Bulgaria's lovable Teatro Lirico d'Europa touring opera company has been bringing low-priced, low-budget grand opera to Boston for more than a decade, but it appears to have been exiled from the Cutler Majestic Theatre. (ArtsEmerson has not responded to my requests for information.) Its penultimate Boston visit, with Lucia di Lammermoor, had the sine qua non for the required vocal and dramatic fireworks in the abundantly red-haired Russian coloratura Olga Orlovskaya, who mowed down the famous Mad Scene. Her closest matches were Met and City Opera bass-baritone William Powers as Lucia's sympathetic priest Raimondo and the always winning Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Viara Zhelezova as Lucia's faithful companion. Ukrainian tenor Igor Borko's big voice filled out the famous sextet but lacked the seamless bel canto legato for the great final aria. Bulgarian baritone Plamen Dimitrov had the vocal chops for Lucia's villainous brother, Enrico, but was more stick than actor. For these Boston farewells, I'd have preferred a more fiery conductor than placid Krassimir Topolov (and maybe an actual fountain in the fountain scene). Teatro Lirico returns for its final Boston visit with one of its best productions, Verdi's La traviata, March 4 and 5. A lot of us will miss the company.
John Adams's most famous opera, Nixon in China (1987), has finally made it to the Met, staged by its original director and inspirer, Peter Sellars (in his long overdue Met debut), brilliantly choreographed by Mark Morris, and conducted close to proficiently by Adams himself. James Maddalena, clearly fighting a cold, repeated his deep and complexly moving embodiment of the title role he created. I caught the HD TV telecast — which Sellars also directed, with a mixture of dizzying yet focused camera work — and was enthralled. Not all of the music is up to librettist Alice Goodman's eloquence, but the best is memorable and beautiful (echoes of Wagner's Magic Fire Music and Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack to North by Northwest), and the inexorable minimalist churning makes its own dramatic impact. Since the opera was conceived for amplified voices, the artificial sound quality of the HD transmission was less compromised than usual, and the present cast was impressive, including British soprano Janis Kelly as Pat Nixon, baritone Russell Braun as Chou Enlai (though probably no one will ever match the inwardness of the first Chou, Sanford Sylvan), and coloratura Kathleen Kim as the freakishly high-pitched Madame Mao. Nixon has, if anything, grown even more timely. It was spine-tingling after the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt to hear a chorus sing, "The people are the heroes now." (Nixon in China gets an "encore" HD telecast in local theaters on Wednesday March 2.)
James Levine is on break from the BSO, but we've had some high-level guest conductors. Christoph von Dohnányi led the first BSO performance of a work he introduced to the world in 1972, György Ligeti's Double Concerto for Flute and Oboe, with stellar BSO first-chair wind players Elizabeth Rowe and John Ferrillo. Dusky alto flute and then wailing oboe float out across the dark orchestra (no violins), uninterrupted by a violent bass-fiddle attack. Bass flute takes over, dropping the register even lower. For some eight minutes, we're "be-calmed," in a state of near-ecstatic suspension. The even shorter second movement, Allegro corrente, has the more repressed though almost explosively agitated quiet of a beehive. And then, like magic, it's all cut short.