Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A sunny L'elisir d'amore at the Royal Opera House

Theresa May could do with a Doctor Dulcamara in the Conservative Cabinet: his miracle pills for every illness from asthma to apoplexy would slash the NHS bill - and, if he really could rejuvenate the aged then he’d solve the looming social care funding crisis too.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: a scintillating Bluebeard

Ravi Shankar’s posthumous opera Sukanya drew a full house to the Royal Festival Hall last Friday but the arrival of the Budapest Festival Orchestra under their founder Iván Fischer seemed to have less appeal to Londoners - which was disappointing as the absolute commitment of Fischer and his musicians to the Hungarian programme that they presented was equalled in intensity by the blazing richness of the BFO’s playing.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

21 Feb 2005

Handel's Semele at Scottish Opera

A tale of everyday mortals and gods entranced a nearly full house at beleaguered Scottish Opera last night with the same clever mix of pathos, wit, drama and humour that has kept nations’ favourite soaps at the top of the viewing and listening schedules for decades. And it was the visual elements as much as the vocal and musical that clinched the success of this premiere performance last night. Director John la Bouchardiere (of “The Full Monteverdi” fame) worked with a light touch that engagingly mixed some pretty unusual elements into a confection that finally had the audience calling its approval. Likewise, young Christian Curnyn on the podium brought his Early Opera Company experience and love of truly modern stagings of Handel to bear, and managed to persuade the SCO orchestra to eschew both vibrato and swooping lines without adding any extra period instrumentalists, save a harpsichord. Apart from a slightly unconvincing first 10 minutes (of more later) they played with increasing verve and apparent conviction throughout.

Ambition, Deceit and Eroticism -- Handel's Semele at the SCO

19 February 2005

A tale of everyday mortals and gods entranced a nearly full house at beleaguered Scottish Opera last night with the same clever mix of pathos, wit, drama and humour that has kept nations' favourite soaps at the top of the viewing and listening schedules for decades. And it was the visual elements as much as the vocal and musical that clinched the success of this premiere performance last night. Director John la Bouchardiere (of "The Full Monteverdi" fame) worked with a light touch that engagingly mixed some pretty unusual elements into a confection that finally had the audience calling its approval. Likewise, young Christian Curnyn on the podium brought his Early Opera Company experience and love of truly modern stagings of Handel to bear, and managed to persuade the SCO orchestra to eschew both vibrato and swooping lines without adding any extra period instrumentalists, save a harpsichord. Apart from a slightly unconvincing first 10 minutes (of more later) they played with increasing verve and apparent conviction throughout.

If ambition looms large in this story of poor, upwardly-mobile but slightly foolish, Semele then so does deceit and eroticism. The former was much in evidence from the outset -- and it was the director deceiving the audience for the first ten minutes or so, as the curtain rose on a most unexpected scene. I suppose that I, and most of the audience, were expecting some revelation of new production -- perhaps an elaborate period set, perhaps a weird and wonderful Germanic "concept" design, perhaps -- nothing? Well that's what we got at first -- nothing. Or rather, just a few boring lines of grey metal office chairs set out for a chorus in a dark grey non-set, with four single ones in front, obviously for the four characters who start proceedings -- King Cadmus, Prince Athamas, Semele, and sister Ino. I began to wonder if I was here under false pretences and was about to see a "semi-staged" version of this opera/oratorio. There was a palpable sense of disappointment in the house. And this was also the only time that I felt the orchestra was strangely detached from the drama, oddly jerky and with disconcerting moments of silence between some recitatives and arias or arioso.

But all became clear slowly -- very slowly -- as the pre-nuptial ceremonies commenced. The full chorus were in modern black gear, scores held out as in oratorio proper, and the four soloists also in sombre black modern dress and also clutching their music books for dear life began the formalities of Semele's forthcoming wedding to Prince Athamas. But, bit by bit, one noticed things not quite right, little glances, Semele looking more and more hunched and dejected, Athamas more and more puzzled, until at last the poor bride- to-be hurls herself away from the courtly protocol and declares herself for Love and Jove. Lisa Milne was in fine voice from the start with excellent diction and a nice touch in endearing silliness so necessary in explaining the subsequent action. Her soprano is rich and her coloratura assured and with breath to spare. Michael George was a resolute Cadmus (and later Somnus too) and his bass- baritone more than a match still for the orchestra below, although perhaps not as athletic as it once was. Athamas was sung by a countertenor new to me: Arnon Zlotnik. A tall, slender young man with an engaging if not particularly compelling stage presence who sang sweetly but without much dramatic power or expression as yet. As is the case often today, most of the role's original arias were cut and only one -- "Your Tuneful Voice" as he is "consoled" by Ino -- remained and was, sadly, somewhat lost in the singing. It requires a long legato line, heartfelt expressive despair and superb breath control to reveal the thing of beauty it really is. Best left to the likes of a David Daniels perhaps. Another experienced Handelian, Susan Bickley, lined up alongside Milne and George and took on the roles of both Ino and the vengeful Juno -- and very successfully pointed up the two so-different female characters by both vocal timbre and charming, and comical, expressivity. Her voice suffered a little from competition with the orchestra from time to time as she did not have the dynamic power of her fellow sopranos. The vocal "find" of the evening for me was young Kate Royal in the gift-role to actress-singers of Iris: PA to the Gods and generally inept fixer extraordinary. Hers is a strong, rich, and occasionally thrilling voice with huge potential, although at the expense of diction last night. Which leaves Jove, or Jupiter, himself: always a vocal pivot in this work and one of Handel's most interesting tenor roles when sung by an intelligent as well as highly competent singer. Both of which Jeremy Ovenden is, on this hearing. Since I last heard him, his voice seems to have grown in several ways and his line, power and coloratura were all excellent without ever going "out of style". Of course everyone was waiting for the "Big Song", and he despatched that most beautiful of Handelian love arias with both elegance and technical assurance, and we were transported to those Arcadian glades and saw those trees bow down with just an inflection of voice and a shift of light and shade. It was entrancing.

And that brings me to the most interesting aspect of this production: the light. Light as back-projected universe, light as mirror, light through a film lens and light as in defying gravity. This was the "Light Show Semele" I felt, and once we escaped the bleak opening scene, the full inventive skill of video artists, lighting designer, costumier and aerialists came into play. Yes, aerialists -- if this production had been presented a year or two earlier they could have advertised it as "direct from the Millennium Dome!" The first intimation of things of the air, rather than the earth, came when Jupiter -- in full elegant 18th Century kit -- doffed his hat in front of his beloved and it flew upwards and away into the heavens.... disconcerting for Semele as well as us. Another time "Iris" literally flew in to answer Juno's call for assistance -- cannily being replaced by Kate Royal at a vital moment in the wings. And why not? This was Up There, and the whole design seemed predicated on the contrast between the mortals' rather glum earth- bound existence and the floating, sun-kissed and gravity-defying world of the immortals. The best was left for the seduction of Somnus scene by scheming Juno: his besotted love for the nymph Pasiphae played upon by her teasing him with the sight of his heart's desire descending a rope, apparently completely naked although of course cleverly body-stockinged, and performing balletic aerial manoeuvres of a gentle eroticism that certainly woke the old duffer up and enabled the theft of his magical powers. Back projected images of the world spinning in the universe came and went at suitable moments, as did a wonderful piece of scenery: the floating pillow bed, refuge to Semele in moments of both ardour and despair. Looking rather like a huge inflatable dog bed, she either reposed on it, Lady Hamilton style, as it swung gently on near-invisible wires or it was used as prop when brought to earth for both Lisa Milne and Jeremy Ovenden to clamber over and on to. It also had the slightly discomfiting ability to move of its own accord across the stage -- one wondered for the safety of the singers if it ever got out of control -- which distracted one's attention from the music somewhat from time to time.

If there was a slight disappointment, it came at the end. After the visual delights of the earlier scenes, and a highly emotional death scene as Semele was pulled down into a dark opening breathing her last after Jupiter has carried out her fatal wish, (again cleverly achieved by effective mix of video and stage drama) I felt that the final redemptive, revelatory scene of Apollo's decree, and the birth of Bacchus from her ashes was rather short-changed and cursory. More could have been done I felt, and was left with a feeling that perhaps either the money or ideas had run out. But that is a minor grumble indeed, and not indicative of the effect of the whole.

The Glasgow audience was loud and long in its appreciation last night -- musical director Curnyn and stage director La Bouchardiere receiving much deserved plaudits for pulling off a delightful and, I hope, long-lived production that married so many theatrical elements very successfully. Don't let the words "multi-media" put you off seeing this most charming and elevated "Semele".

Sue Loder

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):