Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera

Theodora, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées

Handel’s genius is central focus to the new staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora at Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Bostridge Sings Handel

1985 must have been a good year for founding a musical ensemble, or festival or organisation, which would have longevity.



Rosalind Plowright as Marfa
22 Feb 2007

MUSSORGSKY: Khovanshchina

At the curtain call for the first night of WNO’s new production of the infrequently performed Khovanshchina director David Pountney wore a simple Russian shirt.

Above: Rosalind Plowright as Marfa


This was one of the few references in this sprawling production that was immediately recognizable. Maybe he wore the shirt for a bet. To see what he could get away with on stage. Maybe he staged the entire production with the same thought.

Of course he did not. But had he, the audience would have had one reason for their polite (and I stress polite) applause at the end what I can only say was one of the most incomprehensible productions I can remember. It even gave Pountney’s space station Dutchman a run for its money. WNO audiences are very polite and at times you rather wish they would make their views clearer in curtain calls than the mutterings and mumblings you hear on the way out.

Khovanshchina was never going to be a laugh a minute night out. And those who bought their tickets to hear the wonderful music of Musorsgsky, as orchestrated after his death by Shostakovich, will have been amongst those not disappointed.

Under the baton of Lothar Koenigs the music to those of us not very familiar with the work was a revelation, always beautiful and evocative, at times lyrical and tuneful, at others Wagnerian and haunting.

The same must be said of the chorus of Welsh National Opera who, stalwarts as they are, put up with whatever was thrown at them in this potpourri of historical, architectural and cultural references crammed into one production with stoic aplomb. 

Someone, somewhere, decided this opera would be sung in English. This would have been fine had it been possible to make out more than about one in a hundred words. There were whole arias — and by no means little ditties — where I could not fathom a single word. It sounded quite nice, in a moody Russian sort of way, and was no doubt deeply significant.

I have never been a fan of surtitles. But after a few minutes of struggling to make out a word of what was being sung I was all at sea, struggling to hear singers, follow the dastardly plot and file yet another Pountney visual reference in my cerebral inbox for future analysis.

Even with the show sung in English, we should have had Welsh surtitles. My Welsh is pretty basic but I would have more of a chance of understanding the Welsh than what I could hear from the stage.

At the interval it quickly became clear I was not alone. “Can anyone tell me what is going on, can you make out what they are singing and what is the point of the production?” was the main thrust of interval discussions I overheard. The responses were along the lines: “Haven’t a clue, can’t make much of the words and I stopped trying to understand it ages ago”.

This, of course, is a great pity. This is indeed a powerful and musically gorgeous work that deserves to be enjoyed. Possibly in a year or so the opera can be revived with surtitles or as a straight concert performance.

Admittedly the plot is so complex and the piece so gloomy it is better to regard it as an evocation of Russia and themes religious, political and emotional, rather than a literal tale.

It is about power struggles in the time of Peter the Great between rivals and a spiritual leader with individual views on the future of Mother Russia. By the end they have all been ground down in one dreadful way or another and we are left with yet another image of troubled Russia, its struggles between East and West, modernism and tradition, a people invaded, plundered and constantly in search of a solution.

There really is little point going through the legions of symbolism Pountney and designer Johan Engels wade through with as much subtlety and progress as a German Panzer, low on fuel and stuck in the mud in the Russian winter of 1941. There are undoubtedly scenes of intensity and sheer horror that are visually gripping and chilling. Yet, as a package, the whole is too abstract production led.

Yes, the cast worked extremely hard and Peter Sidhom, singing Shaklovity, made an impact. Robert Hayward and Tom Randle as Prince Ivan Khovansky and Prince Andrei Khovansky had presence and Rosalind Plowright generally coped admirably with the demands of singing Marfa.

The audience managed miraculously to stop coughing during Beate Vollack’s erotic, at times seemingly naked, dance as the Persian Slave. A bit of light relief if nothing else.

There is a further performance at WMC on Saturday, February 14 and the Grand Theatre, Swansea on April 7.

Mike Smith

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):