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 Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

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):