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

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rolando Villazón and Marie-Ange Todorovitch
18 Jan 2006

A NICE COUP: VILLAZÓN in his first “WERTHER”

The French city of Nice has this past week been enjoying some wonderful weather and the aptly-named Cote d’Azur has truly lived up to its name.

This was fortunate, as its opera house, built around 1828 in a style reminiscent of a scaled-down Opéra Garnier, has been playing host to many first-time international visitors who have been lured by the mouth-watering prospect of hearing Rolando Villazón, hot young tenor of the moment, in his first “Werther”.

Villazón has already gained some outstanding reviews and praise from the sternest critics around the world for his performances in such works as Rigoletto, Romeo et Juliette, La Traviata and les Contes d’Hoffmann. He is already spoken of as “the next Domingo” — understandable if maybe a mite premature as this stage of his career. He is only 33, and his recent meteoric rise appears to have been sensibly planned and considered. He does indeed relate closely to Domingo, his “artistic father” (his words) who, though he never actually coaches him acts as mentor and friend to the young singer.

Audience reaction in Nice has been ecstatic and loudly vocal — perhaps too much so at the performance this writer attended when one particularly partisan group of Villazón fans in the first balcony had to be remonstrated with by a stern “Respectez la musique!” from another part of the theatre. One imagines Rolando Villazón himself was equally unimpressed. The Nice Opéra audience was obviously deeply impressed and delighted to be hearing this singer, and I wondered how such an elegant and enterprising, but essentially provincial house (with budgets to match) had managed to achieve such a coup. The answer lies in a meeting between Villazón and the producer Paul-Emile Fourny back in 2001 at the Antibes Festival. Fourny happened to remark that he wanted to stage “Werther” as soon as possible in Nice; Villazón replied that he very much wanted to add this role to his repertoire and a deal was made; luckily, I am informed, at a fee that would no longer buy this artist’s time! Of course, the advantage for Villazón is that he has been able to try out an important new role in a smaller house before submitting himself to critical review on the larger stages of the world.

Both the role and this simple but satisfying production suit Villazón perfectly, playing to his strengths and offering him ample scope to display his musical and histrionic abilities. The young Mexican certainly has the ‘physique du role’ — slim, athletic, and an elegant mover on stage, he transmits the kind of emotional vulnerability essential for this tortured young lover who is cruelly denied his dream. Perhaps it is the combination of ringing clarity and the ability to offer every nuance of expression that impressed most. The voice has a thrilling, easy top, and his delicacy and refinement in the role’s many quieter, reflective moments were matched by a most intelligent response to the words. Every line was delivered with complete understanding of, and immersion in, the character. Werther will surely become a most important role for Villazón and with good reason.

Of the other singers, the mezzo Marie-Ange Todorovitch as Charlotte was the most impressive. She has a handsome stage presence and is a sympathetic actress — and once under full control her big, dark voice brought real intensity and power to the emotionally fraught scene in Act 3 where she fully deserved the warm ovations after the “Air des Lettres” and “Air des Larmes”. She also rose magnificently to the demands of the intensely dramatic final scene and was, along with her illustrious partner, intensely moving. Andre Cognet was a forthright Albert and Sophie was sung with quintessential French spirit by Valérie Condoluci. Of the remainder, Jean-Luc Ballestra offered a promising baritone voice and stage presence and Michel Trempont brought his maturity and rich tones to a satisfying portrayal of the Le Bailli.

The conductor was the well-regarded Patrick Fournillier who was obviously firmly in control of the orchestra and in absolute sympathy with his singers. His shaping of the Entr’acte between Acts Three and Four was particularly dramatic and appealing. The choir of children was perfectly schooled and musically correct, yet also natural — not easy to achieve. The production, sets and lighting were of a suitably elegant nature, if not presenting the audience with any great visual challenges or delights. The final scene was slightly reduced in impact by an upstage procession of the children and minor characters — an interesting device but essentially misconceived in this writer’s opinion as all concentration should surely be on the dying lovers, with the outside world kept only to an aural presence.

However, minor distractions apart, this was a most exciting and successful production of Massenet’s great work and one in which the visiting star, supporting singers and musicians rose admirably to the occasion. Nice Opéra are to be congratulated — let us hope we see more such enterprising events presented here.

© Sue Loder 2006

Click here to view a larger image.

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):