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

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

David Walker (Photo: David Rodgers)
15 Apr 2007

Handel's Flavio at NYCO

Incongruity was the rule of the day in the New York City Opera’s production of Handel’s Flavio, which opened on Wednesday, April 4.

Above: David Walker (Photo: David Rodgers)

 

From David Zinn’s fantastic sets to the gender-bending casting to the non sequitur romp through human emotion with every new scene, the production was a delight to behold, though I fear that the novelty of combining two counter tenors and a pants role trumped all else that was wonderful.

Flavio is characteristic of full-length Handel opera, deftly combining the tragic and comic as Mozart and Rossini would later do. An on-stage death and subsequent lament is followed immediately by a comic scene involving a love triangle, which is in turn followed by a scene in which one of our heroes pleads with his love to kill him. There is always danger that such manic drama will jar the senses a bit too much, but Flavio is one of the more subtle examples in Handel’s oeuvre.

The potpourri was emphasized by Zinn’s colorful sets and costumes. Fanciful greens, pinks, yellows, and blues combined to embolden the incongruities of the work. One of the most prominent sets was a high grassy hedge, on which hung lamps belonging inside. The hedge functioned alternately as garden and throne room, leaving the audience to incorporate grass in the royal chamber and fancy lighting in the great outdoors. The costuming was equally as creative; at one point Theodata, played by Kathryn Allyn, donned the baroque version of a French maid costume.

Make no mistake, however, the night belonged to the performers, especially the high-pitched male heroes of the story. Two lead roles in this opera were written for castrati, with a third pants role to boot. While revered and sexually desired in their day, the operation involved in creating the castrato voice has since understandably fallen out of favor. So we have counter tenors instead. City Opera conveyed to the audience the import of having two men sing their falsetto out in the six-page preparatory essay in the program booklet. The article explicated the history of castrati and the modern rise of the counter tenor, which author Marion Lignana Rosenberg links to the contemporary early music revival. Rosenberg also mentions the gender issues inherent when men sing in traditionally female registers, likening the operatic trend to the popularity of high-pitched male crooners in pop music.

Indeed, although the counter tenor voice is both aesthetically beautiful and fascinating from the perspective of the historian, gender issues were key in the audience’s reception of Flavio. And how could they not be? In this city, in this business, at a critical time in the gay rights movement, it is natural and healthy that an opera with two fabulous men playing the studly heroes and a woman as the third-most-testosterone-filled character comes to the fore. And so it was that the audience’s awareness of these issues was palpable. There was dead silence, the likes of which I’ve hardly experienced, during the first counter tenor aria of the evening (ably sung by Gerald Thompson), and later giggles as Emilia, Guido’s love interest, sang “when it comes to odd lovers” (these among a slew of further examples I could note).

If members of the audience did tear their minds from such novelty, they heard a sound and capable cast. David Walker was returning to the title role, and he handled the mood changes deftly all the while singing a massive range of notes. Gerald Thompson as Guido filled the other counter tenor role. His voice was more developed although his acting left much to be desired. Katherine Rohrer played Vitige, Flavio’s servant who outwits his (or her?) master to get the girl in the end, a power play redolent of later Mozart and Rossini. Ms. Rohrer has a sweet and clear voice and first-rate comedic timing. Kathryn Allyn’s deep mezzo was well served in the role of Theodata, and Marguerite Krull sang beautifully as Emilia, especially in the lament. Indeed, Ms. Krull proved to be the most adept Handel interpreter of the bunch with her florid, effortless cadenzas. Notable too was the period orchestra, lead by William Lacey on the harpsichord. Their ensemble skills and obvious diligent work at authenticity were admirable.

In all, the New York City Opera’s production of Flavio was at once delightfully whimsical and timely. All elements pulled together to create a wonderfully incongruous whole. May we see many more such gender-bending productions in the future!

Sarah Gerk

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):