Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gaetano Donizetti:Lucia di Lammermoor (Rafal Olbinski)
09 Oct 2007

The Met’s New Lucia

Of Donizetti’s fifty or so “serious” operas, Lucia di Lammermoor was the only one to survive his heyday almost unscathed by change of fashion; today, when a dozen of his other worthy works have been restored to the repertory, Lucia easily hangs on.

Gaetano Donizetti:Lucia di Lammermoor

The Metropolitan Opera, 5 October 2007

Above: Lucia di Lammermoor by Rafal Olbinski

 

The reasons are clear: Donizetti and his librettist, Cammarano, were stage-wise pros and their work, boiled down from a verbose Walter Scott novel, is a tight dramatic ship as well as tunefully irresistible. The sextet has been called the most famous ensemble in opera, but it does not come from nowhere — it bursts logically from a nervous situation, and the scene that follows propels the excitement to a teetering high. Coloraturas prove themselves on the Fountain Scene and the Mad Scene, but the latter, too, is the logical result of all that has gone before. The Tomb Scene that follows may be anticlimactic, but its beauty has lured many a great tenor to attempt to steal the show.

The Met has always loved Lucia; every notable Lucia of the last 124 years has sung it there. This season’s new production is the fourth to play the New Met; its look is handsome and conservative to suit the taste of the American opera audience. The era has been warped to the late nineteenth century for no obvious reason, though it does permit Natalie Dessay to wear a tight Empress Sisi riding habit in Act I and glamorous red silk in Act II. (I thought the Ashtons were strapped for money?) In the Met’s previous Lucia, properly set two hundred years earlier, zaftig Ruth Ann Swenson was unattractively got up as one of Charles II’s bare-breasted floozies, but Dessay is the raison d’être of the show — her maddened face is all over New York, on every news and subway kiosk — and she presumably had more influence with the costume shop. (“She’d look good in anything,” muttered the woman beside me.)

The director is Mary Zimmerman, who like so many tyros brought in by the Gelb regime, has never staged an opera before. Her theater skills are evident, but also her unfamiliarity with the form. In bel canto opera, singing is the primary focus — everything else seems secondary because it is secondary. Beautiful music is where the drama occurs, and such acting as may occur should support that. It’s very exciting when singers can act, as nowadays most of them can, and Dessay is famous for it — but it’s not primary. That is the message someone should have explained to Zimmerman when she grew impatient — as, alas, she did — with moments, minutes, of mere music.

It will puzzle anyone who knows Lucia why any director would upstage the famous sextet, but that is what Zimmerman has done by introducing a new character — a fussy society photographer — who is busily placing people for a Victorian wedding photo, so that instead of a tragic crisis, we have a giggly skit. Very funny, but why is it here? Does Zimmerman think this is a comic opera? Three new corpses for Six Feet Under, perhaps?

Zimmerman obliges us to choose between paying attention to her or paying attention to the opera, which is just what I object to about new wave opera directors. She distracts us from Dessay’s lovely account of “Regnava nel silenzio” by bringing on the ghost of whom the aria tells. The ghost tiptoes down a hill, beckons, and vanishes into the well, very intriguing, but who, then, is paying attention to Dessay’s singing? Only those who know it, and force themselves to ignore the stage. Again, when Raimondo, beautifully sung by John Relyea, admonishes Lucia to accept her fate in an aria often cut, many people may not notice because a bunch of servants behind him are changing the Act II set from scene 1 to scene 2. With a camera, Zimmerman could focus our attention on Relyea; on a stage the size of the Met’s, his artistry goes almost for naught. Too, if Lucia and Arturo are seen mounting the staircase at the beginning of what will become the Mad Scene, they have less than two minutes for Lucia to go mad, find a knife, stab him 23 times, drench herself in blood, and be discovered before Raimondo rushes back to the hall with the news. Then there’s the doctor who comes on in mid Mad Scene to administer the injection that (we must infer) causes Dessay’s death and the exquisite and fanciful variations of her cabaletta — it’s amusing, but this is supposed to be a tragic melodrama, not sketch comedy. At last, in the Tomb Scene finale, when Marcello Giordani is pouring his heart out in the tenor’s big solo moment, Dessay returns, costumed in the ghost’s gray-white from Act I, and distracts us from his singing. Thinking of ways to take our minds off the singing appears to be Zimmerman’s first principle of opera direction. The singing, at least with this cast, is too good for this.

At the October 5 performance, two weeks after the premiere, the star was certainly Dessay, and it was a performance of the role not of the music alone, the vocalism never divorced from the neurotic girl giving way under emotional pressure. Her faints and mad, inappropriate giggles were credible, as was the shock of the guests (and ourselves, familiar with the piece as we might be) at the sight of this birdlike creature’s indecorous behavior. Dessay’s is a Lucia for the present day, when coloratura shenanigans are expected to defer to character. The contrast of her freakish acting with the formality of Donizetti’s melodies and ornaments created an uneasy disjuncture; this is simply not a naturalistic part. But edge can be good in the theater; in time it can become custom: There were charges of tastelessness when Sutherland, fifty years ago, became the first Lucia to have blood on her dress at all. (“She stabbed him over and over!” she pointed out at the time.) Psychologist Brigid Brophy noted that to see a virgin bride stained with blood was not unusual — to see her in her husband’s blood gave the story a jolt. Lucia has always submitted to one strong-willed man or another. Going murderously mad is her way of fighting back. None of the men expect this, and with so petite and (in Act II) pallid a Lucia, it is especially unsettling.

Dessay makes the opera her own by forceful acting, and sings her arias beautifully, but her tiny voice does not command it — she can be overpowered whenever any other voice sings, obliging her to hold her high notes until she can be sure she’s got a clear place to insert them. (Someone should advise the Alisa, Michaela Martens, that it is not good form to drown out the diva at an act finale.) Her ornaments are prettily executed, often given dramatic point by gesture or attitude, but their function of illustrating the character’s state of mind has been usurped by those gestures or, worse, by ghosts, doctors and other distractions. She may be more thrilling to see than to hear.

As Edgardo, Marcello Giordani sang with a liquid tenor thriving on the duet with Dessay and, best of all, his morbid double-aria in the final scene. More passionate outbursts — the famous “Maledizione” of Act II — seemed to push him towards shrillness rather than intensity, and his “Come on, fight me” gestures to the furious wedding guests were awfully Italian in so rigidly Scottish a production. As Enrico, Mariusz Kwiecien’s best act was the second, the suave, menacing duet that breaks his sister’s will — he was close to cracking during what should be the cold fury of the opening scene and withdrew due to illness before Act III’s Wolf’s Crag scene, replaced by a capable debutante Stephen Gaertner. John Relyea, as Raimondo, turned in the best-judged performance for the style of the music and the even flow of line. Young Stephen Costello, the hapless Arturo, has an exciting sound that has aroused comment, but his high notes were not without strain. It was James Levine’s night off; Jens Georg Bachmann, his replacement, kept the singers cued and the drama tight.

John Yohalem

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):