Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

Capriccio at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Although performances of Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio have increased in recent time, Lyric Opera of Chicago has not experienced the “Konversationsstück für Musik” during the past twenty odd years.

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

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):