Recently in Performances
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
Back for its fourth revival, David McVicar’s 2003 production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte has much charm, beauty and artistry.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro has a libretto by Lorenzo daPonte based on the French play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro (The Crazy Day or the Marriage of Figaro) by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799).
For its world class Easter Festival, Baden-Baden mounted a Die Zauberflöte that owed more to the grey penitential doldrums of Lent than to the unbridled jubilance of re-birth.
28 Oct 2007
The Magic Flute — English National Opera
Despite rumours to the contrary, English National Opera’s advertising material claims that this 12th revival of Nicholas Hytner’s popular production of ‘ The Magic Flute’ will be the last. Though it’s arguably better to get rid of a production in...
Despite rumours to the contrary, English National Opera’s advertising material
claims that this 12th revival of Nicholas Hytner’s popular production of ‘
The Magic Flute’ will be the last. Though it’s arguably better to get rid
of a production in its prime rather than when it’s been done to death, it will be a
sad loss. The staging has been popular with all sectors of ENO’s audience, as a
result of its balance, clarity, wit and visual beauty. This staging more than any other has
given me continual pause for thought over the years, leading me to better understanding of the
The ‘ serious’ characters are well-rounded and balanced; after all, they
are all supposed to be in some way human. The Queen of the Night is drawn in particularly fine
detail; she believes that she’s acting for the good, or why would she afford Tamino
the protection of the flute and the guidance of the three boys? Heather Buck’s
threatening coloratura was like an explosion of simmering anger and frustration on top of a
soft, warm-hued centre, not an all-guns-blazing outpouring of evil. Sarastro, too, has
something to learn; as he gets to know Pamina better, he loses arrogance that he never knew he
had, and comes to respect a woman as an equal.
Andrew Kennedy was a noble Tamino with lovely tone, though his oddly distorted vowel sounds
are becoming increasingly irritating. Sarah-Jane Davies matched him well as Pamina, singing a
beautifully poised ‘Ach, ich fühls’ (‘Now I know that love can
vanish’). Brindley Sherratt’s Sarastro was perhaps a little weak on the
bottom notes, but gave an imposing, centred performance, and Matthew Rose is such a fine
Speaker that I long to hear him as Sarastro.
Roderick Williams was a congenial Papageno with considerable charm, delivering Jeremy
Sams’s English dialogue in an approximation of a Yorkshire accent. Talking of
accents, his disguised Papagena is conventionally played in this production as an elderly
Irish tea-lady, which proved a verbal challenge too great for the Swedish soprano Susannah
Andersson. Once she was out of ‘ character’ and into the duet, her diction
was perfect and she sang very sweetly.
Sarah-Jane Davies (Pamina) / Brindley Sherratt (Sarastro) / Andrew Kennedy (Tamino)
The chorus were on form and Martin André conducted with delicacy and lyricism, but the
greatest joy of this production remains the staging. The live doves summoned by
Papageno’s pipes; the flood of green light when Tamino is wandering in the woodland;
the bears tamed by the flute; the majestic white pillars of the Temple of Wisdom and its
glorious interior golden screens with cut-out hieroglyphics; Papageno’s marital nest
full of baby birds. Given ENO’s tendency to replace serviceable and popular stagings
of core repertoire with misguided ‘concept’ productions, could they not
be persuaded to keep this lovely piece of musical theatre for a few seasons longer? I hope so.
Ruth Elleson © 2007