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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Patricia Bardon as Maurya [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera]
14 Dec 2008

Riders to the Sea — English National Opera, London Coliseum

Back in June, in my review of The Pilgrim’s Progress at Sadler’s Wells, I wrote about the valuable and unsurpassed work being done by Richard Hickox to champion the works of Ralph Vaughan Williams in the composer’s centenary year, a project of which this rare staging of Riders to the Sea for ENO was to be the culmination.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Riders to the Sea
Jean Sibelius: Luonnotar

Luonnotar: Susan Gritton (soprano)
Riders to the Sea: Maurya, an old woman (Patricia Bardon); Bartley, her son (Leigh Melrose); Cathleen, her daughter (Kate Valentine); Nora, her younger daughter (Claire Booth); A woman (Madeleine Shaw); Michael (non speaking role) (Oliver Kieran-Jones). Actors: Ray Alley, Darren Everest, Simon Johns, Paul Joseph, Stephen O'Toole, Sebastian Rose. English National Opera. Conductor: Edward Gardner. Director: Fiona Shaw. Designers: Dorothy Cross, Tom Pye. Lighting designer: Jean Kalman.

Above: Patricia Bardon as Maurya

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera

 

Nobody could have anticipated that the 60-year-old conductor would suffer a fatal heart attack only four days before ENO’s opening night.

The show went on in Hickox’s memory, led by ENO’s Music Director Edward Gardner, who had the difficult task of taking on the project in such sad circumstances. And Vaughan Williams’s opera, based on a play by J.M. Synge, is a grim work by anybody’s standards. A peasant woman, Maurya, lives in a coastal hut in the Aran Islands and has had two daughters and six sons; four of the sons, along with their father and grandfather, have already had their lives claimed by the sea. The fifth is missing, believed drowned, and fate dictates it is only a matter of time before the sixth is similarly lost. In the space of forty-five minutes, both are confirmed dead.

This was an impressive opera-directorial début by the actress and theatrical director Fiona Shaw, who created an emotionally-intense dynamic within what’s left of Maurya’s family. Their house is delineated by lighting only; there are no walls, so there is never any escape from the elements. Huge, shadowy upturned boat-hulls descend from above the stage, surreal and coffin-like. Tom Pye’s wonderfully bleak, craggy set is suggestive of a place which exists outside of the progress of time; a primaeval wasteland where nothing ever changes and all human life is in thrall to the will of nature.

In her final monologue, Maurya finds her anticipated devastation supplanted by a sense of relief and comfort that her life is no longer burdened by the certain knowledge of the destiny which awaits all of her menfolk; in one sense it is a small personal victory over nature, albeit in the context of an acknowledgement of human powerlessness. Mezzo Patricia Bardon was extraordinary in this scene, imbuing the music’s lyrical lines with an radiance that contrasts vividly with the terseness of her earlier anguished dialogue.

Sopranos Kate Valentine and Claire Booth, both making their ENO débuts, portrayed Maurya’s two daughters with emotional intelligence and excellent diction. Leigh Melrose — too long absent from the stage of the Coliseum — was ideal as the angry, burdened Bartley, the last surviving son.

The opera is well under an hour in length, and rather than staging it as a double bill with another short work, it was done with a curtain-raiser — Luonnotar, Sibelius’s 15-minute monologue for solo soprano, in a simple staging against the backdrop of Dorothy Cross’s unnervingly beautiful video projections. Singing in the original Finnish, and suspended in the centre of the stage in an eerie monolith which transpired to be one of the fateful boat-hulls, Susan Gritton was wonderful as the eponymous air-spirit who becomes trapped in the sea and inadvertently gives birth to the moon and stars. It was an inspired choice of opener, introducing the relationship between the sea and the eternal themes of birth, life, death and maternal grief which Riders goes on to explore further.

Raiders_to_the_Sea_009.png(left to right) Patricia Bardon as Maurya, Leigh Melrose as Bartley and Kate Valentine as Cathleen

The production integrates the two works fully, joining them into a single piece with a specially-commissioned interlude by John Woolrich, an organic-sounding progression of abstract chords. Not only does the pregnant Luonnotar open the performance — she closes it too, re-emerging onto the stage outside Maurya’s empty home, seemingly ready to give birth once more and perpetuate the cycle of motherhood.

Raiders_to_the_Sea_001.pngSusan Gritton as Luonnotar

The orchestral playing was powerful, lyrical and atmospheric in what is mostly very subtle and understated music; the standard was a fitting tribute to the late Hickox. It was a superb performance by a fine cast in an excellent production — but it was never going to be a cheerful experience.

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):