From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Seattle Part III

by Jonathan Pell

Well, Alwyn Mellor’s “vocal allergy” was later diagnosed as a viral infection, and she had to cancel last night’s performance.  At least the audience who came for this first of Seattle’s RING cycles (of three) had the pleasure of hearing her impressive Seattle debut in DIE WALKUERE on Monday evening.

I doubt if anyone in the audience could have been too disappointed, though, since understudy Lori Phillips rose to the challenge magnificently.  With weeks of observing rehearsals she knew the blocking, but with little musical rehearsal and absolutely no time with the orchestra or the conductor, this was an impressive feat. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Seattle Part II

by Jonathan Pell

Last night’s performance of Wagner’s SIEGFRIED was filled with surprises, both expected and unplanned.  The physical production is still breathtaking (scenery by Thomas Lynch, costumes by the late Martin Pakledinaz and lighting by Peter Kaczorowski), and the singing at a remarkably high level.  German tenor Stefan Vinke in his Seattle debut sang the title role with great conviction and seemingly endless vocal stamina.  The surprise here was his committed acting, an asset I don’t remember from my previous encounter with him singing this role in Robert Carsen’s production from Cologne and Venice.  This must be attributed to both his maturity as an artist (although he still looks believably boyish) and to stage director Stephen Wadsworth.  Particularly notable was the scene with “Siegfried” cutting reeds to try to imitate the call of the Forest Bird.  I cannot recall this scene ever played so broadly, but the laughs were genuine and the audience loved it.

The unplanned surprise, and it was a thrilling one, was the last minute replacement of soprano Alwyn Mellor as “Bruennhilde.”  Miss Mellor, who had been so effective on Monday night in DIE WALKUERE, had apparently awakened yesterday with some sort of vocal allergy.  In order to preserve herself for Friday’s GOETTERDAEMMERUNG and the remaining two cycles, she decided to withdraw from last night’s performance late yesterday afternoon.  Since the character doesn’t appear until the last twenty minutes or so of the opera, general director Speight Jenkins didn’t have an announcement made until just before the beginning of Act III.

The audience was slightly alarmed, but they needn’t have been.  The “cover” or understudy, Lori Phillips, had a triumph in the role.  Lori, who was one of the valkyries when Dallas Opera last did DIE WALKUERE, was magnificent.  She also sang the role of the mother the last time Dallas Opera did HANSEL AND GRETEL, but last night’s performance in Seattle was one of those nights where the understudy goes on and becomes a star!  At least I hope that this is what happens…

Lori’s identical twin sister is mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips, who was so wonderful two seasons ago as “Brangaene” in the Dallas Opera’s production of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, and also appeared at Dallas Opera in DIE WALKUERE, as well as Handel’s ARIODANTE and Lee Hoiby’s THE TEMPEST.

I don’t know what their parents fed them growing up, but whatever it was, it turned them into extraordinary singers.

The rest of the cast last night was very good, too, including Greer Grimsley’s “Wanderer” and Richard Paul Fink’s “Alberich.”  Richard was the “Alberich” in the Dallas Opera RING, and he continues to give a remarkable performance as this unsavory character, both physically and vocally.

Asher Fisch led a taut performance from the pit, and managed to keep the piece from seeming as long as it is!

This RING cycle comes to an end on Friday, and we’ll just have to wait and see what surprises are in store!

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Seattle

by Jonathan Pell

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The curtain call from last night’s DIE WALKUERE in Seattle

Two down and two to go—I am halfway through the Seattle RING cycle, and so far it has been a terrific journey!  This RING is the last one produced by Seattle Opera’s long time general director Speight Jenkins (originally from Dallas, by the way) and a fitting tribute to his thirty years here.

This is a sumptuous production, with hyper-realistic scenery designed by Thomas Lynch, and detailed, naturalistic acting wonderfully staged by Stephen Wadsworth.  It is in almost every way the diametric opposite of other recent RING cycles, which have been abstracted or pigeon-holed into “concept” productions, which however intellectually stimulating, often fall short of telling the story in a comprehensible way. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell

by Jonathan Pell

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Tenor Sean Panikkar, “Cassio” TDO Otello 09
Karen Almond, Photo Credit

I have heard that some of my loyal readers have been wondering where I have been this summer since there haven’t been any postings since the beginning of July.

Well, I should report that I just returned from the Galapagos Islands, where I was auditioning sea lions and marine iguanas, but honestly, don’t expect any of them to appear on stage at the Winspear Opera House any time soon.

I head off this weekend to Seattle and Speight Jenkins’ last Ring cycle as general director of that company.  He retires at the end of this season after thirty years with the Seattle Opera, and this promises to be a memorable production of Wagner’s magnum opus.

It boasts what looks “on paper” to be a wonderful cast and has a brilliant conductor, so I am really looking forward to going.

On another subject, I don’t know how many of you are addicted to watching this summer’s number one TV hit, America’s Got Talent on NBC, but this year there is a particularly interesting participant. Continue reading →

From the Artistic Desk of Jonathan Pell – Venice

by Jonathan Pell

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The chandelier in the auditorium of the Teatro la fenice.

I have come to Venice for a few days and attended performances of MADAME BUTTERFLY with different casts on successive nights.

This new production was abstract and highly stylized, with a white cyclorama that also covered the stage floor, sort of like an old fashion photographer’s backdrop. In Act I there were three large white stones on the ground (to suggest a zen garden perhaps) and suspended in the air was a large ceramic looking sculpture that looked like a treble clef, or maybe a figure eight. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Florence Part II

by Jonathan Pell

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The interior of the Teatro della pergola in Florence

The last few days have been very rewarding—I have heard more than 100 singers from 30 countries, and attended a performance of Verdi’s original 1847 version of MACBETH (which I had never had an opportunity to hear “live”) in the very theatre in which it premiered, Florence’s  Teatro della pergola.

It is a charming little opera house with fewer than 1,000 seats and superb acoustics.  Since the company moved to the larger (and more modern) Teatro comunale in the 1960′s, opera performances in the Pergola are rare, and this felt like a great privilege.

The production, part of the annual festival known as the Maggio musicale (which in spite of the name extends past May well into June)  was by British director Graham Vick.  It was a “modern” production and had a sort of MAD MEN feel (imagine Don and Betty Draper as Mr. and Mrs. MacBeth) and was extremely clever if not altogether persuasive.  The witches in their scenes were streetwalkers strung out on drugs, and the ghostly apparitions that haunt MacBeth were also brought on by the use of illegal substances. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Florence Part I

by Jonathan Pell

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View of Florence from the Palazzo Pitti

I am in Italy for the European NYIOP auditions, and just finished hearing the second day of preliminary auditions, where a panel of nearly twenty opera companies from around the world heard more than fifty singers from twenty-five countries.  These auditions were held in a rehearsal room at the Teatro Comunale, but the finals tomorrow and Tuesday will actually be on stage in the theatre.

My colleagues and I (including representatives from the Metropolitan Opera and the Canadian Opera, two of North America’s largest companies, as well as representatives from a number of smaller houses both in the United States and abroad) come to these auditions every summer in hope of discovering the stars of tomorrow.

There were two or three standouts so far, but I don’t want to make any conclusive judgments until I hear them on stage over the next couple of days.

I was also able to attend a concert performance of Donizetti’s MARIA STUARDA which was presented as part of the annual Maggio Musicale Festival, starring the legendary Italian soprano Mariella Devia.  Mariella made her Dallas Opera debut in 1985 as “Adina” in another Donizetti opera, THE ELIXIR OF LOVE.  Nearly thirty years later she still commands the stage and sings with impeccable technique.  She is in her early sixties now, but still sings extraordinarily well.  Brava Mariella!

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, St. Louis Part II

by Jonathan Pell

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Photo Credit Ken Howard

Last night was the opening night of New Orleans jazz trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard’s first opera CHAMPION, with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Michael Cristofer, and based on the life of prize fighter Emile Griffith.  To borrow a sports term, it was a knockout! Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, St Louis Part I

by Jonathan Pell

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is celebrating their 38th season, and remains the only American opera company devoted to performing all their productions in English.  The company performs in a theatre that seats about 1,000 people so there is a tremendous sense of intimacy and immediacy which can be extraordinary.

The first production I attended on Thursday evening was the novel pairing of two one act verismo operas more usually seen with other pieces—Puccini’s IL TABARRO (THE CLOAK) and Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI. Continue reading →

From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, Toronto – Part II

by Jonathan Pell

Getting up at 3:30 this morning to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight in order to get back to Dallas in time for this afternoon’s matinee at the Dallas Symphony was a challenge, but fortunately yesterday’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the Canadian Opera was a late afternoon matinee!

The production was staged by David Alden and originally created for English National Opera a couple of years ago.  It was set in a moldering Victorian insane asylum, and had an eerie Dickensian feel.  It may not have been faithful to the various locales indicated in Cammerano’s libretto, but it all had a certain theatrical logic that made for a riveting theatrical experience. Continue reading →