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

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Joyce DiDonato as Beatrice in HGO's production of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Andrew Cloud]
07 Nov 2008

Houston brushes up its Shakespeare

In 1830, three years after the death of Beethoven and two after Schubert’s untimely demise, Berlioz, 27, dazzled the world with his phantasmagoric — perhaps drug-inspired — Symphonie fantastique.

Hector Berlioz: Beatrice and Benedict

Joyce DiDonato (Beatrice), Norman Reinhardt (Benedict), Ailish Tynan (Hero), Leann Sandel-Pantaleo (Ursule), Ryan McKinny (Don Pedro), Liam Bonner (Claudio), Donald Maxwell (Somarone), Charles Krohn (Leonato). Houston Grand Opera Chorus and Orchestra. Michael Hofstetter: Conductor. Elijah Moshinsky: Original Production. Robin Tebbutt: Director.

Above: Joyce DiDonato as Beatrice in HGO's production of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Andrew Cloud]

 

With it, he opened the gates through which the monumental programmatic scores of the 19th century would soon flood the musical scene. In 1862- Berlioz wrapped up his career with the opéra comique Beatrice and Benedict, a brief and understated score of such grace and delicacy that the composer saw it as one of his loveliest and most original works — indeed, “as a caprice written with the point of a needle.”

The Houston Grand Opera, founded in 1955, kicked off its 2008 season with the work, for which Berlioz extracted the libretto from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. In its first staging of any Berlioz work, the HGO made the Australian Opera production a delight, further underscoring the high quality that Anthony Freud in his second full year as its general director, insists upon with this company.

Australia apparently offers escape from the excesses of European Regieoper, for this production, the work of Elijah Moshinsky, recreated for Houston by Robin Tebbutt, is simple and straightforward and set realistically in the middle of Berlioz’ own 19th century. It is beautiful and enchanting. Michael Yeargan’s single outdoors set, rich in autumnal hues, is magically lighted by Howard Harrison, whose twilight is of a perfection that outdoes Nature herself, and the very full moon that rises through an arched entrance is astonishingly unhackneyed. It’s a fine touch that Moshinsky has the happy ending of the opera — a huge double wedding — caught by a period photographer. The curtain falls as his light flashes.

The performance heard on November 2, was as impressive vocally as it was visually. Joyce DiDonato and Norman Reinhardt sang the spunky title figures, two young people, proud and individually minded, fighting the fact that they are madly in love with each other. In DiDonato, now an international star, one experiences magnificent growth with each encounter; it is hardly surprising that she walks a path already strewn with awards. And Reinhardt, tall, handsome and virile of voice, is a perfect partner for her.

It is, however, Ireland’s Ailish Tynan who almost steals the show as Hero, the gentle and steadfast female of the story’s second couple. Tynan, celebrated both in Europe and the US as Susanna, Papagena and Zerlina, is a petite woman who sings with shimmering ease. And one wished that Berlioz had provided her partner Claudio, baritone Lian Bronner, with more to sing.

fsanchez102708_8838.pngNorman Reinhardt (Benedict) and Joyce DiDonato (Beatrice) in Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Felix Sanchez]

Yet a third female brought splendor to the cast: Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, who was stellar as Hero’s lady-in-waiting Ursule. Hers is a voice of such melting gentleness that it is difficult to imagine that Amneris and Siegrune are among her signature roles. The duet with which Tynan and Sandel-Pantaleo concluded Act One, was a masterpiece of refined singing.

Indeed, so overwhelming were the three sopranos in the HGO cast that one wondered whether Strauss might have taken cues from Berlioz in composing Rosenkavalier. Rarely does one hear female voices so touchingly combined. The cast further documented the excellent training offered by the HGO studio, for DiDonato, Reinhardt and Bronner are all alumni of the program.

True to the conventions of opéra comique, Berlioz included a good bit of spoken dialogue in his libretto and — concerned about its delivery — instructed singers at the Baden-Baden premiere to “speak like human beings,” and that is exactly what this cast did, allowing speech and music to flow easily into each other.

fsanchez102708_9123.pngAilish Tynan (Hero) in HGO's production of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict [Photo by Felix Sanchez]

An unfortunate exception was veteran actor Donald Maxwell as alcoholic choirmaster Somarone, a role that is largely ad-libbed. Although a great hit with the audience, Maxwell sadly overplayed his hand, speaking further in an overblown British that conflicted sadly with the American English of the remaining cast.

Young German conductor Michael Hofstetter, now maestro of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, showed his understanding of the unique and transparent reserve of this score, while bringing to the surface the melancholy undercurrent of the work. Richard Bado did his usually exemplary work with the HGO chorus.

The HGO performed the musical portion of Beatrice and Benedict in Geoffrey Dunn’s English translation, while Moshinsky, rather than translating Berlioz’ spoken text into English, went directly to Shakespeare for much of that dialogue. It was a fine touch that elevated the stature of the work. Despite its many merits Beatrice and Benedict is an uneven score, which makes the well-rounded coherence of the HGO staging even more admirable.

Wes Blomster

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):