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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ulysse et Pénélope -- Circa 450 BCE -- Musée du Louvre
19 Sep 2006

Old Music In a New Home — WNO stages a brand new production of Monteverdi’s “Ulysses”

In his introduction to the Welsh National Opera’s celebratory 60th anniversary season programme Carlo Rizzi, their Music Director, declares that “we are bringing the best of Wales to the rest of the world — and the best of the world to Wales”.

And with this brand new production of Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” (The Return of Ulysses) in collaboration with the Royal Danish Opera, staged in WNO’s stunning new theatre at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, both sentiments are upheld. “In these stones horizons sing” is blazoned in huge letters across the gleaming metal carapace of the new building; words that Monteverdi himself might have set to music. It is an exciting and challenging greeting to any visitor, and WNO did not disappoint.

WNOext_medium.jpg

The genius of Monteverdi’s free-flowing music drama is powerfully displayed and faithfully reincarnated by two of today’s most brilliant exponents of baroque opera, director David Alden and conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini. Alden’s trademark wit and visual quirkiness is certainly present, yet his solid-seeming but softly-glowing sets always support, not detract, from the epic story that unfolds of the wandering hero and his loyal but beleaguered wife. Alden knows exactly when to interpolate the occasional visual joke, or dramatic flourish, yet when the music demands he steps back and gives it and the singers time and space. “Ulysses” is essentially an ensemble opera, and Alden is quoted as saying that his joy in working on it comes partly from the opportunity it gives him to work with, and be integrated with, not only the singers but the musicians as well. If there’s a caveat to his work here it is that he seems unable to resist the almost-obligatory rather sleazy bit of simulated sex from time to time; as with any stage business or comedy, there’s a fine line between joke and boorishness and at times he oversteps it.

However, the integration he speaks of is there for all to see and hear, for equally assured and committed to the brilliance of the old master’s musical invention is Rinaldo Alessandrini in the pit (and on harpsichord continuo) with the WNO’s own fleet-footed orchestra augmented for this production by some six or seven period instrument performers, including the now-essential theorbos. They, together with the baroque cello and harp support much of the vocal story telling and it was obvious that an intensely-felt rapport between director, musicians and singers had developed over many days rehearsal. What is left of the original score of 1640 is of course but bare bones - it is up to today’s directors and singers to extrapolate, interpret, and ornament. Last night’s music was spring-heeled and alert, subtle and elegantly attuned to the ever-changing moods of the characters and the mainly youthful band of singers also showed extraordinary command of the vocal idiom.

Although an ensemble opera, there are some characters whose place and import are crucial and here the production was graced with two extremely gifted and dramatically assured singers. The very experienced tenor Paul Nilon took on the title role of the wandering hero, twenty years away from his noble and loyal queen, Penelope, sung here by the richly voiced mezzo soprano Sara Fulgoni. Nilon showed his usual attention to text and detail and his great experience of the idiom, although he is far from being an early music only specialist. His quite soft-grained tenor is so characterful and expressive one sometimes forgets that he is singing, not speaking, yet when needed in moments of high drama such as the hero’s fateful shipwreck or final battle with his would-be usurpers, Nilon musters both thrilling power and heroic tone to great effect. Matching him in dramatic tone, Fulgoni gives us another sort of heroism: that of Penelope’s almost obsessive fidelity to her long-lost husband. Her mix of physical cool regality and warm dark passion simmering below was masterly.

wno int_medium.jpg

The supporting 16 characters who weave their way in and out of the story, each displaying an aspect of the human (or divine) condition, were sung well and sometimes excellently so by this quite youthful cast - in fact the standard of both vocal and stage technique was so high that it was heart-warming to think that in the oft-maligned garden that is British opera there are many good young voices pushing up through to the sunlight of international success. Those that caught the eye on opening night included Sarah Tynan, soprano, as Melanto, Iestyn Davies, countertenor, as Human Frailty/Pisandro, and Ed Lyon, tenor, as Telemacho; the latter’s beautifully sung contemplation on the beauty and tragedy of Helen of Troy being particularly memorable.

For a first night, the production seemed to go extraordinarily smoothly, despite some complicated special effects and “sets within sets” whenever the divine but definitely lubricious gods and goddesses became involved, and this was perhaps a direct result of WNO’s declared aim to give its singers and musicians plenty of on-set rehearsal time. Peter Bellingham, WNO’s Executive Director, told me during the single interval that this was one of the greatest benefits of their move just 18 months ago from their old cramped premises to this beautiful, spacious new building, as they now had not only three separate rehearsal spaces for musicians, singers and chorus but also had access to all the sets and practical devices throughout the rehearsal periods. This writer can confirm that the audience is equally well served by an auditorium that frankly takes the breath away upon entering - it was akin to entering some great warm cave deep inside a mountain, its walls appearing carved from solid blocks of purple hued slate, separated by gently curving horizontal strata of gleaming wood that are the balconies and slips. What isn’t Welsh slate (strangely silky to the touch) is honey-coloured wood (the seats, floors, doors) or Welsh wool (traditional tweed upholstery to the seats). The overall effect is a kind of natural sumptuousness, a Celtic chieftain’s palace perhaps, far removed from the painted and gilded houses of London, Europe, and the USA. And even more important, the acoustic has a clarity and brilliance that, I’m told, singers and musicians appreciate and which translates to all reaches of the building.

As Welsh National Opera enter their anniversary season, they have here a new production, and a new house, that they can be proud to show the world. The stones are truly singing, and their horizons can only become wider.

© Sue Loder 2006

“Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria”, at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff on 23rd September and then on tour to Oxford, Llandudno, Birmingham, Bristol and Southampton.

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):