Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Il Trovatore at Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), Italy
07 Jul 2007

Love and death among battlements

In 2003, at Cagli’s Accademia del Teatro, Elisabetta Courir directed a compelling Così fan tutte, minimalist, sophisticated and low-budget; quite unlike Daniele Abbado, whose Lohengrin for Bologna’s Teatro Comunale integrated “hard” scenery, video projections and historically informed costumes into a dream-like pageant.

Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore
Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), Italy


Yet both stagings had in common a deep respect for — and knowledge of — the original dramatic concept and the underlying music, something increasingly rare nowadays.

In fact, both young directors have one more common feature, since their fathers Duilio Courir and Claudio Abbado rank among Italy’s shining stars — in music criticism and in conducting, respectively. Being born into the trade at such top levels may rather work as a hindrance, at least when a budding professional is determined to build his/her own independent career without relying on family connections. Ms Courir is one such case, having debuted in opera direction relatively late in 1994 with an appreciated staging of Vivaldi’s Tamerlano at Verona’s Teatro Filarmonico, at the age of 30 and after diverse experiences in spoken drama.

Elisabetta CourirActually, most of her educational curriculum pointed towards opera. The 10-year girl who used to sing in the children’s choir at La Scala grew up to study music at the Scuola Civica di Milano, alongside humanities, theater and musicology at the State University in the same town. For a period, she even took singing lesson from the vocal scholar Rodolfo Celletti, also attending the masterclasses held at Fiesole (Florence) by Walter Blazer, the well-known teacher from the Manhattan School of Music. As to direction, she apprenticed with such masters as Dario Fo and Luca Ronconi — but particularly Egisto Marcucci, noted for his rigor, discrimination of, and in-depth research on, texts, whether sung or spoken.

Courir’s latest opera staging, Verdi’s Il trovatore, generally counts as popular fare; however, her reading thereof appears unconventional, aristocratic and upstream — starting right from its location: an outdoor arena at Vigoleno, soaring high on the green hills between Parma and Piacenza in the Po Valley. The castle and hamlet of Vigoleno, built in its present form during the 1390s, was a meeting point for the culturati during the 1920-30s. Gabriele D’Annunzio, Max Ernst, Jean Cocteau, Artur Rubinstein among Europeans, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Elsa Maxwell from the USA; all were guests here at the duchesse de Grammont’s, born princess Maria Ruspoli (incidentally: from the same family who offered lavish hospitality to young Handel in Rome).

Il Trovatore — Act IIIThe castle itself, with its towers, battlemented walls and gates, provided a hyperrealistic backdrop to a plot set in no less than two castles in Spain during roughly the same age: Aljaferia and Castellor. Light years far from the current trend of European opera direction, where the setting would be typically a dilapidated industrial plant, a garage, a gay bar, a spacecraft or whatever else. Tall wooden boards, all crooked and scorched, served as a camouflage for covered bays were patrols were doing their rounds. A drawdbridge suspended over a dark gulf was alternatively the springboard whence Manrico was expected to launch his treacherous high Cs in “Di quella pira” and the stairway plunging into the dungeon “where the State prisoners languish”. Less blacksmiths than dyers, the Gypsies hanged out the garish product of their industry from virtual battlements mirroring the real ones, or celebrated and sung by torchlight while squatting down in circles around certain disquieting cauldrons. Tribal and gloomy with a shade of the Orient — such was the medieval Spain conjured up by Courir and her team: set designer Guido Fiorato, costume designer Artemio Cabassi and Fiammetta Baldiserri in charge of lighting.

Stage at Castello di Vigoleno (Piacenza), ItalyWithin that (basically reliable, yet never archaeologic) framework, bodies shaped their passions in the mould of unavoidable melodrama. The lecherous Count attained by bitter qualms of conscience in the end; Leonora a compassionate Madonna in light-blue train; Manrico a greyish bachelor, moonstruck by misfortune and clearly a noble born-looser. Azucena towered throughout in her fiery red gowns, as young and sexy as possible. Rather than Manrico’s mother, she looked like his paramour, while a manly Ferrando kept jerking her with ill-conceived desire. Side characters, nuns, warriors, courtiers and sundry extras navigated smoothly, then suddenly disappeared behind the boards. Perfect clockwork and grand opera on a grand scale, though with limited means.

The junior singing company was enough well-matched (a crucial requirement for Il trovatore), with baritone Claudio Sgura getting the best applause for both his vocal qualities and sensitive acting. Rachele Stanisci (Leonora) has her strongpoint in agility, as Laura Brioli (Azucena) in sheer power; yet a more restrained vibrato during their forte passages would not spoil. As Manrico, the experienced tenor Renzo Zulian sounded strangely fatigued and/or unhappy with his upper register, probably due to a last-minute stand-in for an ailing colleague. Orchestra Filarmonica Toscanini and Coro del Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, both emerging ensembles, were led by Massimiliano Stefanelli with unrelenting pulse, despite a troublesome acoustic environment. Outdoor venues have their pros and cons, particularly during a windy early Summer as this is proving to be.

Carlo Vitali

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):