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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

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):