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

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anna Grevelius ( Rosina ) John Tessier ( Almaviva ) [Photo by Alastair Muir]
06 Oct 2008

The Barber of Seville — English National Opera, London Coliseum

It can be difficult to inject life into a production which has been a staple of a company’s repertoire for over twenty years.

G. Rossini: The Barber of Seville

Figaro (Garry Magee); Rosina (Anna Grevelius); Count Almaviva (John Tessier); Bartolo (Andrew Shore); Don Basilio (Brindley Sherratt); Berta (Jennifer Rhys-Davies); Fiorello (Julian Hubbard). Conductor: Rory Macdonald. Original Director: Jonathan Miller. Revival Director: Ian Rutherford.

Above: Anna Grevelius (Rosina) John Tessier (Almaviva)

All photos by Alastair Muir courtesy of English National Opera

 

Jonathan Miller’s durable production of Rossini’s most popular opera has returned almost every second season since its 1987 première, and though it has its longueurs (as does the opera itself) the thing that has kept it fresh is its straightforward attractiveness and humour. The company’s casting department has a large part to play in its enduring success, too – Tanya McCallin’s straightforwardly functional period set is normally populated by a combination of company veterans and fresh and promising young artists, with the result that it always feels like a successful ensemble piece with an eternal spark of life.

One thing which wasn’t new was Andrew Shore’s Bartolo; he has become a fixture in this production, to the extent that on the advertisement posters scattered around London’s transport system it is his name alone that is emblazoned next to the title of the opera. His gift for delivering words when singing in English is quite unequalled, and he plays the staging’s physical comedy to maximum effect. Sometimes in the past this has resulted in an imbalance, because with Shore as Bartolo it takes a particularly strong and characterful Rosina to convince the audience that she could credibly get the better of him. Fortunately the young Swedish mezzo Anna Grevelius was his ideal foil; a beautiful girl who always had a glint in her eye, and whose warm and rounded tone and lovely sense of bel canto line were combined with pinpoint accuracy of pitch and diction.

The Canadian tenor John Tessier, making his house début, made an extremely personable and youthful Almaviva. If he was rather superficial, this was the production’s idea rather than his own; Rosina is seduced more by the idea of being swept off her feet by a romantic young man than the reality of what life might actually be like afterwards. He showed off his lovely light, easy and secure tone with some stratospheric ornamentation, though conductor Rory Macdonald would have done well to give him a little more space to prevent an occasional stridency and unevenness which crept into some of his fastest runs. He demonstrated a gift for comedy and character acting with both his disguises, and served equally well as an ardent romantic hero when required.

Of the major principals, only Garry Magee’s Figaro disappointed; the eponymous barber needs charisma and charm, and his entrance aria should be filled with unshakeable masculine confidence and panache, but often it felt as though he was just singing the notes.

The_Barber_of_Seville_005.pngJennifer Rhys-Davies (Berta) Anna Grevelius (Rosina) Garry Magee (Figaro) John Tessier (Almaviva) Andrew Shore (Doctor Bartolo) Brindley Sherratt (Don Basilio)

Brindley Sherratt’s oleaginous Don Basilio was a sinister delight, Julian Hubbard’s Fiorello was superbly sung, while Jennifer Rhys-Davies and Peter Kerr offered solid if slightly nondescript support as Berta and Ambrogio.

Two factors put this into a class above what could have been a run-of-the-mill revival of an ENO warhorse. Firstly it would appear that the original director, Jonathan Miller, might have had more of a hand in this revival of his than in any earlier run I can remember; various long-absent details have been restored, while much of the sillier business which the staging has acquired over the years, such as Ambrogio’s constant yawning and Berta’s incurable sneezing, has been mercifully consigned to the dustbin. More to the point, the cast had a real chemistry together, filled the stage with life, and looked and sounded as though they were really enjoying themselves.

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):