Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto was plagued by politics at its inception. Based on Victor Hugo’s (banned) play Le roi s’amuse, about a licentious king, the opera required considerable negotiation with the imperial Austrian censors before it could be performed in Austrian-controlled Venice. The King was demoted to a Duke, and the action moved to medieval Mantua (whose ducal family, the Gonzagas, had conveniently died out by the 19th century).
Hong Kong’s Musica Viva has incrementally moved from one full opera production per year—in December—to two. If this recent production of Mozart’s comic masterpiece is any indication, the smaller production in late September featuring entirely local singers has, over the past couple of years, matured and is hitting its stride.
The 2019 editions of Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg during the 136th Wagner Festival in Bayreuth were reminders why the Festival is famous for outstanding singing and controversial staging.
By focusing on young singers, Opera Hong Kong’s summer semi-staged productions serve as one of the better crystal balls on Hong Kong’s operatic development. These late-August performances are the college basketball to the larger productions of the operatic NBA in the Spring and Fall, in which, if one is lucky, excitement and atmosphere can more than compensate for the occasional youthful lack of polish.
Asian Review of Books editor Peter Gordon was named “Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia” (“Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy”) at a ceremony in Hong Kong on 3 June.
The harpsichord may be the quintessential European instrument, each touch of the keys evoking powered wigs and sedan chairs. It never really went global as did the piano or violin. One might not therefore expect someone like Tehran-born Mahan Esfahani to be one of the instrument’s premier modern exponents.
One can make a case for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni being the best opera ever written. There is Mozart’s inimitable music, of course, but also the story, at once irrepressible and and morally-nuanced, perky yet profound. Yet, with two 90-minute acts, it can sometimes drag. But not on this opening night.