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The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.
‘Beauty is the one form of spirituality that we experience through the senses.’ In Thomas Mann’s, Death in Venice, Plato’s axiom stirs the hopes of the aging, intellectually stale poet, Gustav von Aschenbach, that he may rekindle his creativity.
There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.
The tenor that the audience most wanted to hear, Plácido Domingo, opened the vocal program with “Junto al puente de la peña” (Next to the rock bridge) from La Canción del Olvido (The song of Oblivion) by José Serrano. He sounded rested and his voice soared majestically over the orchestra.
Tucked away somewhere in the San Francisco Opera warehouse was an old John Cox production of Così fan tutte from Monte Carlo. Well, not that old by current standards at San Francisco Opera.
Rossini's Maometto Secondo is a major coup for Garsington Opera at Wormsley, confirming its status as the leading specialist Rossini house in Britain. Maometto Secondo is a masterpiece, yet rarely performed because it's formidably difficult to sing. It's a saga with some of the most intense music Rossini ever wrote, expressing a drama so powerful that one can understand why early audiences needed "happy endings" to water down its impact
I suppose it was inevitable that, in this Britten Centenary year, the 66th Aldeburgh Festival would open with Peter Grimes.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail at Garsington Opera at Wormsley isn’t Mozart as you’d expect but it’s true to the spirit of Mozart who loved witty, madcap japes.
What a pity! On a glorious — well, by recent English standards — summer’s day, there can be few more beautiful English countryside settings
than Glyndebourne, with the added bonus, as alas much of the audience appears
to understand it, of an opera house attached.
Described by one critic as “cosmically gifted”, during her tragically short career, American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson amazed and delighted audiences with the spellbinding beauty of her singing and the astonishing honesty of her performances.
“I wrote it almost without noticing.” So Verdi declared when reminded of his eighth — and perhaps least frequently performed, opera, Alzira. One might say that, since he composed the work, no-one else has much noticed either.
Just when you thought the protagonist was Hoffmann! Who, rather what stole the show?
When is verismo verily veristic? Or what is a virginal girl dressed in communion white doing in the two murderous acts of the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Tosca? And why does she sing the shepherd's song?
Wagner’s Lohengrin is not an unfamiliar visitor to the UK thanks,
in the main, to Elijah Moshinsky’s perennial production at Covent Garden.
Philip Glass's The Perfect American at the ENO in London is a visual treat, but the libretto is mind-numbingly anodyne.
Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park, with libretto by his regular collaborator Alasdair Middleton, has the remarkable distinction of being the first completed operatic adaptation of any Jane Austen novel to be staged.
London’s two principal opera companies have offered a baffling
near-silence as their response to Wagner’s two-hundredth anniversary.
If a recent trio of musically superlative performances at Canadian Opera Company is indicative of their norm, the casting director should get a hefty bonus.
Just when you imagine you’ve got the operatic time-line fixed in your mind
in a clean sweep of what goes where and when and how, you hear another work
from another forgotten corner of the repertory that upends one’s conclusions.
Nothing inspires fable quite like defeat. The great riddle of Spanish
history is how the Christian Visigoths managed to lose the Iberian peninsula to
the Moors in one small battle in 711 and took eight hundred years to get it
14 Nov 2007
Aida at ENO
After the marketing gimmickry of Sally Potter’s production of Carmen, and a dance-based Poppea set at the bottom of the sea, it did not bode well when the advertising for ENO’s latest
production included an interactive dress-up doll circulated by email.
The company currently
seems obsessed with ‘hooking’ a new audience, while giving little thought to delivering a
consistent standard of meaningful theatrical output which might encourage this audience to stay
and explore the operatic medium further.
The ‘hook’ for Jo Davies’s new production of Aida (in collaboration with the opera companies of
Houston and Oslo) was the prospect of sets and costumes by the iconic British designer Zandra
Rhodes – hence the dress-up doll – and it was Rhodes’s name which dominated the publicity
Rhodes’s creation is a riot of colour in stylised, exaggerated versions of authentic Ancient
Egyptian designs. The men’s chorus sport voluminous gold skirts and bald-caps painted with
turquoise zigzags; Amneris is entertained by orange-clad child dancers in a room with intricate
wing-patterned windows, and Radamès makes his Act 2 triumphal entrance on a fabulous
turquoise-and-gold elephant puppet amid a shower of gold. These are the garish ceremonial
colours of the Egyptian armies; the Ethiopians have earthier colours, browns and burnt reds and
yellows. Diagonally-hung scenic draperies slide back and forth to create pyramid-shaped spaces;
the final scene is highly effective as a triangular space closes in on Aida and Radamès.
Crucially, behind the zany turquoise headdresses and lavish visuals, Jo Davies has created a
straightforward, ultra-traditional reading of Verdi’s drama which focuses on the central love
triangle and Aida’s internal struggle. It is refreshingly gimmick-free and invites the audience to
care about the characters. Furthermore, the singing is terrific.
Two singers are particularly outstanding; Claire Rutter, who sings the title role for the first time
and does so with total commitment and unfailingly lovely tone, and Iain Paterson, also in his role
début as Amonasro, a former ENO Young Artist whose bass-baritone is now impressively
refined and compelling (his future engagements include Gunther at the Met).
Full stage with Jane Dutton (Amneris) and Gwynne Howell (The Pharaoh) centre
Tenor John Hudson may be short on vocal ‘edge’ but he sings Radamès with power in the big
moments at the end of Act 1 and the Nile Scene, and remarkable sensitivity in the quieter
passages, including a proper diminuendo on the final B-flat of ‘Celeste Aida’. Jane Dutton’s
Amneris is vocally capable, but it’s her characterisation that would really benefit from more
depth. For the first two acts at least, she comes across as little more than a smug,
two-dimensional cartoon villain; there’s little evidence of the personal pain behind her
victimisation of Aida. After the Nile Scene, suddenly there’s some depth and real drama. (One
weakness of the staging as a whole, in fact, is that it doesn’t really start to take itself seriously
until the second half.)
Add into the mix the two distinguished basses – Gwynne Howell as the King of Egypt and
Brindley Sherratt as Ramfis – and the cast is one of which any top-rank international house
would be proud. In the pit, conductor Edward Gardner makes delicate work of the score’s soft
opening and the calm reverence of the ‘Possente Ptha’ scene, but pulls the stops out for the
warmongering in Act 1 and the big stuff of Act 2.
For once, the formula seems to be right. Attract the punters with a well-known opera title and a
big-name designer, and keep them entertained with first-class music making, a visual spectacle,
and a production which acknowledges that the intimate stuff is most important of all. ENO
should treat this as a salutary lesson.
Ruth Elleson © 2007