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 Reviews

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

Glyndebourne Opera Cup 2018: semi-finalists announced

The semi-finalists for the first Glyndebourne Opera Cup have been announced. Following a worldwide search that attracted nearly 200 entries, and preliminary rounds in Berlin, London and Philadelphia, 23 singers aged 21-28 have been chosen to compete in the semi-final at Glyndebourne on 22 March.

ENO announces Studio Live casts and three new Harewood Artists

English National Opera (ENO) has announced the casts for Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan, 2018’s two ENO Studio Live productions. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Handel in London: 2018 London Handel Festival

The 2018 London Handel Festival explores Handel’s relationship with the city. Running from 17 March to 16 April 2018, the Festival offers four weeks of concerts, talks, walks & film screenings explore masterpieces by Handel, from semi-staged operas to grand oratorio and lunchtime recitals.

Dartington International Summer School & Festival: 70th anniversary programme

Internationally-renowned Dartington Summer School & Festival has released the course programme for its 70th Anniversary Summer School and Festival, curated by the pianist Joanna MacGregor, that will run from 28th July to 25th of August 2018.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

A Splendid Italian Spoken-Dialogue Opera: De Giosa’s Don Checco

Never heard of Nicola De Giosa (1819-85), a composer who was born in Bari (a town on the Adriatic, near the heel of Italy), but who spent most of his career in Naples? Me, neither!

Winterreise by Mark Padmore

Schubert's Winterreise is almost certainly the most performed Lieder cycle in the repertoire. Thousands of performances and hundreds of recordings ! But Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout's recording for Harmonia Mundi is proof of concept that the better the music the more it lends itself to re-discovery and endless revelation.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Claire Rutter as Aida [Photo by Tristram Kenton]
13 Nov 2008

Aïda – English National Opera, London Coliseum

It is incredibly unfashionable nowadays to stage opera straightforwardly. Welsh National Opera’s recent lavish staging of Otello prompted a dismissive reception from the critics.

Aida (Claire Rutter); Amneris (Jane Dutton); Radames (John Hudson); Amonasro (Iain Paterson); Ramfis (Matthew Best); The King (Gwynne Howell); High Priestess (Sarah-Jane Davies). English National Opera. Conductor: Gérard Korsten (Oct 22, 25, 30; Nov 8, 11, 14, 20, 22); Leo Hussain (Nov 1 & 6). Director: Jo Davies.

Above: Claire Rutter as Aïda [Photo by Tristram Kenton]

 

Traditional stagings of 19th-century opera have become something of an embarrassment to a genre which is still struggling to shake off the clichés which haunt its perception in non-opera-going circles. This is in spite of there still being a keen and thriving audience for those clichés; you need only look at the popularity of the Eastern European touring outfits which, with cardboard sets and cardboard acting, keep the standard repertoire alive in provincial theatres around the UK.

Jo Davies’ production of Aïda for ENO and Houston, which was first seen here in London a year ago, is not made of cardboard (though sometimes it looks as if it is made out of gift-wrap). Nor is it lacking in visual imagination, with its wacky turquoise and gold designs by Zandra Rhodes. Still, it ticks enough unfashionable boxes to guarantee divided opinions from opera aficionados and the theatrical establishment. Static direction – check; “spectacular” sets and effects – check; appeal to the masses – check. Remind me – why exactly is that last point a bad thing?

With last year’s cast returning almost wholesale, the revival was a known quantity, though a non-specific announcement was made at the start to excuse the possibility that several of the principals might not be at full strength having been unwell earlier in the week. Further investigation yielded the fact that this included both female leads, though here on the first night there was little to fault their performances. In the title role, Claire Rutter’s bright-toned soprano soared above the large ensembles but also made beautifully delicate work of ‘O patria mia’, and although Jane Dutton’s all-guns-blazing dramatic delivery often came at the expense of tonal beauty, her Amneris was always a force to be reckoned with.

Perhaps the most impressive singing of all came from Iain Paterson as Amonasro; his lovely legato and depth of emotional expression made me long to hear him in other Verdi ‘father’ roles.

The strength in John Hudson’s Radamès seemed to lie in different areas this time around – the big moments at the end of Acts 1 and 3 were thrilling, but his attempt at the diminuendo at the end of ‘Celeste Aïda’ didn’t come as easily. Matthew Best, the only major newcomer to the production, was a verbally incisive and vocally authoritative Ramfis. Only the Pharaoh, Gwynne Howell, celebrating the 40th anniversary of his company début, sounded threadbare and tired, though he remains a major asset to the cast thanks to his delivery of the words.

Aida_008.pngJohn Hudson as Radames and Jane Dutton as Amneris [Photo by Alastair Muir]

Ah yes, the words. Unfortunately, Edmund Tracey’s translation sounds dated, with ungainly vocabulary and some truly cringe-worthy rhymes (‘Death, o King, to the savage invaders/Close your hearts when they try to persuade us’) and often presents the singers with tricky or ugly vowels on difficult notes. It didn’t help that two days after opening night, I heard a concert performance in Italian of the same opera, which only served to underline how much better the original Italian text works with the musical line. Verdi and his 19th-century compatriots are particularly hard to render in English; I don’t think I’ve ever heard a truly successful English singing version of any Verdi opera, whereas Handel, Mozart, Puccini and Janáček can all be perfectly convincing given the services of a skilled word-setter. The shortcomings of some of the translations have become increasingly evident since ENO introduced surtitles.

The conductor, Gérard Korsten, who is new to the production, favoured slow tempi which lent an air of stateliness and grandeur to some of the large public scenes, but which made parts of the solo arias rather sluggish. The on-stage trumpets were out of time, too – I hope this will be sorted out before the next performance.

Aida_011.pngIain Paterson as Amonasro and Claire Rutter as Aida [Photo by Tristram Kenton]

Sometimes the staging’s superficiality is a little overpowering, and it is frustrating that only Aïda herself consistently exceeds two dimensions. Only in the Nile Scene, and the great sequence for Amneris which follows, do we really start to see what motivates the principal characters. Though this is partly a result of the way the piece is structured, with its grand public scenes dwarfing the protagonists’ personal struggles, it’s the director’s job to give them real definition. Even so, this remains an eminently sensible production of an operatic classic.

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):