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

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

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):