http://opera.stanford.edu, Monday, 08-Dec-2003
"Former San Jose diva Eilana Lappalainen plays operatic femme fatale
San Francisco Opera's summer Femmes Fatales Festival presents a fascinating trio of women for whom men have an obsessive, often fatal attraction. Of the three -- Carmen in Bizet's Carmen, Poppea in Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea and Lulu in Alban Berg's Lulu -- only Poppea survives. Carmen seemingly could escape death, but instead yields to what she sees as her fate. Lulu, too, seems destined for an unhappy demise, but in Lulu she might not have as much control as her two SFO sisters.
By Alban Berg
Presented by San Francisco Opera
At the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA
Conducted by Stefan Lano
Directed by Lotfi Mansouri
Reviewed by Judy Richter
In Berg's libretto, based on two Frank Wedekind plays, Earth Spirit and Pandora's Box, the amoral Lulu is a victim of her own nature -- a woman who is solely defined by men, named by them and almost totally dependent upon them for protection. Although she is the object of their adoration, she's incapable of truly loving any of them. In fact, she seems indifferent save for what they can do for her. SFO General Director Lotfi Mansouri's production stresses these aspects of her character, making for an intriguing evening of music-theater.
Soprano Eilana Lappalainen's performance supports this concept of Lulu. Sporting a Jean Harlow-like wig and wearing Bob Mackie's alluring costumes, she embodies the child-woman who's fully aware of her powers but perhaps unaware or unheeding of their destructiveness and probably powerless to be any different than she is. Of all the men who try to possess her, she seems to care for only two: Dr. Schön, her longtime protector; and Schigolch, the old man who serves as a father figure to her and the only man she's willing to help.
There are two genuinely decent people in her life: Alwa, Schön's son, who has loved her since childhood; and Countess Geschwitz, a lesbian who risks her life for Lulu's sake yet receives only shabby treatment in return. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade is a magnificent Geschwitz. Eschewing any mannish mannerisms, she makes the countess a noble, sympathetic character. Von Stade's legendary voice maintains its luster, its mesmerizing musicality.
Although no one else in the cast has her star power, everyone performs well. Lappalainen handles her vocally and dramatically taxing role with skill. Although her singing may not be as spectacular as that of her SFO predecessor, Ann Panagulias, who created such a sensation in Mansouri's 1989 production, her singing seems more effortless. Hence Lappalainen seems freer to concentrate on dramatic subtleties.
Baritone Tom Fox as Schön, tenor Christopher Lincoln as Alwa and bass Franz Mazura as Schigolch all create strong portraits of their characters, as does baritone David Okerlund as the Acrobat, one of Lulu's less scrupulous admirers. Okerlund also is an imposing Animal Trainer as he introduces the characters and compares them to animals in a circus.
Günther Schneider-Siemssen's set design reinforces the circus atmosphere with its ropes and cages. Costumes by the aforementioned Mackie also make a strong contribution, along with Michael Whitfield's lighting design. Conductor Stefan Lano, in his SFO debut, skillfully guides the orchestra and singers through Berg's complex, 12-note, atonal score, helping the audience to appreciate the work's artistry.
Special mention goes to the filmed interlude between the two scenes of Act 2. Depicting the events that follow Lulu's killing Schön, it is a virtual reality production produced and directed by Linda Schaller and devised by Tim Schaller in association with a team of artists. It, too, enhances the production.
Metroactive, San Jose, June 4-10, 1998
"Former San Jose diva Eilana Lappalainen plays operatic femme fatale
By Michael J. Vaughn
THE ONE SINGER most likely to graduate from Opera San José's first decade to become an international star had to be soprano Eilana Lappalainen. Blessed with striking good looks, natural stage presence, a huge voice and a name better sung than spoken (ay-LAW-nah LOP-puh-LIE-nen, 3/4 time, allegro), the Finnish girl from Toronto was headed places from the beginning.
Lappalainen returns to the Bay Area this month as an officially proclaimed femme fatale, playing Alban Berg's Lulu in San Francisco Opera's Femmes Fatales Festival. The performance also marks her debut in the hallowed confines of the War Memorial Opera House, which was still being renovated when she appeared with San Francisco Opera in 1996, singing Rosalinda in Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus at the Civic Auditorium.
"The Femmes Fatale thing is rather interesting," says Lappalainen, seated at the southernmost of a hundred tables in the War Memorial's cavernous buffet room. "I have Bob Mackie designing my costumes! I went down to the shop the other day for a fitting, and I came out as Jean Harlow."
When asked about her own femme fatale-ity, the former Miss Santa Clara County breaks into her running theme: It's all about the work. "People see something from a distance--and a lot of people never traveled anywhere in the world--so yes, being an international opera singer is a little exotic," she says. "I'm not going to change their perception for them. But I've never tried to be anything other than what I am. I focus on my work. If I didn't sing Lulu, then Bob Mackie wouldn't be making my dresses."
The story goes that sometime in the late '70s, mezzo-soprano Irene Dalis, recently retired from the Metropolitan Opera, was invited to a colleague's house to hear a pretty 16-year-old blonde from San Jose's Leland High School. The girl sang an aria from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Delila. Dalis immediately called voice teacher (and future Opera San José music director) David Rohrbaugh and said, "I want you to hear someone." So when did Dalis know that Lappalainen was going to be a star?
"Almost from day one," Dalis replies. "She had so many qualities that you can't teach. She's a singing actress; she has that innate ability to make direct contact with the audience. What she had besides was total commitment. She could make music out of anything, and she's the type that is never satisfied with herself."
Dalis' San Jose State University Opera Workshop evolved into Opera San José in 1984, and four years later, Lappalainen became, with baritone Douglas Nagel, one of Opera San José's first resident artists. During the next four seasons, the soprano sang a remarkable 16 roles, and became San Jose's second diva.
San Jose's first diva is careful not to take too much credit, however, for her student's subsequent success. "We sent her out into the world with a lot of tools," says Dalis. "She is, however, the kind of performer who was going to make it with us or without us. I've told her over and over, 'Eilana, you're going to be our claim to fame.' "
WHEN HER RESIDENCY ended in 1992, Lappalainen headed for Mexico City, where she played Cio-Cio-San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly and camped out in Maria Callas' old dressing room. The years since have included performances in the U.S., Canada, Finland, Poland and Germany, where she currently resides outside Berlin and performs with the Anhaltisches Theater Dessau.
For a hard-working, challenge-driven soprano, nothing could be finer than Lulu. Berg's opera is written with Arnold Schoenberg's infamous 12-tone row, which throws out standard scales, allows equal weight to all 12 tones within an octave--and gives singers migraines. The opera also demands that the prima donna remain onstage for most of its nearly four-hour length.
"I'll never sing anything more difficult than this," says Lappalainen, pulling a prerehearsal diet soda out of her bag and offering me half. Then she chuckles. "She sings duets with everyone, because they're all her lovers. And even when I have a break, it's not a break--it's a costume change. There are 10 to 11 costume changes."
The light at the end of Lappalainen's tunnel is Lulu herself, whom she calls the most developed character she's ever performed. "They often make femmes fatales into bad women, but really they're just women who gain attraction. Lulu was an orphan, rescued from the streets at age 13, and she survived through the help of men. She didn't know what right and wrong were. These men around me love me, but they don't love me--they see an image. It's interesting, too, that each of her lovers calls her by a different name, but only she called herself Lulu. So who really cared about Lulu?""
LA TRAVIATA, Violetta
Neue Zeit, Berlin
"With consummate intensity and fragile tenderness Eilana Lappalainen marks the drive for life and freedom of Violetta in Dessau's production of 'La Traviata'."
The Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Lappalainen's voice is an elegant instrument of great musical and emotional flexibility, effortlessly tracing Verdi's highly decorative vocal lines, turning within a single phrase from bliss to desperation, from contemplation to artifice. Her performance of Violetta's 'Sempre libera' is an opera in itself."
San Jose Mercury News
"Eilana Lappalainen repeated her Violetta of June 1985 in OSJ's inaugural season, this time getting the over-singing and producing round, lovely pianissimi in the finale. Her coloratura is clear and her high C is tingling."
MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Cio Cio San
The Spectator, Ontario
"EILANA'S BEAUTIFUL VOICE CAPTURES MADAMA BEST"
"EILANA LAPPALAINEN sings a Madama Butterfly that breaks your heart. Lappalainen was superb. Her voice was thrilling, she acted with total conviction and she looked marvellous. Her aria Un bel di stopped the show, of course, but there were many other less-heralded moments such as her high, pure pianissimo form way offstage that made the hair stand up on end."
"In the title role was teh brilliant soprano Eilana Lappalainen with a wonderfully beautiful voice, immaculate technique and great strength of expression. She dominated the demanding role to perfection, with increasing intensity through to the final scene."
"Eilana Lappalainen, an American (of Finnish descent) sang the title role, at one time sung with splendor by Lisa della Casa
and Elisabeth Schwarzkpf, with pleasing nuance with this important atmospheric vical work. In a beautiful cultivated mezza-voce, her young dramatic voice rang forth in the duet 'Und du sollst mein Gebieter sein."
Tiempo Libre, Mexico City
"In I Pagliacci, soprano Eilana Lappalainen's singing filled the auditorium with her stupendous Nedda in which her voice was potent and very beautiful."
El Nacional, Mexico City
"Similarly, soprano Eilana Lappalainen as Nedda, possessed excellent diction and acting abilities, we had seen her earlier in the difficult role of Madama Butterfly where she was victorious. These two sopranos (Sharon Graham) possessed the best voices in the production."
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Lucia
San Jose Metro
"Opera San José's Lucia di Lammermoor breathes abundant life into this time-honored repertoire...bolstered with acting and ensemble work of an especially high order. Nowhere is this excellence more evident than in Eilana Lappalainen's portrayal of Lucia, a consummate grafting of character nuance and sterling vocalism. From her entrance as a starry-eyed ingenue, secretly engaged to the dashing Edgardo, to her disintegration into a delirious newlywed, Lappalainen's transformation maintains absolute emotional integrity."
San Fransisco Examiner
"Lappalainen's timbre is bright and appealing, and she evinces no trouble in soaring through the stratospheric demands of the Mad Scene."
San Jose Mercury News
"The sparks flew and crackled Saturday night in one of Opera San José's most intensely theatrical productions...lyric soprano Eilana Lappalainen negotiated all the high notes and coloratura effectively and showed promise of growing into that challenging Mad Scene, too. This role plumbs her versatality, plunging the listener into that gaunt tradegy right from her spellbinding, many-faceted Regnava nell silenzio."
LA BOHEME, Mimi
San Fransisco Chronicle
"Eilana Lappalainen, as Mimi, provided a powerful, clear soprano, steady of pitch and incisively produced...for the emotionally crucial third act she was able to provide a musical portrait of the heroine that was both gentle and assertive...her final demise was enormously affecting."
The Virginian Pilot
"The most memorable singer was soprano Eilana Lappalainen, who gave the country girl Micaela a large, warm voice with ample vibrato and true intonation."
LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Countess Almaviva
San Jose Mercury News
"As usual, Eilana Lappalainen was teh best thing on stage. Herbeautiful voice and her classic stage presence make her the star no matter what role she fills. Lappalainen is the jewel in Opera San José's crown."
"The gripping opening-night performance in the city's intimate Montgomery Theater, drew the audiance into the unfolding tragedy. The first of two alternating casts featured Eilana Lappalainen, a darting flame of a Tosca, with a soaring dramatic soprano in search of a larger hall."
San Fransisco Chronicle
"Tosca had a great success at Saturday's opening...Eilana Lappalainen had the fire and notes for the role, and she certainly is the prettiest Tosca to come down the pike in a long time."
LES PECHEURS DE PERLES, Leïla
San Francisco Examiner
"Soprano Eilana Lappalainen brought a sumptuous, well-schooled voice to the character of Leïla, the priestess at the apex of the triangle. Her rich tone, smooth legato and agile coloratura conspired to make some enchanting singing, and she distinguished herself among her colleagues by shaping phrases, molding arias and pacing her role with conviction. Lappalainen's Comme autre-fois dans la nuit sombre was, besides the evening's high point, singing that would have graced any stage."
THE MERRY WIDOW, Valencienne
San Jose Mercury News
"Soprano Eilana Lappalainen made a ravishing, scene-stealing Valencienne who could sing and move with equal facility in the sexy, leggy can-can dance -- surely a first."
The Spectator - NOW Life/Entertainment
Tuesday, September 28, 1993
A talk with Eilana
Soprano Eilana Lappalainen's musical career has taken her around the world and currently has her hanging her hat here with Opera Hamilton. During a break from her lead role in Lucia di Lammermoor, she chats with music writer Hugh Fraser.
A dream on the edge
Opera singer tells of pressure-packed life
by Hugh Fraser - The Spectator
THERE IS a phrase that soprano Eilana Lappalainen keeps close to her heart.
It helps in tmies of stress. Like a mantra of sorts.
She learned it one day when life had become too much. She phoned the only person who'd understand, another opera singer.
After tutting sympathetically through the tale of woe, the friend said, "Just think, Eilana: You are living your dream."
They both had a good laugh, but the words "You are living your dream" helped then and they continue to help.
"This is a pressure lifestyle," says Lappalainen with a smile. You live on the edge all the time. Just singing Lucia is living on the edge."
And singing Lucia she is. It's the title role of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
It's Opera Hamilton's latest production that opened at Hamilton Place on the weekend and continues Thursday and Saturday.
Lappalainen's operatic dream began as a young girl visiting her grandmother in Peterborough for Christmas.
Her elder sister was slated to play a piano piece in church and Eilana insisted she wanted to sing O Holy Night.
Jaws sagged at the sound and it was obvious to all that here was a voice worth developing. But it wasn't until she was 16 and in high school in California, where the Lappalainen family had moved from Toronto, that opera took over from musical comedy.
"My high school piano and violin teachers tried to expand my horizons by giving me books of opera arias and I remember one that I learned on the piano."
"It was My Heart At Thy Sweet Voice", Lappalainen recalls. "They gave me a recording of it and the first time I heard it, I cried."
She played it for her mother and said: "This is what I'm going to do. We both cried, then."
The teachers introduced her to Irene Dalis, a retired opera singer and founder of North America's only repertory opera house, the San Jose Opera.
"Before she even heard me sing, she talked to me for two hours. She asked about everything: religion, music, education, personal relationships, marriage, children. She asked if I could be alone, as this is a very lonely profession."
"You study, yuo work on your voice, the acting, the details and all of a sudden one day you are traveling aroun, you're on stage, everything has changed and you have no home. You are a opera singer and you think: 'How did I get here'?"
Still a teenager when she joined the San Jose Opera, Lappalainen is now in her late 20's, remarkably young to be doing the roles she so excells in. Roles to which she brings an enormous intensity.
"I am learning life through singing these roles," she says. "And I am intense, on and off stage. On stage the intensity is perfect. Off stage it may be a curse."
"I remember being asked in an interview how does one get to feel comfortable on stage? And I was almost embarrassed, because on stage is where I feel at home."
Arts & Entertainment
Soprano makes her Ottawa debut
by Jean Southworth
Eilana Lappalainen says she likes the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor because it's a "vocal vehicle" which also has the drama of a mad scene. The young lyric soprano will be doing the part for the second time when she makes her Ottawa debut in Opera Lyra's presentation of the Donizetti work at the National Centre Step. 8, 10 and 12.
Born in Toronto of Finnish parents, Eilana has spent the greater part of her life in San Jose, Calif., but she still regards herself as a Canadian. She made her Canadian debut last May with Opera Hamilton, singing the title role in Madame Butterfly. Tenor Louis Langelier, who played Pinkerton in that production, is appearing opposite her again as Edgardo. The two singers were surprised to discover that they will have a further collaboration in a Virginia Opera production of Turandot later this fall.
In an interview at the NAC, Eilana explained that she owes much to former opera star Irene Dalis.
"I was doing musical theatre and wondered why I felt so out of place. Then my high school teacher sais there was this famous retired opera singer living in San Jose," she recalled. At the age of 16 she made the acquaintance of the celebrated mezzo-soprano, who became her "mentor."
While taking a bachelor of music degree at San Jose State University, Eilana began to commute to New York for voice lessons and after graduationg began a four-year resident artist program with Opera San Jose. Since completing that assignment last May. she has signed a contract with the Landestheater Dessau in Germany, where she will be specializing in the Verdi repertoire.
She sang the Lucia role two years ago with Opera San Jose at the suggestion of famed basso Georgio Tozzi.
"It's really healthy for me to do Lucia," she said, explaining that she enjoys the challenge of singing a variety of roles.
"I love Puccini, but it's not a smart choice to just to the Puccini roles. It's good to keep the real singing roles in one's schedule every year."
Opera Lyra's Jeannette Aster is staging Lucia di Lammermoor, which is a co-production with Opera Hamilton. Daniel Lipton, that company's artistic director, will conduct the NAC Orchestra.
October 21, 1992
Teacher and students on the same stage
The celebration of the great influence
Matti Lehtinen was the very artist, for whom it was wirth while to organize a large celebration concert at the Finlandia House. Many things speak for the right choice of the object of the celebration. Both as a singer and as teacher he has had a strong influence on the musical life of our country.
All soloists of the concert were school friends, colleagues, or students. The young American soprano Eilana Lappalainen participated just occasionally.
Eilana Lappalainen is on her way to become a new favorite of the Finnish public. She is a real all-around talent, a woman on her place for almost any role.
Bravely did Eilana Lappalainen throw herself also in the finale of the Fidelio opera of Ludwig van Beethoven in the closing number of the concert. Her voice does not have the strength of the dramatical soprano, but with her excellent technique and her brilliant vigorous voice she is capable of holding her own stand in the middle of the heroic roar.
Among the most intensive acts of the whole concert was the great love duet of Giuseppe Verdi's Othello opera, where Ms. Lappalainen sang together with Raimo Sirkä. What a couple for Othello and Desdemona!
And so on. The review of other soloists follows.
Two feuding families, an arranged marriage, twop thwarted young lovers... does all of this sound slightly familar? Walter Scott's tale. The Bride of Lammermoor, has been called a 19th-century Romeo and Juliet, but with its undertones of murder and madness on the Scottish moors, it has an eerier atmosphere. The book became one of the most popular pieces of fiction of its time, prompting Gäerano Donizetti to turn into a gripping opera. Lucia di Lammermoor.
Donizetti's creation tells the tale of two families, the Ravenwoods and the Ashtons, who have been fighting for years. Unbeknownst to Enrico Ashton, his sister Lucia is in love with his enemy, Edgardo. Master of Ravenwoods, Enrico arranges a marriage for his sister to the rich, influential Sir Arturo Buxlaw, and deceitfully tricks Lucia into complying with his wishes while Edgardo is away in France. Overcome with despair, Lucia falls into a state of madness on her wedding night and murders her new husband.
Opera Pyra Ottawa's co-production of this classic piece, in conjunction with Opera Hamilton, opens the company's 1993 season. The all-Canadian cast includes Toronto-born soprano Eilana Lappalainen as the unlucky Lucia; tenor Christopher Coyea as the even more unlucky Arturo; tenor Louis Langelier as Lucia's beloved, Edgardo; baritone Peter Barcza as her brother; Enrico, as well as Paul Moore and bass-baritone Gary Relyea.
Nearly 20 years after his podium debut in Norfolk with a memorable La Traviata, General director Peter Marck chose the same work to open the Virginia Opera's 20th anniversary season, reviving its sumptuous 1989 Eduardo Sicangco Second Empire staging. In the title role, soprano Eilana Lappalainen made an even stronger impression than she did in her 1992 debut as Micaëla and her Liù last season. She was more than ably partnered by the youthful Alfredo of Michael Galanter, whose exceptionally beautiful tone and secure lyric tenor range auger a bright future. Disappointing in an otherwise strong cast were baritone Douglas Nagel, a ramrod-stiff and vocally underwhelming Germont père, and mezzo Caryn Lerner, whose Flora was more vulgar slut than salon courtesan. Maestro Mark conducted briskly while Bliss Herbert overdirected his principles.
Winter 1993 - Volume XXXIV / Number 4 Edition 137
For its September staging of Lucia di Lammermoor at the National Arts Centre Opera. Opera Lyra continued its extraordinary pattern of consistent, palpable progress in each successive production. Indeed, the results are miraculous if one compares the company's current work with the well-intended but almost sub-amateur efforts of its early seasons less then a decade ago. This presentation of Donizetti's masterpiece could grace any stage in the world, and Opera Lyra can take additional pride in the fact that nearly all major participants were Canadian.
The singing was of a consistently high calibre, including the fine chorus directed by Laurence Ewashko. For the first time, the National Arts Centre Orchestra supported Opera Lyra, directed by Daniel Lipton, artistic director of Opera Hamilton, which co-produced this Lucia.
As Lucia, Eilana Lappalainen gave a compelling performance in vocal and acting terms. In her 20s, she has already the poise and presence of a true star. No less accomplished was Louis Langelier's powerful, moving Edgardo, his singing showing not even hint of the indisposition announced prior to the September 14 performance. Among the supporting roles, Peter Barcza's Enrico, Christopher Coyea's Arturo and Gary Relyea's Raimondo were outstanding.
The stage direction by Opera Lyra's artistic director, Jeanette Aster, was subtle and clear throughout. Aster deserves further commendation for exceptional taste and perception in choosing the conventional but magnificent set by John Michael Deegan and Sarah G. Conly, borrowed from Atlanta Opera. The Delacroix tableau that concluded the celebrated Mad Scene, focusing on a collapsed, Pre-Raphaelite Lucia, was an image long to be remembered.
The Hamilton Spectator
A night of great opera
Lappalainen superb as Lucia di Lammermoor
LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR is the sort of opera that's the butt of all those jokes.
The kind that ain't over till the fat lady sings.
Bel canto is the name given to it, which simply means beautiful singing in Italian, and it is the beautiful singing of the luscious tunes Donizetti, Bellini and their Ilk, wrote for their divas and great tenors, that matters.
Never mind that the vast sopranos and barely-waddling tenots appeared ludicrous as lissome young Juliets and Romeos, the song and the voice was all.
Verismo, which means realistic, is the other kind of opera that rebelled against bel canto and sought to tell real stories about real people in real, believable musical dramas.
The twain were never meant to meet.
But just singing, however beautiful, isn't good enough for those creatures of the theatre, Daniel Lipton and Jeanette Aster.
Lipton, Opera Hamilton's artistic director and Aster artistic director of Ottawa's Opera Lyra, but together a joint production of Lucia di Lammermoor that played in Ottawa for three performances earlier this month and opened in Hamilton Place Saturday night. It is reported, Thursday and Saturday.
That the pair succeeded in making beautiful singing realistic theatre is triumphantly evident in this brillient production.
All the much-lampooned conventions are transformed sensibilities, Lipton's vividly sympathetic conducting and a cast that is both beautifully balanced vocally and dramatically beguilnig, into theatre of the most convincing kind.
Eilana Lappalainen; as Lucia, produced perhaps the most completely captivating performance I have ever witnessed on the opera stage.
Her voice settled down from a momentary-too-wide vibrato and some insecurities in the lower range at the start to a rare perfection. The mad scene was utterly chilling in its transcendent beauty. One was frozen, with the chorus, which she scattered like quail before her, into immobile horror.
Louis Langelier, Lucia's true love, was stunning in the power and depth of his final agonies, while bass Gary Relyea, whom I have admired so often in oratorio, was just magnificent as the clergyman.
Peter Barcza was vocally and dramatically powerful and his every phrase deeply musical.
Christopher Coyea, who I have long looked forward to hearing on the opera stage, Paul Moore and Allyson Mchardy were excellent, too.
But as good as the singers were individually, it was an ensemble that they shone. Each one had a shiningly clear focus to the voice, even bass Relyea, that allowed Donizetti's wonderful parings and colors to glow in the music.
Lipton had the Hamilton Philharmonic playing with passionate recisions in the pit. He drew, as he always does, music from his instrumental soloists every bit as ravishing as he drew from his mad scene soloes jarred. That and the ocassional threadbare blend of the chorus.
Three other things jarred, two of them to do with surreal physics. One was the clouds racing by in the mad scene as the lapers barely wavered or sputtered. The second was a ruined gothic arch that would have collapsed by any laws of physics known to man if made of stone; it set all the engineers' teeth on edge. The last was a far-too-modern carbine for Mary Stewart's time being wielded by the castle guard.
The rest was sublime.
September 9, 1993
I loved Lucia
Opera Lyra turns melodramatic piece into great show
by Richard Todd
It seemed like such an odd choice for an opera company still trying to get established in a place like Ottawa.
Gaerano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor is an opera buff's delight, full of great tunes and lots of opportunities for vocal display. Never mind that there's little depth to the music, or that the libretto is riddled with the kind of cliches and melodramatic excesses that opera-haters love to lampoon.
It's a very popular work in the major opera houses of the world, where people who are too high-brow to take in professional wrestling come to cheer and boo.
But Ottawa? Are there enough opera buffs of that sort to fill the house for Lucia?
Apparently not. The number of empty seats was not huge, but it still must have been a disappointment for the producers.
And it's a shame for anyone who might have occupied one of those empty because, this opera's weaknesses not withstanding, the production is superb. Director Jeanette Aster has but together an exceptionally convincing version of this problematic chestnut.
She doesn't try to do the impossible by insisting on a realistic rendition of the story. Much of the acting follows the timeless conventions of grand pose and dramatic gesture. But there us a remarkable consistency and integrity to the way the story unfolds on stage.
Soprano Eilana Lappalainen who played the title role, was the strongest member of the cast that had few important weaknesses. Her singing was controlled and supple and her acting entirely apt. It all came together most spectacularly, of course, in the "Mad Scene," but her performance was rarely less than wonderful all evening.
Edgardo, Lucia's beloved, was played by tenor Louis Langelier. Although his voice started to falter in the final scene, he did well by most of what he had to sing. His acting was not overly subtle, but that's the kind of opera this is.
Baritone Peter Barcza's acting was cut of much the same cloth. He played Lucia's brother, Enrico, with enough depth that one felt sorry for the character as he endured the torment of his conscience for betraying his sister.
In the lesster roles, Gary Relyea was especially effective as the chaplain. The only disappointment was the comparatively weak voice of Christopher Coyea, who portrayed Artura, the heroine's bridegroom.
On of the keenest pleasures in this production was the stark and eminently effective set design by John Michael Deegan and Sarah G. Conly, and it was well matched by Denis Guéerette's lighting design. Neither was obusive in any way, but bothelements were there doing exactly what they were supposed to with great elan.
The NAC Orchestra was conducted by Hamilton Opera's Daniel Lipton. If there were a few rough edges in the playing, they were more then outweighed by the deftness with which Lipton convered for a few awkward entries and other lapses from the stage.
More ijportantm, he really had the measure of the music. He didn't try to find depth in it where there was none, but neither did he ever allow it to sound as hilariously inappropriate as it often can.
There are a few things more rewarding in the criticism business then going to a production of something you've hated for 30 years and coming away delighted. Opera Lyra is becoming a force to be reckoned with.
The Ottawa Sun
Friday, September 10, 1993
Opera Lyra scores hit with Lucia
by Lorraine Salt - Ottawa Sun
Passion. Intrigue. Murder. Swordplay. Madness. Music.
Opera Lyra Ottawa's production of Lucia di Lammermoor has it all ... and more.
Based on the romantic novel by Sir Walkter Scott, Donizetti's opera tells the classic tragedy of star-crossed lovers on the Scottish moors.
Act I begins with Enrico, Lucia's brother, telling of his lost fortunes, and that he is counting on Lucia's profitable marriage to Arluro to restore the family name.
But he's angered by Lucia's love for his enemy Edguardo. As Enrico, Canadian baritone Peter Barcza, displays a strong, sure voice. But even more noteworthy is his acting ability.
His every movement shows emotion.
Lucia, played by Toronto-born soprano Eilana Lappalainen, is one surprise after another.
Her voice is a pleasure, lacking only occasionally in strength.
She succeeds again and again at some of opera's most florid and difficult passages.
Her duet with Edguardo in Act I shows beautiful tone and vocal agility, as well as in the climatic Mad Scene of Act III.
As well, her dramatic ability matches Barcza's equally. Their scenes together are wonderful to watch.
Also notable are performances by bass-baritone Gary Relyea as Raimondo and tenor Louis Langelier as Edguardo, and the Opera Lyra Ottawa Chorus.
The sets are impressive - all misty moors and Scotish ruins.
The stage is reduced to torchlight as Lucia breathes her last in Act III, a strikingly eerie effect.
Opera Lyra Ottawa is riding a wave of success. Lyra springs production of La Traviata sold out each performance.
Their Lucia is a success as well.
The Buffalo News
Tuesday, September 28, 1993
'Lucia' in Hamilton is a soaring triumph
by Herman Trotter
HAMILTON, Ont. - Let's not mince words. Opera Hamilton's "Lucia di Lammermoor," a shared production that has already had three performances in Ottawa, is a smashing success.
Donizetti wrote in the "bel canto" style, in which florid vocal lines of extreme difficult and aetrial wizardry were of paramount importance. There was a time when audiences required nothing more than the vocal pyrotechnics, but today these operas seem tather vapid unless the details of staging, acting, and orchestral playing are also attended to meticulously.
In this production they most certainly are, so let's give the first bows to conductor Daniel Lipton and stage director Jeanette Aster for a level of artistry and good taste that made a virtuoso showpiece seem more like a fully integrated ensemble piece.
And let's not forget the sets from Atlanta Opera, which got great mileage out of a radiant blue backdrop; stately, arching stone columns; tapestries; velvet draperies, and ramatic placement of a few high-backed chairs and condelabra. Curtain calls, too, for lighting designer Denis Guerette and costumer Suzanne Mess.
Soprano Eilana Lappalainen in the title role was all one might hope, and more. Her voice was clear, pure and soaring, not screeching, and she conquered an initial tendency toward excess vibrato to become progressively more centered and focused.
Dramatically she was unlike most imperious, regal Lucias, but projected a naivete, innocense and vulnerability which were both believable and loveable, and made the psychological torture her brother Enrico inflicted on her seem all the more heinous. Her soft and fetching appearance amplified our sympathy during the famous "mad scene," during which she sensitively protrayed her vacilating hallucinations from thoughts of her betrayed lover Edgardo to premonitions of death. She avoided the standard histrionics, drawing us into her plight with a sort of confidentiality. The demented joy she expressed when the flute imitated her own vocal roulades was chilling.
Tenor Louis Langelier was strong throughout, escalating to a virtual heldentenor quality in the graveyard finale, generating a mini-mad scene of his own. Director Aster concluded the opera with a masterstroke, confronting Edgardo with a hallucinatory specter of the dead Lucia, then having her collapse at the precise moment the tormented Edgardo stabs himself.
Baritone Peter arcza was a reliable and supercilious Enrico, especially affecting in the duet with Lucia following her reading of the forged letter. Bass-baritone Gary Relyea was outstanding as Raimondo, managing a degree of focus which eludes most low voices and matches well with the other voices.
The famous Act 2 Sextet was stunning, with each of the singers illuminated by an overhead spotlight on first entrance and the ensemble maintaining a superb balance without bellowing. That's an uncommon virtue.
Continually reflecting the cohesive unity of this production were subtle vocal and visual parallels, with the actors and stage props standing out against the beautiful blue backdrop in the same arresting, stark manner with which conductor Lipton contrasted the balance between the excellent instrumental solos and the orchestral background.
You have only two more chances to see and hear one of the best regional operatic productions in recent years, this Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Monday, April 3, 1995
La Boheme's vamp robbed of sexuality
by Hugh Fraser - The Spectator
La Boheme is just about the most perfect opera ever written.
So perfect that, everyone agrees, it is almost impossible to ruin it. Unless one tried very, very hard.
A good start would be to dress Musetta as man a la George Sand of the same romantic period 1830s-'40s place (Paris), which happens with Opera Hamilton's current production of Puccini's masterpiece at Hamilton Place (Thursday, April 6 and Saturday, April 8).
Now Musetta is the golden-hearted, down-to-earth, in-your-face, good 'ol working girl of the opera. Content if not courtesan, of the rich and esential, not, we are left in no doubt about brettists Girseppe Giacosa and Illica and even the music of Puccini for her cutting-edge philosophy intellectual depth, but for her far earthly charms.
And she doesn't do it because of an overwhelming pity for the rich and essential, but for col, hard cash.
True, she loves the painter Marcello and she teaches singing to supplement his meager pay as a painter, but to portray her as akin to George Sand, a poet, writer and semi-influence on an era of artistic revolution is to rob Musetta of the one thing she does have in abundance, which is sexual, a power she has no junction whatever about using to delt whenever she feels like it.
And yet this is what stage director Mezzio Melano did with this production.
Being the film Impromptu, which portrayed the affair between Sand and composer Frederick Chopin, gave Melano this idea. I fear it had all the intellectual rigor of speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich seeing Boys Town and deciding all fatherless children go to orphanages.
But Musetta was not the only one shorn of power. Rudolfo, sung by Keith Buhl in both his Canadian debut and his debut as Rudolfo, simply didn't have the vocal weight to match the rest of the superb cast. Since hs is the lead this unbalanced the drama, time and agani as he stretched into the falsetto to project his voice with the others and simply couldn't take his proper part in the opera's most dramatic moments.
Every other facet of the production was really excellent.
Eilana Lappalainen was luminous both vocally and dramatically as a Mimi who was both fragile and indomitable. Every accent, every inflection expressed flawlessly the depths of a character who can become maudlin and sentimental if not held in rigorous check.
Sally Diblee, while hampered with dumpy, singularly graceless male clothing was vocally magnificent, even with closed eyes one could still read the irresistible temptress.
John Fanning's Marcello was absolutely stunning.
Since his first appearance at Opera Hamilton as Valentine, Fanning has simply exploded into authority as an operatic performer.Manifestly and mercifully, showed using diverse blunt instrumental was impossible to make "Chopinesque" to match Musetta's Sadiness.
Alexander Savtchenko made excellent Colline who shone brightly long before his Coat Aria highly and David Watson made a fine, Schuanard, while Maurice Brown had better luck with the doddering lord Benoit than the doddering Adoro.
Artistic director Daniel Lipton's vision of the score was nothing short of a revelation. It was impossible for him not to cover much of what assayed and others who were holding back to balance ensembles, but in the main he guided, supported, and set fourth a performance that was shining exquisite and rogorous in its authenticity and allegiance to Puccini himself.
In that he was wonderfully ported by the chorusc which had the finest outing since Macbeth and melano's stage direction, which, from the one aberration, was uniquely brilliant in the crowded second that was a model of clarity. The introduction is beautifully dressed and sets from the New Orleans Opera Association are gorgeous.
West Coast Mimi
Eilana Lappalainen brings bright expression and fresh voice to La Boheme
Eilana Lappalainen is a young fresh voiced American-Finnish soprano whose visit to Finland is one bright result of the gloomy Kullervo Opera of Aulis Sallinen. Walton Grönroos, President of the Finnish National Opera, found Eilana Lappalainen last spring in Los Angelas, where she had been attracted by the performances of the Kullervo Opera.
In spite of her young age, Eilana Lappalainen has already sung a great number of important lyric and lyric-dramatic leading roles. As Mimi, in Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme, she proved to be a well trained and reliable opera singer. Exact pitch, beautiful round phrasing, and flexible but precise rhythm are characteristics of her soprano tone.
There is still certain hardness in the forte of Eilana Lappalainen's soprano, which is dynamic and rich in nuances, but during the performance it stated to soften and warm up. Her voice carries and extends without compulsion.
Her style of singing and her natural ease make Eilana Lappalainen a charming Mimi. Finnish features can be recognized in her face, but her brisk, bright look and her open, cheerful mind are the fascinating characteristics of the optimistic people of the U.S. west coast.
Above all, Eilana Lappalainen's Mimi is a kind and sensitive girl, but the character also frivolous zest for life, which increases its credibility.
Next year, Eilana Lappalainen will be singing at the Landestheater Dessau, located in the former East Germany. The distance from there to Finland is shorther then from California!
Hamilton's 'Butterfly' of many colors
by Herman Trotter
HAMILTON, Ont. - Operatic audiences tend to weigh the quality of singing more heavily then other artistic considerations such as staging, acting and set design in assesing their overall pleasure with an operatic production.
Opera Hamilton's "Madama Butterfly" provides, especially in Eilana Lappalainen's Butterfly, enough quality singing to satisfy most hard-line vocal aficionados.
But to my ears there was another star in the Great Hall of Hamilton Place on Saturday evening, the sensitive musicality of the entire performance which Maestro Lipton drew from both singers and orchestra. It unfolked as an unbroken, entirely logical lyric line connecting the bustling of marriage broker Goro and U.S. Navy Lt. Pinkerton in the opening scene with the tragically loyal and hopeful Butterfly's desperate suicide in the final scene.
The playing of the orchestra, particularly in the delicately controlled middle and lower dynamic ranges, had a wonderful sensuality, poignancy and radiant sheen that made thuis "Butterfly" a continual aural delight.
The set from Virgina Opera has a lot of miles on it, but is so well-conceived and well-executed in its simplicity and accuracy of Japanese detail that its effectiveness is undimished. Costuming by Suzanne Mess had a comfortable authenticity without ever unduly attracting attention to itself.
Lappalainen's voice encapsulates both the delicasy and the steadfastness of Butterfly, yet is soaring lyricism and drama of the scenario equally well. Her sound is clear and pre, with a shimmering leading edge that imparts color and warmth without lapsing into excess vibrato or wobble. She created a quite distinctive vision of Butterfly, highly convincing in her naive faith in Pinkerton's fidelity, yet also introducing a unorthodox and beguiling impish quality to the role.
Butterfly's servant Suzuki is sung by Odelle Beaupre, whose mezzo has enough extra body and texture to contrast well with Lappalainen. Their duet in Act 2 while awaiting Pinkerton's return was one of the evening's most exquisite moments.
The always stellar baritone Cornelis Opthof sings the role of the American consul Sharpless with a finely focused voice of excellent carrying power. But there is also a modesty of vocal heft and aggressiveness that compliments the sympathy for Butterfly and embarassment over Pinkerton's that his acting radiates quite convincingly.
Leading singers lift 'Turandot'
Women's vocal and stage abilities are the highlights of the Arizona Opera Company's show.
by Daniel Buckley
A rain of sparkling glitter floated down on a beaming, transformed Princess Turandot and her love, Calaf, as they descended the imperial staircase at the close of Arizona Opera's "Turandot" last night.
Blessed with a stable of vocal talent that ranged from first rate to merely quite good, AOC's production of Giacomo Puccini's final masterpiece left a full house of 2,200 people in the Tucson Convention Music Hall moved, uplifted and glowing.
Appropriately, the crowd awarded its biggest applause to the production's Liu (Eilana Lappalainen), with Turandot herself (Leslie Morgan) a close second.
Lappalainen's portrayal of the slave girl whose love of Calaf makes her committ suicide to save his life was superb on every level. She manifestly projected Liu's changing emotional state through a series of detailed yet unexaggerated bits of stage business. Even before she's uttered a word of her love for the handsome prince, for example, her mixture of shock, hurt and vulnerability at Calaf's announcement that he intends to try to win Turandot told the whole story.
Vocally, Lappalainen proved every bit as solid a performer. Strong, agile, full-bodied and lustrous in tone across her entire range, this talented soprano aced every phrase musically and dramatically. She was thrilling.
The same can be said of Leslie Morgan's Turandot. Morgan's textured performance powerfully and emotionally delivered on the princess' transfigurations. From the icy, inhuman figure who has her authors beheaded to the vulnerable woman fearfully asking riddles of Calaf, and finally the radiant being lvoe has redeemed, Morgan made the unbelievable plausible.
Her vocal work was as regal as her dramatic presence. With apparent ease, she sailed over the orchestral wash, launching her high notes into the raftera and enriching her lines with purity of tone that made her stand out in the pack.
AOC's Calaf (Robin Reed) was satisfying, if not up to the level of the leading ladies. Though his stage presence and dramatic instincts were noteworthy and his tone good, Reed lacked both power and whole-range perfection. The bottom of his range was particularly shaky. And while his spotlighted aria, "Nessun dorma, was rendered with an individual flavor, the performance failed to raise goose bumps (as it should).
Louis Nabors's Timur (Calaf's blind father) as vocally top notch.
Sets, costumes, effects and especially lighting came together in a manner fitting this epic tale of Ancient China. Likewise the large choir of somewhat uneven vocal quality seemed appropriate, projecting the character of a non-homogeneous mob.
The production's major flaw was the orchestral playing which all too often suffered from spotty pitch and a lack of coordination. Both the music and the efforts on stage deserved better.
Arizona Opera's 'Turandot' in form with singers as its strongest suit
by James Reel
Arizona Opera is back in proper form with its earrent production of Giacomo Puccini's "Turandot."
Not top form, mind you. The staging is utilitarian, the chorus and orchestra weren't always coordinated on opening night Thursday, and the orchestral contribution isn't all it could be.
But the principal singers are quite fine, and the production boasts an almost sumptuous look, thanks mainly to the costumes, with some help from colorful if low-budget scenery.
All this comes as welcome relief after last month's disastrous "Siegfried," of which the best that can be said is that the scenery did not fall down. Last autumn's "Die Fledermaus" was no winner, either, with middling singing and dumb stage direction.
'Turandot' is far more successful, most of all in the vocal department.
Soprano Leslie Morgan takes the title role, the beautiful but cruel Chinese princess who has her suiters executed if they cannot solve a set of riddles.
The challenging role often reduces performers to loud, hard singing. Except for a few inevitable compromises, Morgan avoided this Thursday night. More often then not her voice rang out with the overtones to gleam like a precious metal.
As Calaf, the wandering prince determined to solve Turandot's riddles and win her hand, Robin Reed deplyed a resounding if unsubtle dramatic tenor voice.
Eilana Lappalainen assumed the secondary but key role of Liu, the slave girl who gives her life to protect Calaf's. The soprano had the proper physical fragility for her part, which made her vocal strength and projection all the more surprising.
Bass Louis Nabors had little to do as Calaf's father, but he crafted a moving little grief scene following Liu's death. Unfortunately, that death was the climax of a risibly limp torture sequence consisting of mild arm twisting.
The comic ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong weren't quite evenly matched in the first act, but their Act 2 trio was better balanced and quite beguiling. Dependable throughout was the Ping of Ben Sorensen, the wonderful Tucson baritone who has distinguished himself until now.
January 30, 1993 Vol. 57. No. 10
Lappalainen's admirable timbre and skilled vocalism, combined with her natural grace and country charm made her a sympathetic Micaela.
Virginia Local Press
Sunday, Oct. 25, 1992
Another female beauty was Eilana Lappalainen, whose sweet, birdlike sound as Micaela gave poignancy to this young girl secretly in love with Don Jose.
The Virginian-Pilot and the Ledger Star
Sunday, Oct. 25, 1992
The most memorable singer was soprano Eilana Lappalainen, who gave the country girl Micaela a large, warm voice with ample vibrato and true intonation.
The Spectator - NOW Life/Entertainment
Monday, September 27, 1993
Eilana Lappalainen, as Lucia, produced perhaps the most completely captivating performance I have ever witnessed on the opera stage.
San Fransisco Chonicle
Monday, February 12, 1990
At her best, Eilana Lappalainen boasts a vibrant soprano, firm and controlled without a hint of stridency. As the twice-beloved Leila, she was often heard at her best, particularly in her second-act aria and the ensuing love duet, which was probably the high point of the evening.
July 30, 1993 - August 12, 1993
Play within a play - a comedic performance turns deadly in Paguacci as Antonio Barasorda, Ping Yu, and Eilana Lappalainen stunned audiances in the summer's best opera.
San Fransisco Examiner
Wednesday, February 14, 1990
Lappalainen's "Commo nutrefois dana la nuit sombre" was, besides the evening's high point, singing that would have graced any stage.