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I haven't read Ann Patchett's popular novel "Bel Canto". So I have no idea whether the musical and theatrical overload of the opera version, which is currently having its world premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago, reflects the style of Ms. Patchett's writing or that of composer Jimmy López and librettist Nilo Cruz.

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Gilbert and Sullivan operettas follow a fairly predictable format—so much so that Anna Russell once made it the basis for a sixteen-minute comedy routine on "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Opera." The one oddball in the G&S canon is "Yeomen of the Guard," a somewhat indifferent production of which opened Winter Opera's current season the weekend of October 30th.

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This weekend, Union Avenue Opera concludes its 22nd season with "Götterdämmerung" ("Twilight of the Gods"), the final installment of the most ambitious project in the company's history—Wagner's mammoth operatic cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen" ("The Ring of the Nibelung"). It's a strong production, thanks to tremendous performances by the singers and clear, focused stage direction by Karen Coe Miller.

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Union Avenue Opera is following up on its highly praised "Don Giovanni" with an impressive production of Verdi's 1851 tragedy, "Rigoletto." From the ominous brass fanfares that open the prelude to Rigoletto's final despairing howl of "La maledizione" ("the curse"), Tim Ocel's knowing direction drives this "Rigoletto" to its tragic conclusion with the relentless energy of a runaway train.

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From the moment that Scott Schoonover raised his baton to invoke that incredible athletic overture it was re-confirmed to me that "Don Giovanni" is indeed the zenith of 18th Century opera. 

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New operas can be a crapshoot, but San Francisco Opera has pretty much rolled up a winner with "Two Women" ("La Ciociara"), running through the end of June. Based on the 1958 novel "La Ciociara" by Alberto Moravia (and "informed by" Luca Rossi's screenplay for De Sica's famous 1960 film, "Two Women"), the libretto by Fabio Ceresa and composer Marco Tutino could use a bit of fine-tuning, but the lush neo-romantic score is filled with wonderful stuff.

Published in Theater Reviews
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 17:19

In San Francisco, a big Berlioz blockbuster

"Once in a Lifetime!" proclaims the poster for the San Francisco Opera's lavish production of Hector Berlioz's mammoth 1858 drama "Les Troyens" ("The Trojans"). For many of us in the Music Critics Association of North America attending the June 12th performance as part of our annual conference, that was the literal truth. Which still put us one up on Berlioz.

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Puccin's romantic drama "La Rondine" was something of a problem child for the composer. Opera Theatre's utterly splendid production of the original 1917 version (there are thee altogether) illustrates the issue: Giuseppe Adami's clunker of a libretto. As beautifully sung, impeccably acted, intelligently directed, and generally entertaining as this "La Rondine" is, there's just no getting around those words.

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Stage director Michael Shell, conductor Ryan McAdams, and the cast of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' "Barber of Seville" can all congratulate themselves on a job well done. Kelley Rourke's translation/adaptation of the original libretto and Mr. Shell's visual concepts take a few liberties as they move the action up to (roughly) the mid-1960s, but I felt that none of them violated the intentions of either the original opera or, for that matter, the Beaumarchais play that started it all. The result it a loopy, slightly surreal, and highly engaging take this comic opera classic.

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In the hands of a lesser composer, "Aida" might have been a classic potboiler—cheap yard goods written on commission and quickly forgotten. But Verdi was a thoroughgoing man of the theatre with a keen sense of what worked on stage. Moreover, by the time he wrote "Aida" in 1870 he was a mature artist with a string of hits to his credit. The result is a work, in the words of British opera scholar Julian Budden, "in which the various elements—grandeur, exotic pictorialism, and intimate poetry—are held in perfect equilibrium and from which not a single note can be cut."

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