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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Emily Rowley Jones (Marcellina) and Samuel Evans (Giacchino) [Photo © Jeremy Gray]
22 Sep 2008

Paer’s Leonora from Bampton Classical Opera

Musically and dramatically Ferdinando Paer’s Leonora and Beethoven’s Fidelio might be said to belong respectively to pre- and post-revolutionary ages.

Ferdinando Paer: Leonora

Rocco (Adrian Powter), Marcellina (Emily Rowley Jones), Giacchinno (Samuel Evans), Leonora (Cara McHardy), Don Pizzarro (Jonathan Stoughton), Don Florestan (Michael Bracegirdle), Don Fernando (John Upperton). The London Mozart Players. Conductor: Robin Newton. Director: Jeremy Gray
Performance of 16 September 2008, St John’s Smith Square, London

Above: Emily Rowley Jones (Marcellina) and Samuel Evans (Giacchino) [Photo © Jeremy Gray]

 

Based, like its more well-known successor, upon Jean Nicolas Bouilly’s play Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal, Paer’s opera has many textual similarities with Beethoven’s drama of heroic rescue and noble sentiments. The faithful wife who disguises herself as a boy in order to reach and rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband forms the core of both works; yet, in Paer’s opera it is not Leonora but the flighty daughter of the jailor who actually releases him from bondage. Indeed, from the light-weight dalliances of the opening moments to the exuberant, self-satisfied moralising of the final sextet (echoes of Don Giovanni or Così?), Paer reveals himself to be more comfortable with the world of petty intrigue and human foibles than with the exalted idealism of Beethoven’s utopian aspirations.

Paer_Leonora4.pngMichael Bracegirdle as Florestano [Photo © Anthony Hall]
That said, this imaginative, focused production by Bampton Classical Opera, directed and designed by Jeremy Gray — and first presented under gloomy summer skies at Bampton Deanery on 18 July — made a strong case, both musically and dramatically, for this infrequently performed work. Act 2, in particular, revealed serious musical and dramatic intent, the dramatic momentum of the recitative and the emotional intensity of Florestan’s long opening aria of darkness and suffering, proving surprisingly progressive.

Paer makes little distinction between the music of the two female roles, Marcellina and Leonora/Fidele; both are high sopranos, but the star on this occasion was Emily Rowley Jones, who expertly conveyed the spirited passion, tempered by an essential kindness and innocence, of the jailor’s daughter. Rowley Jones possessed the stamina required of this demanding role, and her voice remained well-centred and sweet throughout; virtuosic flourishes were dispatched with apparent ease, and intelligently nuanced to serve the dramatic situation. She brought Mozartian grace and wit to the opening scenes; her movements on the small stage were well-choreographed and deftly executed. It was through the dynamic contrast between Marcellina’s unrequited passion for ‘Fidele’ and her impatient dismissal of Giacchino’s courtship that the drama gained vitality.

Both female roles demand a wide range and much staying power — Marcellina requires the compass of a Queen of the Night; in the title role, Cara McHardy initially seemed ill-at-ease, her breath control a little insecure and the more virtuosic passages not always firmly controlled. However, as the performance progresses she showed herself on occasion more than capable of rising to the challenges of the taxing coloratura and bringing both meaning and beauty to her interpretation. Unfortunately her lack of confidence dramatically was noticeable in the ensembles where she appeared uncomfortable and at times vocally subdued.

Paer_Leonora2.pngMichael Bracegirdle as Florestano, Cara McHardy as Leonora [Photo © Anthony Hall]

As in previous Bampton productions, Adrian Powter, as Rocco, revealed his instinct for the dramatic moment, moving confidently and establishing a strong stage presence. He injected appropriate weight and bluff into his boasting tirades, which benefited also from excellent diction. Samuel Evans, as the hapless prison janitor, Giacchino, similarly demonstrated sound comic timing and nuance, and together they significantly contributed to the dramatic momentum, which might have been hampered by the many long reflective arias and by the extensive duet for Marcellina and Leonora in Act 2.

The challenges of the twenty-minute aria for Florestan which opens Act 2 are many; but Michael Bracegirdle proved himself able to shape the various sections of his painful, desolate lament on his lengthy suffering in the darkness into a convincing whole, employing an extensive dynamic range and sensitive tonal variations.

Paer_Leonora3.pngJonathan Stoughton as Pizzarro [Photo © Anthony Hall]
Despite the foreboding guillotine and imposing dungeon walls which dominated the set, it was difficult for the cast to inject any real menace into Paer’s drama. There is no prisoner’s chorus to emphasise the themes of imprisonment and despair; and Pizarro, the prison governor, is a rather unconvincing stage-villain — his comic arrogance emphasised here by his Napoleonic cape and eye-patch. His bluster may be less than threatening, but Jonathan Stoughton sang securely if a little blandly. It was not Stoughton’s fault that, following a rather feeble confrontation with Leonora, Pizarro found himself cast in chains, and one immediately forgot about him. Indeed, there is a deflation of dramatic tension towards the close of Act 2: the arrival of Marcellina, demanding a marriage proposal from ‘Fedele’ somewhat dispels the threat of violence, and the arrival of Don Fernando, sung here with warm radiance by John Upperton, swiftly and effortlessly restores harmony and accord.

However, Paer’s opera does have many notable features, not least its strong melodic character. This is evident from the first bars of the overture, a seemingly simple medley of forthcoming themes, which has an original feature in the heroine’s romantic ‘motto’ theme, heard three times here and subsequently reiterated most effectively at crucial points in the action. Throughout the orchestration surprises and delights: while the rather clichéd trumpet call introducing the sinister dungeon setting and the three percussive chimes announcing the hour of Florestan’s murder may fail to send a shiver up the spine, overall the writing revealed some striking colours, exploiting unusual instrumental combinations, especially for the woodwind. The score was well-executed by the London Mozart Players. Situated behind the imposing set, conductor Robin Newton led them in lively fashion; indeed, he set off at a pace which left the singers somewhat trailing in the orchestra’s wake, anxiously glancing at the distantly-placed monitors; but secure ensemble was quickly restored and the overall balance between soloists and orchestra was well-judged.

Paer’s Leonora is an excellent example of its genre — a semi-seria opera, in which the frivolous and tragic co-exist and interact. It may be that the comic plot slightly overshadows the high drama of wrongful imprisonment and tyranny, but this intelligent, well-paced production by Bampton Classical Opera made a convincing case for the composer’s melodic lyricism and left this listener eager for another opportunity to hear this unfairly neglected work.

Claire Seymour

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):