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

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Donna Bateman (Susannah) -- ETO (Photo: Robert Workman)
06 Apr 2008

SUSANNAH – English Touring Opera

The most interesting opera on ETO's Spring 2008 tour was Carlisle Floyd's 1950s tale of religious hypocrisy in the rural Deep South, based on the Apocryphal tale of Susannah and the Elders.

Carlisle Floyd: Susannah
English Touring Opera, 14 March 2008

Above: Donna Bateman
All photos by Robert Workman courtesy of English Touring Opera

 

It has been relatively well served in America in terms of stage productions, but this was its UK professional première.

It was a shame not to see the auditorium full, as it's the kind of piece which people are inclined to find 'easy'. Musically it's attractive and unchallenging, with quasi-Puccinian melodic lines combined with quasi-folk tunes. It's also a straightforward enough setting to evoke easily on a shoestring budget and with a set destined for nine different venues; the height of summer in the southern USA was conjured up most effectively with no more than a few slatted panels and a backdrop of colourful, hazy late-afternoon lighting.

James Conway's production depicted New Hope Valley as a community which is hypocritically selective of its moral battles, ready to torture a person for any hint of extramarital sexuality but tolerant of routine domestic violence and subordination of women. Most of the younger women were either carrying babies or heavily pregnant; many of them also sported black eyes and other battle-scars. Sandra Porter's hard-faced, vitriolic Mrs McLean was a fitting figurehead for a people who profess to live by the loving word of God but in practice equate unquestioning compliance with goodness and unwitting difference with moral corruption. There are echoes of Peter Grimes in the willingness of a devoutly religious congregation to turn upon and destroy an individual.

Donna Bateman gave a lyrical and vocally touching performance in the title role. For Act 2's wistful 'Come back, o summer' she created a moment of highly-charged stillness which she never quite managed to achieve in the opera's best-known aria, 'Ain't it a pretty night'. But she never quite managed to project Susannah's crucial youth and innocence, and her words became constricted and indistinct at the top end of her voice.

As her brother Sam, the American tenor Todd Wilander was powerful in both voice and presence, as was the very young-looking Sean Clayton as the backward Little Bat McLean whose false accusations under pressure from his parents are the catalyst for Susannah's humiliation, ostracism and loss of sexual innocence.

Donna-Bateman_Sean-Clayton.pngDonna Bateman (Susannah) and Sean Clayton (Little Bat)

Andrew Slater (who returned the next evening as Mozart's Commendatore) was not particularly charismatic as the preacher Olin Blitch, but Floyd's music and director James Conway's scene-setting effectively produced an atmosphere of horrific tension in the revival meeting scene in which Susannah is put under public pressure to repent of a non-existent sin. For me, it was one of the most uncomfortable moments I can remember witnessing on a theatrical stage. Slater seemed more comfortable with the demands of the next scene, in which Blitch reveals himself as a lonely and needy person before taking advantage of Susannah at a time when she has neither the strength nor the will to resist him, and in his subsequent hopeless attempt to make right his wrongdoing.

The atmospheric lighting and attention to detail (I liked the women's sunburned shoulders) were complemented by Alexander Ingram's warm yet dramatic conducting; though occasionally the balance wasn't quite right and the singers were overpowered.

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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):