Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

06 Jul 2005

Mitridate, re di Ponto at Covent Garden

I can only dimly imagine how this singular and arresting production was first greeted at Covent Garden back in 1991. To this newcomer’s eye it is still both amazingly original in its design and concept, and yet also oddly frustrating. Essentially, director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown and their team created a world, half historic, half fantastic, and one is left with a visual memory replete with starkly simple blood-red sets, kaleidoscopically coloured bizarrely shaped costumes and arrowed shafts of silver light, almost painfully reflecting from armoured breastplates. The time is about 65 BC and the world is one of an old Asia Minor versus a rising Rome, with an ageing King Mitridate fighting off both martial and sexual invasions of his territories. The heavy, stylised, costumes — extravagant to the point of caricature — are in themselves a theatrical tool that both enable and yet also constrain the drama of this young Mozart’s early work. If the singers were disadvantaged physically by what they were wearing, they didn’t seem to show it — although to be fair none had to move at anything more than a dignified pace. It was the supporting actors/dancers, Kabuki-like, who supplied the human activity — including a memorable “a capella” rhythmic foot-stamping war-interlude. All other dramatic extremes — be it fevered love declaration, jealous rage or elegant death — was conducted in an almost balletic minimalism of physical effort.


Bruce Ford (Photo: Clive Barda)

SKIRTS TO DIE FOR

Mozart's "Mitridate, re di Ponto" — July 9th, Covent Garden.

I can only dimly imagine how this singular and arresting production was first greeted at Covent Garden back in 1991. To this newcomer's eye it is still both amazingly original in its design and concept, and yet also oddly frustrating. Essentially, director Graham Vick and designer Paul Brown and their team created a world, half historic, half fantastic, and one is left with a visual memory replete with starkly simple blood-red sets, kaleidoscopically coloured bizarrely shaped costumes and arrowed shafts of silver light, almost painfully reflecting from armoured breastplates. The time is about 65 BC and the world is one of an old Asia Minor versus a rising Rome, with an ageing King Mitridate fighting off both martial and sexual invasions of his territories. The heavy, stylised, costumes — extravagant to the point of caricature — are in themselves a theatrical tool that both enable and yet also constrain the drama of this young Mozart's early work. If the singers were disadvantaged physically by what they were wearing, they didn't seem to show it — although to be fair none had to move at anything more than a dignified pace. It was the supporting actors/dancers, Kabuki-like, who supplied the human activity — including a memorable "a capella" rhythmic foot-stamping war-interlude. All other dramatic extremes — be it fevered love declaration, jealous rage or elegant death — was conducted in an almost balletic minimalism of physical effort.

This suited some singers more than others: it was obvious that Bruce Ford was completely at home in this role that he was reprising here in London. He made a fine and oddly sympathetic tyrant bringing both inner energy and elegant singing to his mainly fairly short arias. It's generally agreed now that Mozart, only 14 years of age, wrote this opera almost entirely to suit his individual singers — possibly even more so than was usually the case at the time - and his King Mitridate then was an ageing tenor called Signor d'Ettore who pestered the young composer continually through rehearsals with his amendments and adjustments. Consequently, Ford's arias tend to be high impact but short, with fewer "da capos", or rather, "dal segnos" compared to his colleagues'. The demanding octave leaps and scales were particularly impressive although I thought I detected a slight straining by the end of Act 3 in his highest register. Perhaps a case of one high C too many that night as it's a most demanding tessitura for any high tenor.

Contrary to some oft- reported opinion, Mozart didn't, unlike with d'Ettore, have a particularly hard time dealing with his high-flying castrato singers this time - despite having to deal with the problem of a late-arriving primo uomo. Some things never change.

The king's two warring sons, Sifare (the "good" guy) and Farnace, (the conniving "baddy" son) were sung here by the British soprano Sally Matthews and the American star countertenor David Daniels, the latter best known for his Handel but singing in, I believe, his first staged Mozart opera and making a rare appearance as a countertenor on the Royal Opera stage. Today's incumbent at Covent Garden, Mr. Pappano, is not noted for his appreciation of baroque opera, and so those of us who do love it are sadly disenfranchised under his current artistic control and countertenors of Mr. Daniels stature are much missed at this venue.

Both singers were almost unrecognisable under layers of white make-up, bald-caps, long flowing tresses and over-wrought powdered wigs of terrifying dimension. However, compared to other "Mitridate" performances I have heard, here there was a very clear and very distinct vocal difference in both timbre and colour that worked extremely effectively to delineate these two pivotal characters. Matthew's ringing agile soprano, with a slight and appropriate edge to it, gave Daniels the chance to bring out his warm and mellifluous alto to contrast in a most dramatic paradox. Matthews was consistently excellent throughout, and her Mozart experience certainly showed: her resigned "Lungi da te, mio bene" was a beautifully executed example and deserved its warm reception. Daniels seemed a little less than his normal fluent self in the early scenes (as a normally very agile actor-singer was he subconsciously constrained by the heavy martial costume?) and although always wonderfully musical and correct, his Act 1 "Venga pur, manacci e frema" could have displayed a little more bite I thought. However, he quickly warmed in both voice and persona until, in his final aria of regret and reconciliation with his dying father "Gia dagli occhi il velo e tolto" he let Covent Garden hear the full glory of his uniquely beautiful voice, and rightly received the ovation of the night in return.

A singer quite new to me, Aleksandra Kurzak, Polish born but working recently mainly in Germany, most successfully took on the testing role of leading lady, Aspasia, beloved by all three of the Royal house but in very different ways. She has a wonderful easy high top and truly sparkled in her Act 1 and Act 2 arias, although I felt she flagged a little in the final scenes. Her upcoming Queen of the Night at Chicago Lyric will be a much-anticipated event I would imagine. She seemed a natural actress and her dark expressive eyes and mobile face made up for a necessary lack of physical action, imprisoned as she was in huge pannier'd hooped skirts throughout. How the singers coped in the busy backstage area, not to mention in the canteen, is beyond me — talk about "exclusion zones will apply"!

Susan Gritton sang the sadly-wronged but dutifully faithful Ismene with her typical exquisite control and elegance, so obviously at home in the late baroque idiom. She, like Matthews, kept up an admirable consistency in both technique and control and although her arias couldn't make the same impact as some of the other singers' she was impeccable and musical throughout. The cast was completed by two promising young singers in the supporting roles of Arbate (Katie van Kooten) and Marzio (Colin Lee). Van Kooten had most to do, and did it well both vocally and dramatically. Lee had less to play with, and had to cope with an almost comic character of a late-arriving Roman general, but he has a clear strong voice and there will be more to come from him I hope in this sort of arena.

Richard Hickox was very much in command of the ROH orchestra who were, if not exactly inspired, certainly workmanlike and effective. Individual horn and oboe solos were neatly and idiomatically played but to be frank, my musical attention was scarcely aroused either way by the orchestra last night.

The almost-full Garden was warm in its final applause and each singer was kindly received, with the volume competition going, by a neck, to the American countertenor. I've heard that the ROH is selling remaining tickets at a discount — believe me this is a bargain and one that should be taken up whilst you can.

© Sue Loder 2005

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):