role of Scottish officer Lieutenant Gordon in Montreal.  Hajek’s baritone voice is dulcet and well-matched to the warmth of his onstage persona.  In contrast, the imperious Craig Irvin sang the role of Lieutenant Horstmayer, rendering the most multifaceted character in the opera.

Puts is garnering attention as a vocal composer of note.  In Silent Night, Puts created a dream-like (and at times nightmarish) score appropriate to the great amount of sung dialogue within the opera.  Soundscapes colored the opera as well.  These were not bells tolling or shepherds singing—as Puccini imagined in his operas—but rather chimes, bombs, and gun fire.

Puts also incorporated a few formal set pieces such as the spell-binding aria “Blessés:  Grabert, Pierre…”, sung by the French Lieutenant Audebert (Matthew Worth), in which Audebert records the names the dead, wounded, and missing within his logbook.  Accompanied by a gentle ostinato, Worth, who also performed the role at the Wexford festival under the direction of Atlanta Opera’s Tomer Zvulun, accomplished the most memorable moment of the evening with a sumptuous vocal line that throbbed with remorse and memory.  The men’s chorus, soldiers divided by country of origin, was visible on a three-tiered concrete structure and eventually joined Worth singing an unaccompanied madrigal-like hymn in three languages.  Conductor Nicole Paiement led the singers and orchestra with staggering proficiency.

Aided by lighting designer Rober Wierzel, stage director Zvulun used these panoramic images individually and simultaneously throughout the evening in order to delineate moments of boredom or levity between the soldiers.  The set, designed by Erhard Rom, looked like a parking garage that had been snatched up from midtown Atlanta, a stark contrast to costume designer Vita Tzykun’s period uniforms that firmly grounded the action within the early twentieth century.  —Stephanie Adrian



In the January Edition of Opera News Online

Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Atlanta Operaabduction

AS ITS 2016-17 SEASON OPENER, the Atlanta Opera dusted off and conservatively re-invented Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 1782 Singspiel, The Abduction from the Seraglio, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre (seen Oct. 8). It’s a work that hasn’t been produced in Atlanta for at least a decade and was a perplexing—if undoubtedly elegant—choice, given the momentum that the company has gained in appealing to greater audiences during the last year. For all its virtues, Mozart’s Abduction is hardly a bring-down-the-house crowd pleaser; it does not boast the economy of means and dramatic poignancy of his trio of Da Ponte operas. Like a dinner party that lasts a bit too long, the conversation becomes dull after the big arias had come and gone.

The Atlanta Opera took great pains to engage its audience—even supplying the dialogue in English—but lagging tempos from conductor Arthur Fagen were an undeniable problem; with a single intermission in Act II, the evening lasted for three hours. Fagen got things moving after intermission with Blonde’s aria “Welche Wonne welche Lust,” sung by perky soubrette Katrina Galka, and tenor Matthew Grills’s ensuing “Vivat Bacchus,” in which Pedrillo succeeds in inebriating his rival Osmin (Kevin Burdette). Stage director Chris Alexander created a nice contrast between the silliness of these stock characters and their more distinguished counterparts, Konstanze and Belmonte.

Artistic director Tomer Tvulun has a knack for choosing proficient singers and his casting of Bliss –winner of the zarzuela prize at Operalia 2013– as Belmonte was spot on. Bliss’s initial aria, “Hier soll ich dich denn sehen” was steady and limpid and his characterization refined. The lovely soprano Sarah Coburn sang the role of Konstanze, and paced herself well vocally. Her back-to-back arias, the sustained and fragile-sounding “Traurigkeit” and the ensuing “Martern aller Arten,” were both impressively done.

Zvulun also brought back Burdette, last season’s popular Pirate King, to sing Osmin. Burdette is a fine singer and an ever better actor, who has the ability to ham up every scene with riveting choreography. However, the role of Osmin, first sung by Karl Ludwig Fisher, requires hefty low notes that Burdette lacks. Osmin’s comical duet with Blonde in Act II, “Ich gehe, doch rate ich dir,” wasn’t quite as funny without the A flat at the bottom as it’s a vocal line that Blonde later mocks with her own A flat. Yet despite that shortcoming, it was Burdette’s sense of comedy that carried the evening and enlivened what could have been a forgettable Abduction from the Seraglio.

Jacob Climer, scenic and costume designer, conceived the production’s visually stunning smorgasbord of costumes, which included a pink-tinged powdered wig and ruffled gown for Konstanze and an eye-popping purple eighteenth-century suit for Belmonte. Climer’s set then consisted of a massive 8 x 14-foot gilded frame suspended in the center of the Cobb Energy Performing Art Centre’s grand proscenium stage. It was used as a silent movie screen to tell the story of Konstanze’s kidnapping by pirates during the orchestral overture, as a multi-colored backdrop that transformed as needed, and as a miniature stage. The action that took place within this slighter space was most effective. It was as if the smaller scale was better-suited to the intimate quality of Mozart’s Singspiel.  —Stephanie Adrian

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From the July Issue of Opera News Online: AO’s Romeo and Juliet

Roméo et Juliette

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Atlanta Opera

ON MAY 7, the Atlanta Opera offered Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, rounding out its 2015-16 season. Atlanta’s opera company, which achieved the highest-grossing production in its history this spring with Pirates of Penzance, made a significant investment in its casting for Roméo, enlisting the talent of soprano Nicole Cabell and tenor Jesús León for the title roles.

Artistic and general director Tomer Zvulun served as stage director for this production, choosing a John Conklin set based on the historic Globe Theatre that was originally conceived for Glimmerglass Opera. The multi-tiered set was functional for Zvulun’s staging and allowed for entrances and exits on many levels as well as diverse stage business in the chorus scenes that could take place simultaneously. In one instance during Act III, soprano Sandra Piques Eddy sang a warm-voiced rendition of Stephano’s chanson “Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle” on the street as we witnessed a pantomime of “Death and the Maiden” inside the Globe. The tidy set also lent to easy transitions between acts and with only one intermission and a few unfortunate cuts—including the cello prelude before the fourth act—Romeo and Juliet finished in just under three hours.

Cabell, last heard as Pamina in AO’s production of The Magic Flute, was able to flaunt her considerable vocal skill as the ill-fated Juliette. Hers was an energetic, slightly anxious Juliette that never compromised her ability to produce a perfectly-executed phrase. Conductor Arthur Fagen kept tempos brisk and both “Je veux vivre” and the air “Amour ranime mon courage” were impressively dynamic. Cabell’s honeyed, slightly muted soprano complemented León’s sweet tenor, which shimmers with a tight, even vibrato, more chiaro than scuro. Indeed León’s bel canto singing was breathtaking in “Ah! Lève-toi.” The pair sounded idyllic as Gounod’s star-crossed lovers, yet their onstage alchemy was lacking. León’s Romeo seemed shy and demure alongside Cabell’s more assertive Juliette.

No Roméo et Juliette is complete without its cast of Capulets and Montagues, here smartly costumed in striking Victorian garb by Atlanta Opera’s designer Joanna Schmink. Edward Parks was hard to ignore as the hulking, hefty-voiced Mercutio. His rival Tybalt was the petite lyric tenor Santiago Ballerini. Cindy Sadler sang an agreeable Nurse Gertrude, her contralto voice lovely to hear. And Turkish bass Burak Bilgili gave an innocuous, but well-sung performance of Friar Laurence, the man who provides Romeo and Juliet with a means of escape and ultimately their undoing. —Stephanie Adrian