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Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

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La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.



02 Jan 2005

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at De Munt, Brussels

© Johan Jacobs De Munt's Christmas production plays into high summer and it is magnificent to behold. Scottish director David McVicar is somewhat of a cult director in Antwerp and Brussels. In Antwerp he directed a fine Idomeneo and an...

© Johan Jacobs

De Munt's Christmas production plays into high summer and it is magnificent to behold. Scottish director David McVicar is somewhat of a cult director in Antwerp and Brussels. In Antwerp he directed a fine Idomeneo and an unforgettable Contes d'Hoffmann (later reworked for Salzburg), fully respecting the original intentions while in Brussels he did a spectacular and updated Agrippina and a dark and brooding Don Giovanni. Though he is now one of the happy few directors wanted all over the world he nevertheless often returns to this country. McVicar has one overriding obsession: he wants to tell a good story and he wants to tell it clearly. He doesn't like humbug and clearly speaks out when he sees it. Of Robert Wilson's Aida (also premièred in De Munt and later given at Covent Garden) he says: " "they are constructing something on the scene while a sound track of Aida is running" ; a pronouncement that more or less corroborates with the opinion of the Aida (Norma Fantini) who called it "Aida in Tokyo".

Well, McVicar delivered the goodies. This was Midsummer Night's Dream as Shakespeare probably would have loved to see it and never saw it as the technical means and the money at his disposal were infinitely smaller. In an interview after the performance I read that the play is performed on a giant attic of a big English country house and that came somewhat as a surprise to me. The lightning (Paule Constable) and the scenery were so ingenious (Rae Smith) that I took it for a wood, be it one without too many leaves. And with the rising costs of garbage collection nowadays, one often finds seats and all kinds of props in our few woods. The whole looked rich and sumptuous and gave a wonderful idea of a fairy tale: somewhat like Disney with style. So did the costumes of the many performers (Smith too) and it was a joy to see fairies instead of giant bees or spiders or the nowadays popular cliché of clowns.

McVicar likes his singers to think with him and to have the same attitude towards telling a clear story though he had some stiff demands to made upon the cast (he likes to meddle with casting). Puck (David Greeves) didn't only have to sing and to act but to perform some difficult acrobatics high in the sky as well. Oberon can lengthen and shorten his height in the best fairy tale tradition and I admired Michael Chance who quietly and assuredly continued singing while his legs were lengthening with some 14 feet.

The big cast was lead by bass-baritone Laurent Naouri as Bottom. He doesn't like his wife to use her influence and I wish she would. It needn't end in a Sutherland-Bonynge or Freni-Ghiaurov blackmail but Naouri is a very fine singer whom I'd like to hear more in his native repertory where he could take over José van Dam's sceptre. He failed in his Met audition several years ago and I think the Met would do well to give him a second chance instead of only engaging Madame Naouri-Dessay. As he studied at the Guildhall in London his voice freely rang out in the verses culled from the original play. Laura Claycomb was the sensuous Tytania though I think the part is somewhat low for her high coloratura soprano. Countertenor Michael Chance as Oberon didn't endear me to his kind of voice as his sounds were weak and unfocused. All other artist performed worthily. Special mention must be made of the youth choir of De Munt. Strengthened by a few other choirs they sang and acted their heart out and either McVicar worked wonders with them or otherwise they are all headed for a big career on the scene due to their innate talent. Ivor Bolton was the careful conductor of the splendid sounding orchestra.

And so we come to the main drawback in my eyes and especially my ears. Frankly, I don't think that Britten's score deserves such a splendid and costly production. By 1959 the composer was probably tired of criticism that he was old-fashioned, that only movie composers employed tonality and he tried to prove his detractors he too was a modern composer. 45 years later this only results in a far too heavy orchestration always dominated by the woodwinds, all kinds of drums, bells and timpani resulting in a lot of dissonance. The original play was reduced to one third but the original words were used in the libretto. Due to all the noise Shakespeare is in for a heavy drubbing. This reviewer who is a former teacher of English was not able to understand more than a few sentences from the female performers. The men as always could be understood somewhat better as they had a lot of sprechgesang but still spectators without the ability to read either the Dutch or French surtitles wouldn't know what the fuzz on the scene was all about. Britten never was a prolific tune-smith ("Young man, don't you think I would have written some fine melodies if I had had Verdi's talents" he remarked in 69 when I was complaining of lack of melody in his works). Only at the beginning and end of each act that Britten allows himself some lyric utterances but for the rest it is often a trip through the desert.

Jan Neckers

[Click here for additional information on this production.]

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