Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

27 Jan 2009

Amsterdam Hercules Dazzlingly In Love

I had never personally imagined mythical Hercules as a WWF Wrestler-cum-Caveman but damn if Dutch National Opera's staging of Francesco Cavalli's Ercole Amante didn't almost persuade me it could be so.

Francesco Cavalli (1602 1676): Ercole amante

Ercole: Luca Pisaroni; Iole: Veronica Cangemi; Giunone: Anna Bonitatibus: Illo: Jeremy Ovenden: Deianira: Anna Maria Panzarella: Licco: Marlin Miller: Nettuno / Tevere / Ombra di Eutiro: Umberto Chiummo: La Bellezza / Venere: Wilke te Brummelstroete; Cinzia / Pasitea / Ombra di Clerica: Johannette Zomer; Mercurio / Ombra di Laomedonte: Mark Tucker; Paggio / Ombra di Bussiride: Tim Mead. Concerto Köln. Koor van De Nederlandse Opera. Ivor Bolton (cond.). David Alden (regie).

Above: Luca Pisaroni as Ercole

All photos by Ruth Walz courtesy of De Nederlandse Opera

 

For shortly into their thoroughly entertaining mounting of this 17th Century rarity, our leading bass-baritone morphed from a Louis Quatorze persona into a quasi-cartoonish hero by strapping on muscled legs, arms and torso (think: comic Ninja Warrior padded outfits), stringy blond wig, and knee high black platform boots. Oh, yeah, and brandished a Flintstone style club.

Luca Pisaroni gave a consistently animated impersonation as Ercole (Hercules), narcissistically mugging, and grimacing orgasmically enough that he may have a future in porn should his skyrocketing international opera career stall. He clearly relished the goof on contemporary hero worship, and all the while sang most mellifluously and, when required, forcefully. Mr. Pisaroni may not have the booming low notes of some, but his is a fine, well-projected voice with a sound technique, and (sans padding) he has a lean, handsome stage presence.

His achievement was equaled by the elegant Giunone (Juno) of Anna Bonitatibusnoa, an audience favorite who appeared as a sleek, gliding “Woman in Black.” She deployed her rich-hued, earthy instrument to marvelous effect, forging an uncommonly affecting presentation of the opera’s go-to girl.

Jeremy Ovenden’s Illo (Illus), Herc’s son, is got up as a cross between Blue Boy and Buster Brown, and the lyric tenor indeed delivered on the visuals with a boyish, cleanly sung performance. Having admired his Orfeo last season, I still have the feeling that in spite of his eminently pleasing tone, stylistic command, and total commitment, he is not naturally a creature of the stage.

Not so the engaging Tim Mead, a real discovery to me, who did double duty as Paggio (Page) and Ombra di (Ghost of…) Bussiride. His personalized and characterful counter-tenor had the zing of a sassy mezzo, and his high energy portrayal (in a shiny metallic gold and black striped fitted tunic-‘n’-tights) stole many a scene. Topped off with anachronistic horn-rimmed glasses, the delectable Mr. Mead may have been slight of frame, but he dominated the stage whenever he appeared.

Anna Maria Panzarella made a fine impression as Deianira, aka Mrs. Hercules, sumptuously outfitted as she was in colorful period queenly attire. Ms. Panzarella gifted us with a richly detailed and sparkling vocal presence. Marlin Miller’s Licco (Lichas) featured a well-focused tenor in an energetic traversal of a less than interesting role. Veronica Cangemi made a nice contribution as Iole, who also motivates the plot even if she lacks splashy writing, especially scoring with a limpidly voiced prolonged duet with Illo.

ercoleamanteorchdress0003.pngUmberto Chiummo (Nettuno), Jeremy Ovenden (Illo)

Umberto Chiummo gave pleasure plying his bass in service of three roles: Nettuno (Neptune), Tevere (The Tiber, as in River), and Ombra di (Ghost of) Eutiro (Iole’s father).

While I have often enjoyed the lovely soprano Wilke te Brummelstroete, she was a bit off form on this date, her slightly diffuse tone (only) occasionally straying a bit from pitch in a dual assignment as La Bellezza (Beauty) and Venere (Venus). Johannette Zomer (Cynthia, Pasitea, Ghost of Queen Clerica) and Mark Tucker (Mercury, Ghost of King Laomedonte) made solid contributions in their small roles.

Musically, the redoubtable Ivor Bolton led another well-prepared, beautifully-paced, yet abundantly spontaneous reading, making the period band respond with well-judged results. I was struck by the variety of Cavalli’s writing, and the remarkably fresh percussive effects. The score may have two or three finale ultimo’s (ultimi?) too many, but this was for me a revelatory musical performance from first rate singers and the masterful Concerto Köln.

ercoleamanteorchdress0083.pngJohannette Zomer (Pasitea)

Director David Alden had enough clever ideas for four average productions, and his inspired lunacy (and sensitivity, too) found willing accomplices in scenic designer Paul Steinberg, lighting guru Adam Silverman, and costumer Constance Hoffman (her witty, whimsical, whacked out designs had to have been born in an Amsterdam “coffee” house!) This was a show where most every bit of wholesale “invention” landed.

The opening Chorus of Rivers was visually arresting, the large chorus (excellently schooled by Tim Brown and Martin Wright) in vibrant deep purple satin costumes, cavorting and “swimming” in the “sea” of shaken cloths, surrounding an “island” of a Cardinal (Tiber) in brilliant red.

The underworld scene at Eutiro’s monument is here brilliantly imagined as a riff on the Thriller video with skewed caskets popping open and mummified dancers as graveyard revelers, confronted eventually by the cockeyed red steps of Hades rising from the depths. The earlier similar trap door appearance of Neptune surrounded by fanciful statues of romping silver sea horses was yet more visual eye candy.

The three graces appear revealed as singing heads who pop through advent calendar-like doors in a huge reproduction of …the three graces. The gloriously ethereal music in the “sleep” trio, was visually enhanced by a stage composition built around a snoozing codger in a Once Upon a Mattress style bed. There was even a nod to Flash Gordon, making an appearance as an ersatz Atlas struggling mightily to carry the weighty globe, of which Herc Hogan divests him, carrying it easily and cockily. I am not sure what the huge dancing Betsy-Wetsy baby doll was doing there in the mix but it sure was fun!

Worthy of very special note: Jonathon Lunn’s Puckish choreographic style was sort of, well, Pina-Bausch-meets-Mark-Morris-as-imagined-by-Matthew-Bourne. Quirky, anachronistic and clever as hell. I loved every warped chassé and approximated be-bop hand jive twitch.

I know, gentle reader, that this sounds like it could easily be one of those let’s-throw-a-bunch-of-stuff-together-and-to-hell-with-the piece sort of eclectic grab bag approach that often passes for opera “direction.” It was often busy, yes, but the character relationships, the through-line of the plot, and the essence of the piece were extraordinarily clear.

ercoleamanteorchdress0110.pngWilke te Brummelstroete (Venere), Luca Pisaroni (Ercole)

Still, there is a difference between inventive staging and over-staging and the opening of the second half, while entertaining, up-staged poor Illo pretty badly. I quite loved the jumbo tracked fish, swimming from one wing to the other; and the Page in a sailboat, like the Pussycat caught without the Owl, was a hoot as he was hilariously tossed about in a daffy storm effect.

But through all of this, poor Mr. Ovenden was perched upstage framed by a large hole (suggesting his looking into the lake), and well, although he was pouring his heart and soul into what seemed to be a difficult florid aria, he could have had a sparkler in his teeth and no one would have been paying any attention to him. Still, when he later “jumped” into the lake from on high, it was a wonderful effect to leave him hanging in the air by a wire, as if floating in the water’s current.

That major quibble aside, by opera’s end, when a dazzling electric neon yellow and blue backdrop displayed the rays of a sunburst; and the chorus promenaded in glowing golden yellow satin costumes; and the ebullient dance corps hurdled, bounced on, hopped over, and somersaulted into an over sized bed, I myself felt a celebratory cartwheel inside me just waiting to get out. (Only self-control and journalistic decorum held me in check in the lobby).

Once again, the adventurous Dutch National Opera and its artists made some bold and risky choices. With Ercole Armante, they paid off with dazzling results.

James Sohre

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):