Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rosemary Joshua as Partenope [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera]
21 Oct 2008

Partenope — English National Opera, London Coliseum

In this new staging of Handel's comic rarity for English National Opera, director Christopher Alden has chosen to tell the classical tale of amorous and political intrigue through the world of the artistic elite of the 1920s/30s.

G. F. Handel: Partenope

Partenope (Rosemary Joshua); Rosmira (Patricia Bardon); Arsace (Christine Rice); Armindo (lestyn Davies); Emilio (John Mark Ainsley); Ormonte (James Gower). English National Opera. Conductor: Christian Curnyn; Director: Christopher Alden.

Above: Rosemary Joshua as Partenope

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera

 

The costumes and settings are directly inspired by specific examples of art photography from the period, with the programme illustrating a number of iconic photographic works which are clearly recognisable in the production.

Partenope_010.pngJohn Mark Ainsley as Emilio

The opera is set in a devastatingly chic salon (realised by Andrew Lieberman, with costumes by Jon Morrell), all cream walls and curved lines, the home of Rosemary Joshua's glacially glamorous socialite Partenope (done up, as illustrated by a Man Ray photograph in the programme, as Nancy Cunard). It is a place where the idle and moneyed artistic intelligentsia gather for a spot of highbrow theorising over a cocktail or two, and where the great realities of love and war are relegated to the rank of insignificant little playthings. It is not an obvious breeding-ground for sympathetic characters.

Neither, to be fair, is the libretto, cribbed by an anonymous writer for Handel from an original book by Silvio Stampiglia, and here delivered in a coarsely colloquial translation by Amanda Holden. Though the opera is named for Partenope, she is a character to whom one does not easily warm; though her enemy/rejected lover Emilio (John Mark Ainsley) is clearly supposed to be the primo uomo, he is drawn so sketchily, and takes such small part in the opera's core emotional intrigue, that he fades into the background. Alden's production seizes upon this, resolving the issue of what to do with him by giving him more of an observer role. In the context of the production's arty milieu, Emilio is characterised as Man Ray, with the often bizarre situations between the characters being set up and captured by him on film. At the start of the opera, the production exacerbates the problems caused by this detached characterisation; at the first interval I was dreading the prospect of a further two hours of empty posturing and artistic pretension, with any inconsistencies in the dramatic development being explained away with the blanket excuse that it's all in the cause of surrealism.

Fortunately, there are also characters we really care about, and it is they who sustain the story long enough for the development of dramatic interest and a bit more emotional realism in the second and third acts. First there's Arsace (Christine Rice), the spoilt cad who has won Partenope's heart, having conveniently forgotten to mention the lover whom he abandoned and still hankers after. Then there's Rosmira (Patricia Bardon), the abandoned lover in question, who (despite having been instantly recognised by Arsace) has disguised herself as a warrior by the name of Eurimene and followed him to a foreign land in search of both reconciliation and retribution. She is, by some margin, the most complex and sympathetic of the protagonists, and her central obsession with the feckless and unworthy Arsace is the source of some of the opera's most rewarding music. Finally there's Armindo, the diffident bumbling youth who is Partenope's best prospect for genuine happiness but who doesn't have the guts to say so.

As John Mark Ainsley's role contained some thanklessly unmemorable music, and Rosemary Joshua's coloratura and intonation were wayward at times, the three subsidiary characters also supplied the best value in terms of musical satisfaction. Rice's all-guns-blazing revenge aria at the close of Act 2 was delivered with pinpoint accuracy and a gutsy warmth of tone, and her puppyish arrogance was thoroughly convincing. What the score lacks in grand Handelian tragic arias, it attempts to compensate with some shorter episodes of heartfelt and honest music for Rosmira and occasionally as well as for Arsace; their third-act duet is one of the musical high points. Bardon suffered a glitch of some sort at the start of her Act 1 aria, but otherwise gave a well-rounded and musically sensitive performance. And it was fitting that Iestyn Davies gave the best and most memorable (if not the flashiest) vocal performance of the evening; it is his clarity, assurance and straightforwardness which at last succeed in winning Partenope.

Partenope_005.pngFull company

It was a decent ensemble cast, in a score which contains more multiple-voice numbers than are normally found in Handel, and all was held tautly together in the pit by ENO débutant Christian Curnyn, more usually found at the artistic helm of the Early Opera Company.

As hit-and-miss as the production concept is, it underlines the inexplicable and bizarre ways in which seemingly poised and sophisticated people are driven to act in the pursuit of love.

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):