Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

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):