Artists like Maria Callas and Vladimir Horowitz seemed to possess as part of their formidable arsenals a kind of palpable risk-taking. Could he actually play it that fast? Could she really get the high note? Alexandra Deshorties is one of these artists. Her performance in the title role of Glimmerglass Festival Opera’s Medea was a real thrill-ride. She entered barely audible, and she made us listen. More than once it seemed like the role was a little much for her. But then it wasn’t. Was this consciously done? Whatever it was, it made the first act of the opera riveting, not just the end. If a word doesn’t make a beautiful sound, she doesn’t compel her voice to make a beautiful sound. Her way of gesturing, equally unpredictable, produced visible responses in the audience members around me. In short, this is my kind of singer.
Nicholas McGegan and his merry band of singers and instrumentalists rolled into Tanglewood on Tuesday night (August 16) to wrap up their tour of Handel’s great opera Orlando after taking it to Germany, Chicago, and New York City. The wear and tear of a tour were nowhere evident in their joyful presentation of music and theatrics—the performers still sounded like they were in the thrall of first love with this rich and rewarding score. The only member of the cast who seemed droopy was the Orlando of Clint van der Linde, and this was clearly the persona that he adopted for the misanthropic hero who seems to have lost touch with his inner Achilles. We had to wait for the mad scene late in the second act to see him take charge of the stage; then, if there had been any scenery, he would have chewed it up.
This is the third year of BEMF’s wonderful new institution of annual chamber opera performances. These not only help us get through the alternate years, when there is no main festival in June, nor any full opera production, they set a standard for authenticity and for the imaginative recreation of centuries-old practices and aesthetics in such a way that an audience of cultivated non-experts can enjoy the performance and walk away exhilarated. This was certainly the mood in late November last year, when BEMF turned to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. None of the other chamber operas produced so far is particularly obscure — not John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, nor Charpentier’s Actéon, nor Handel’s Acis and Galatea. On the contrary, they are central to the history of the genre, and they are performed, although not very often. This year’s offering, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, is the most popular pre-Mozart opera of all. It fills the needs of conservatories, young sopranos or mezzos, as well as ageing divas, who wish to apply their wisdom to the tragic Queen of Carthage. We have reviewed a number of modest, but very successful productions in the Review over the past year or so.