Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

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):