Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from The Coronation of Poppea [Opera Omnia]
07 Sep 2008

The Coronation of Poppea

The startup of a new opera company is always cause for cheering; it is getting harder and harder (that is, more and more expensive) to do, especially in New York.

Claudio Monteverdi: The Coronation of Poppea

Nero (Cherry Duke); Poppea (Hai-Ting Chinn); Ottone (Jeffrey Mandelbaum); Drusilla (Molly Quinn); Octavia (Melissa Fogarty); Seneca (Steven Hrycelak); Fortune and Valet (Marie Mascari); Virtue and Maid (Melanie Russell); Love (Kathryn Aaron). Conducted by Avi Stein
Opera Omnia, performance of August 26.

All photos by Matthew Hensrud courtesy of Opera Omnia.

 

If the new company specializes in unfamiliar repertory – in this case the Italian seicento, terrific news if you’re a Cavalli or Scarlatti fan – and I am! – my cheers will be all the happier. If, on attending, one finds the house packed, the crowd excited, the dramatic values high and the voices exceptionally attractive, there is very little to do as a critic but spread the word and wish the company well.

For their opening production, Opera Omnia chose Monteverdi’s hardly unfamiliar swan song, The Coronation of Poppea (1641), choosing to perform it in a slangy English translation in order to make the stage activity (often complex, always highly motivated) more immediate as well as comprehensible to audiences who may not know the work.

I first heard the piece well over thirty years ago when the New York City Opera gave it a sumptuous staging with a large, nineteenth-century orchestra and large, nineteenth-century-style voices: a top-heavy bore, amidst which glamorous Carol Neblett distinguished herself with the first total nudity on a New York opera stage, and Barbara Hendricks distinguished herself in the tiny role of “Damigella” (the Maid) – the only memorable singing of the night. It has been thrilling to watch baroque performance style evolve over the years: today, young singers know what this sort of music is about, how to make a goat-bleat trill an effective piece of vocal acting, how to vary the pace of declaimed monologues, how to be sexy in the duets – and to hear performances like Opera Omnia’s, with a band of seven (two theorbos). (One of the best Poppeas I ever heard was sung over three strings and continuo.)

The staging was vaguely modern dress, with mixed gender assignments: Ottone was a male countertenor, Nerone a female alto, Arnalta – naturally – a campy tenor in drag (when has Arnalta ever failed to steal the show?), Valletto and Amore female sopranos in drag. None of this seemed to confuse anyone. Neither did the “allegorical” opening, the “bet” among Virtue, Fortune and Love over which one rules mankind – but the working out of the story confused the stage director: Ottone fails to murder Poppea not because the god of love appears and tells him to stop (as here), but because Ottone still loves the faithless Poppea and is therefore unable to kill her. This was the one major annoyance in the staging, which mercifully did not (as is often done nowadays) make a wild gay orgy of Nerone’s drunken carousing with the poet Lucano.

Poppea_OperaOmnia2.pngScene from The Coronation of Poppea

Not so long ago, filling so large a cast with young singers whose voices were beautiful enough to hold the modern ear through scenes of Monteverdian declamation would be highly unusual anywhere but in the finest music schools; Opera Omnia’s forces all sang with clear, grateful, seemingly effortless technique, appropriate to the music (no romantic vibratos), and were personable and ardent on the stage. I especially admired scene-stealing Marie Mascari as Fortune and the comic valet, Jeffrey Mandelbaum, who projected a very masculine countertenor, more tenor than alto, as Ottone, and John Young’s Arnalta, who got the laughs without falling into camp excess. Cherry Duke made a fine, unusually masculine Nerone, if not quite the adolescent punk the score implies (or is it just that I can’t forget David Daniels’ strutting, finger-snapping sex-lout in the role?). Steven Hrycelak held down the low end well – if not the very lowest notes – as the philosopher Seneca, whose gravity (in contrast to all the other characters’ frivolity) is underlined by his being the only really low voice; Molly Quinn, as the confused Drusilla, seemed to have two voices, a soubrette soprano and a darker alto; both fell pleasantly on the ear, but she should find a way to mix them in more suitable proportions. Melissa Fogarty was an insufficiently weighty figure as the bitter Empress Octavia – perhaps the suitcase she carried in her final scene distracted us from her tragedy. Hai-Ting Chinn sang the whorish Poppea elegantly, but without the deep sensual feeling that Poppeas like Troyanos have brought to this music. Still, her final duet with Ms. Duke’s Nerone was the perfect conclusion to waft us into the night in a cloud of erotic reverie: Ah yes, back in 1641, this is why opera caught on.

John Yohalem

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):