Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

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):