Recently in Performances
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.
On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.
06 May 2008
Punch & Judy at ENO
English National Opera’s production of Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Punch and Judy’ is the company’s second collaboration with the Young Vic Theatre — following the premiere of Neuwirth’s ‘Lost Highway’ a few weeks earlier — and remarkably, also the second London production of this early Birtwistle work within a month, the previous one having been at the Linbury Studio Theatre, a collaboration between Music Theatre Wales and the Royal Opera.
ENO has one particular coup up its sleeve. There can be few singers as
well-suited to the grotesque, tragic-comic figure of Mr Punch as the baritone
Andrew Shore, one of ENO’s most distinguished regular guests and a
first-rate singing actor. In full puppet costume, he is the cross between a
naughty child, a vicious murderous thug and a sinister nightmare figure
— a nightmare which eventually implodes on him with the full force of
half-a-dozen Punch clones and the ghosts of his victims.
Giles Cadle’s set and costume designs go all-out to replicate the iconic
‘Punch and Judy show’ look, in primary colours that look slightly shabby and
sun-bleached. The stage is a circus-ring with a canopy of brightly-coloured
fairy lights. But at the back, a freshly-dug grave is a reminder of the
macabre inevitability with which Punch’s serial murders will be carried
Ashley Holland strikes an imposing figure as the Choregos, a Greek
chorus-like figure who acts as a master of ceremonies, a narrator and moral
judge, but who falls victim to Punch just like all the others. It is the
Choregos and his murder that first blur the distinction between make-believe
and reality, an idea which Daniel Kramer’s staging takes further by stripping
away the puppet-costumes from the protagonists as events progress and the
moral themes of the piece are developed. Most — including the Doctor
and Lawyer, played by Graeme Broadbent and Graham Clark respectively —
reach this state of human nakedness at the point at which Punch kills them.
As for Punch himself, by the time he comes to feel remorse for the murder of
his baby — the first of his crimes — he is no more than a bald,
half-dressed, vulnerable human being. Only Gillian Keith’s ringletted,
hyperactive doll of a Pretty Polly remains in ‘character', a fantasy figure
to the last.
Birtwistle’s brutally uncompromising score — which supposedly upset
Benjamin Britten so much at the work’s premiere that he walked out of the
performance — is usually subtle and understated, atonal but far from
tuneless. It juxtaposes banal nursery-ditties with ‘Passion chorales’ and
tragic monologue. The insouciance of the little motif with which Punch shrugs
off each murder strikes a vivid contrast with the murdered Judy’s plea for
Punch’s reform, sung by the versatile American mezzo Lucy Schaufer.
Credit is due to the cast for managing to get the majority of Steven
Pruslin’s wordplay-filled libretto across, and to conductor Leo Hussain
(sharing the opera’s five-night run with ENO’s Music Director, Edward
Gardner) for maintaining such dramatic coherence in the music.
A scene from Punch and Judy
Ruth Elleson © 2008