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

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Claire Rutter as Aida
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.

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
English National Opera, 8 November 2007

Above: Claire Rutter as Aida
All photographs are copyright English National Opera and TRISTRAM KENTON

 

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 material.

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).

Aida_ENO_02.pngFull 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

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):