Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Sarah Tynan (Sophie) / Sarah Connolly (Octavian) [Photo © Clive Barda / ENO]
04 Jun 2008

Der Rosenkavalier at ENO

It is worth remembering that prior to the première of Strauss’s opera in 1911, the working title was ‘Ochs auf Lerchenau’.

Richard Strauss: Der RosenKavalier
English National Opera, London Coliseum, performance of 24 May

The Feldmarschallin (Janice Watson); Octavian (Sarah Connolly); Baron Ochs (John Tomlinson); Sophie (Sarah Tynan); Herr von Faninal (Andrew Shore); Annina (Madeleine Shaw); Valzacchi (Stuart Kale); Duenna (Janice Cairns); Singer (Dwayne Jones); Police Commissar (Nicholas Folwell); Notary (James Gower). Conductor Edward Gardner; Director/Designer David McVicar; Associate Set Designer Michael Vale; Costume Designer Tanya McCallin; Original Lighting Designer Paule Constable; Translation Alfred Kalisch

Above: Sarah Tynan (Sophie) / Sarah Connolly (Octavian)
All photos © Clive Barda / ENO


This might perhaps have been a fitting subtitle for ENO’s current production, given John Tomlinson’s tour de force of a performance. He appeared in ENO’s last two stagings (at least once alongside the current Marschallin, Janice Watson) but his Ochs never owned the stage quite like this. The glint in this gravelly bass’s eye is at once repulsive and endearing, and he makes something of every word of Alfred Kalisch’s slightly clunky English translation, a feat equalled only by the excellent Andrew Shore as Faninal.

080519_0537.pngJanice Watson (The Marschallin) / Sarah Connolly (Octavian)
This should be a good thing, and indeed it is, on its own terms. The downside is that Tomlinson plays his colleagues off the stage, and the impression that is left on the memory a couple of hours after curtain-down is of a brilliant, riotous Act 2. The erotic tumult of the opera’s opening, Octavian and Sophie’s mutual falling in love, and the Marschallin’s gracious sacrifice... all were wonderful at the time, but were all but obliterated by the memory of this extraordinary Ochs.

That is not to say that there was much evidence of weakness in the rest of the cast. Janice Watson’s Marschallin was not the glacial grande dame we often see, and let her mask slip at times — for a mere moment in the confrontation with Ochs in Act 3, her grace and poise yielded to a flash of unrefined hot-blooded fury. Here we saw a rare glimpse of the fiery spirit which surely attracted Octavian in the first place. Later, when she observed him with Sophie, the façade slipped in quite another direction.

Sarah Connolly’s Octavian was expansive of voice and full of youthful vigour, loose-limbed and confident in his unofficial temporary role as lord of the manor in the Feldmarschall’s absence. I had been doubtful about Connolly’s ability to play a youth, after the succession of Handelian warrior-heroes on which her career is founded, but she captured ideally the petulance and over-sensitivity of the selfish teenager behind this young aristocrat’s aristocratic pomp and chivalry.

It is good to hear the accomplished soubrette Sarah Tynan in a proper lyrical role such as Sophie; she looks lovely, is able to play the right age, and is a feisty little madam with or without Octavian’s assistance. Her silvery soprano sits ideally with the musical character of the scenes in which she sings, and is rightly as far the vocal opposite of Ochs as it is possible to be.

080517_0345.pngJohn Tomlinson (Baron Ochs) centre group

Rosenkavalier was, of course, Strauss’s answer to Figaro, and director David McVicar’s 2005 staging of Mozart’s work for the Royal Opera clearly took much inspiration from this production which originated at Scottish Opera in 1999. At times this Rosenkavalier seems full of McVicar clichés, but as it predates most of the work for which he’s now renowned, it should rightly be seen as an original. One such ‘cliché’ was the deconstructed rococo set, a single one used (with contrasting embellishments) for all three acts. Another, repeated in Figaro, was the attention to detail in the direction of a multitude of minor roles, servants, and non-singing characters. Harry Ward’s idiotic, mugging Leopold stood out, but from the Singer (Alfie Boe, replacing an indisposed Dwayne Jones) to the Milliner, all were clearly defined and full of personality. Stuart Kale’s Valzacchi was partnered by an exceptional Annina in Madeleine Shaw, currently on ENO’s Young Singers programme.

080519_0577.pngJohn Tomlinson (Baron Ochs) / Sarah Connolly (Octavian as ‘Mariandel’)

Sometimes, the concentration on detail is to the detriment of the bigger moments. The Marschallin’s exit after the trio is unsympathetically staged, with Janice Watson forced to edge her way clumsily through a side doorway that is too small for her immense dress, and lacks impact. Ed Gardner’s conducting, though sumptuous when required, is fairly conservative and supports rather than adds to the intricate character of the performance. But McVicar’s ability to make this lengthy and variably-paced opera flow so well — even with standard musical cuts opened out — is a credit to his dramatic intelligence.

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):