Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Donna Bateman (Rusalka) [Photo by Robert Workman]
04 Nov 2008

Rusalka and La tragedie de Carmen by English Touring Opera

Of their two tours per year, English Touring Opera tends to channel the majority of the budget into the Spring season, and the Autumn tour – despite a focus in recent years on some high-quality Baroque chamber works, which lend themselves well to the size of the venues around the UK which the company visits – can be rather noticeably the poor relation.

Rusalka and La tragedie de Carmen by English Touring Opera

Above: Donna Bateman (Rusalka)

All photos by Robert Workman courtesy of English Touring Opera

 

So Carmen and Rusalka seemed an ambitious prospect for this year's Autumn slot, without any apparent increase in resources.

One of the two, Rusalka – Dvorak's retelling of the Undine fable dealing with loss of innocence and the impossibility of survival in an alien world – reached the stage almost intact. The original orchestration is of Wagnerian proportions, and inevitably a 13-piece reduction (created for the Iford Festival by Ian Farrington) cannot create a sound-world of anything approaching the same depth, but there were few actual cuts, and the small orchestra under conductor Alex Ingram did its best to sound sumptuous and shimmering.

Director James Conway has chosen to present the opposite worlds of the water-dwellers and the humans through the medium of a real-life cultural divide – the American colonisation of Haiti in 1915. The casting reflected this, with black singers as the Water Sprite and nymphs, and white singers in the human roles. The only exception was the white Jezibaba, ostensibly a survivor of Haiti's indigenous Taino race – though I confess I wondered if this angle might have been dreamt up because ETO couldn't think of a black mezzo to cast in the role.

The general concept, though, was ingenious, successfully conveying a culture of unwitting ignorance and an irreconcilable chasm of difference between peoples, each 'side' unconsciously incapable of viewing the other as equal.

In the title role, Donna Bateman lacked legato occasionally, but her performance was full-voiced, passionate and involving, a very physical portrayal of a would-be free spirit who feels trapped and unfulfilled in her own world, but who finds that every step she takes only leads her to a new prison. As the Prince, Richard Roberts had ardour, good looks and a lyrical, evenly-produced tenor, while Fiona Kimm's Jezibaba was a tour de force.

Keel Watson was a characterful Water Sprite, his full bass caressing the melancholy falling phrases. The trio of nymphs – Angela Caesar, Abigail Kelly and Alison Crookendale – were mellifluously pleasing to the ear when singing together, with Caesar's light and attractive soprano a particular solo highlight. The Gamekeeper (Maciek O'Shea) and Turnspit (Jessica Summers) were lively and engaging in their second-act cameo, while as the Foreign Princess, Camilla Roberts was vocally powerful, full of hauteur and chillingly unpleasant in her snide insults towards Rusalka.

rusalka_092.pngMaciek O'Shea (Gamekeeper), Jessica Summers (Turnspit)

The staging and lighting were very simple, with minimal set and a backdrop consisting of a giant corrugated moon.

carmen_115.pngLeah Marian Jones (Carmen)
Far more adventurous, though maintaining the theme of cultural contrast, was La tragedie de Carmen, Peter Brook's short theatrical piece based on, but not a direct equivalent of, Bizet's opera. In an effort to be faithful to the spirit of Mérimée, it presents the bare bones of the story in a single act, a nightmarish sequence of flashbacks haunting the demented Don José, who at the start has Carmen's blood fresh on his hands.

Brook's version was created in 1981 and is only licensed for performance in French, which – although ETO prefers to perform as much as possible in English – director Andrew Steggall capitalises upon, staging it as a film noir. It all feels quintessentially French: the Carmen, Leah-Marian Jones, with her fair colouring and feline eyes and demeanour, comes across as a sultry French chanteuse a la Marlene Dietrich rather than a gypsy.

Marius Constant's score, freely adapted from Bizet's, makes imaginative use of orchestral colouring, using percussion to particularly evocative effect. All Carmen's own arias survive, but she sings them as introspective solo concert-pieces not addressed to anybody in particular, and Nicholas Garrett is made to croon the Toreador Song in a similarly intimate and non-operatic style. The straight 'operatic' numbers bloom like moments of unexpected beauty, and are mostly reserved for Don José (David Curry) and Micaela (Sinéad Campbell-Wallace), evoking the world of innocence from which they originate.

La tragédie is a juxtaposition of this musical beauty with raw, violent horror; in little over an hour, Don José is dragged further and further into obsession and madness, bludgeoning Carmen's gypsy husband with a bull's skull in a breathtaking piece of shadow-play. Not even Escamillo gets out of the nightmare in one piece.

carmen_160.pngMaciek O'Shea (ZUNIGA), David Curry (Don Jose)

It is the kind of piece which would normally lend itself to performance in an off-West-End studio by a cast of theatrically-trained singing actors, and it was a luxury to hear it performed by opera singers. Moreover, it was an extremely powerful drama.

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):