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

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

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.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

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.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

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.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

Roberto Devereux in Genova

Radvanovsky in New York, Devia in Genoa — Donizetti queens are indeed in the news! Just now in Genoa Mariella Devia was the Elizabeth I for her beloved Roberto Devereux in a new trilogy of Donizetti queens (Maria Stuarda and Anne Bolena) directed by baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera

‘All men become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’ ‘Is that clever?’ ‘It is perfectly phrased!’

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

La Juive in Lyon

Though all big opera is called grand opera, French grand opera itself is a very specific genre. It is an ephemeral style not at all easy to bring to life. For example . . .

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):