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

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Paul Nilon (photo: Dallas Opera)
18 Feb 2007

Opera North: Breathing new life into “Orfeo”

Friday night in Leeds, in the North of England, at the city’s marvellously restored Grand Theatre, with the pavements outside shining wet and a tidal wave of umbrellas surging past, was an exciting place to be.

Above: Paul Nilon
Photo: Copyright and courtesy of Dallas Opera

 

I was lured by England’s only national company outside of London, a new production by Christopher Alden of Monteverdi’s seminal masterpiece, and a debut in the role for one of England’s most talented yet under-rated tenors: Paul Nilon. Not one of the three attractions disappointed.

Opera North is on a roll at the moment; it has a beautiful old theatre as its home, decorated in a palette of deep red, green and gold, not to mention some fabulous original Victorian tiling now exposed again in all their glory, and is planning even more work in a Phase Two to bring back to life the adjoining Assembly Rooms as another rehearsal and performance space. Aligned to these physical plans is their continuing commitment to challenge preconceptions of opera, advocating lesser-known works (later this season they are presenting Kaiser’s “Croesus”) and to breathe new life into the classics. You don’t get very much more classic than the opera that virtually invented the art-form, and Christopher Alden has most decidedly set out to challenge a few well-worn notions of this favola in musica.

First of all, the evening’s staging is seamless and without interruption by interval which makes for a long sit — some one and three quarter hours. Secondly, Alden gives us just one physical location with no traditional “descent” into Hades, no Styx, no dark and flaming scenes or flying deities. As the curtain rises we are taken to a large room — possibly a palace or ducal space — floored, walled and canopied in a kind of giant parquet wood effect in shades of brown. The costumes are non-specific modern: jeans or dresses with Tudor touches in the form of the occasional ruff or slashed velvet doublet. A few high niches in the side walls are the only entrances and exits for a necessarily agile cast of singers — each niche must have been at least four feet from the boards. Apart from that, just an array of sofas and easy chairs provided visual detail and a base for the assembly of singers who in turn played the wedding guests, the chorus, the Furies and, the audience. Audience? Yes, in a way they were just that, for in this production Alden and Nilon combine their talents to persuade us that this is not Orfeo as hero, great lover or mystical muse; rather, he is Orfeo the Artist, the Performer, and subject to all the angst therein. His great aria Possente spirto is delivered in the form of a nervous singer giving an audition, complete with hastily-erected music stand, shaking hands and despairing glances at an unmoved Caronte. Equally challenging to the paying audience was the way Alden played with our expectations of the ill-fated Eurydice: she seems anything but delighted to be marrying Orfeo, more than happy when dead, and — a typical Alden touch — when masking-taped to a wall to denote her passage into the Underworld she is transmogrified into the character of Speranza who encourages Orfeo to convince the infernal gatekeeper Caronte to let him follow his love. Caronte spends his time sitting in one of the ubiquitous armchairs, apparently reading the Obituaries column of the Times. A nice touch.

For some in the first night audience (a gratifyingly full house) these ideas pushed them out of their comfort zone; but even if Alden’s love-affair with masking tape (used not only to fix poor Eurydice upright to a wall, but also to delineate Pluto’s kingdom and occasionally confine Orfeo) irritated some, then there could be no argument with the quality of the music making. Quite simply it was fine, idiomatic, and intensely stylistic throughout without ever making the mistake of sounding overly “old” or pedantic. Chris Moulds directed a twenty-strong period band, each element of which accompanied different characters, different “affects”, in different parts of the story — recorders, cornets, sackbuts and harp adding a rich sonority to the strings and ubiquitous theorbos.

Of the singers, Paul Nilon of course has to carry much of the opera. This was his first attempt at the character, which is surprising when one considers his great experience in baroque and classical roles, but he rose to the challenge and indeed threw down another to singers currently regarded as masters of the role. Nilon is superb when portraying disturbed or emotionally tangled psyches — his Grimoaldo in Handel’s “Rodelinda” springs to mind. His Possente Spirto e formidabil Nume, the great central pivot of the opera, was superbly sung, superbly acted. If it lacked the icy elegance of an Ainsley or Bostridge, in the context of this production’s most human of heroes, it convinced entirely. The desperation, the hope, the desire of every performer to please an audience, in this case the implacable gatekeeper, was in every note and gesture of this intensely written tour de force for the human voice.

The supporting roles were all consistently well sung and acted — Anna Stephany as Eurydice/Speranza is fulfilling her promise as a young English singer to watch, her voice full and coloured, nicely differentiated between the roles. Among the other female voices, Ann Taylor in the dual roles of La Messagiera and Prosperina had a glorious bloom to her voice, and an amusing stage presence when required. The minor male roles were equally consistent in quality of singing — standouts last night being basses Graeme Broadbent (a cavernously voiced Caronte), and Andrew Foster-Williams (a rather amusingly disinterested and randy Plutone). There were no obvious vocal weak links and this alone is a testament to the strength in depth that Opera North can command at present.

This quality was not lost on the local audience or guests: at the end of the performance there were warm ovations for all concerned, well-deserved cheers for our Yorkshire-born Orfeo — and a few cheerfully-received boos for the director. Certainly one can pick holes in some of the director’s conceits in this production: the eliding of Eurydice’s rescue and second death for instance, but safe to say both Alden and Opera North have upheld their avowed traditions in fine style.

© Sue Loder 2007

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):