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

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Marina De Liso as Arsace [Photo by Marco Caselli Nirmal]
01 Feb 2009

Partenope in Ferrara

The Greek princes Arsace (alto) and Armindo (alto) are seeking handsome Queen Partenope (soprano), who has just founded the city of Naples, in marriage.

Georg Friedrich Händel: Partenope
Teatro Comunale, Ferrara, Italy. Performance of 18 January 2009

Partenope, Queen of Naples — Elena Monti; Arsace, Prince of Corinth — Marina De Liso; Rosmira/Eurimene, his former beloved — Sonia Prina; Armindo, Prince of Rhodes — Valentina Varriale; Emilio, Prince of Cumae — Cyril Auvity; Ormonte, Partenope’s counsellor — Gianpiero Ruggeri. Giuseppe Frigeni, director. Ottavio Dantone, conductor. Accademia Bizantina (with original instruments).

Above: Marina De Liso as Arsace

All photos by Marco Caselli Nirmal

 

Partenope is attracted to Arsace, without knowing that he has previously abandoned Rosmira, who now — disguised as a chieftain under the fictional name of Eurimene from Armenia — arrives in Naples with the aim of winning him back. A third prince, Emilio from the nearby reign of Cumae (tenor), declares war on Partenope, offering marriage for peace. His attack, however, is easily rebuked by the joint forces of the queen and her lovers, so Emilio is detained at Partenope’s court as in a chivalrous prison camp of sorts. Rosmira/Eurimene secretly confronts Arsace demanding that he keep her true identity covered, then provokes him publicly in every possible manner. In the end, she challenges him to a duel in a court of honor, but must withdraw as he puts the condition that they fight stripped to the waist. Partenope decides to marry Armindo, orders that repentant Arsace be reunited to Rosmira and sends back Emilio to Cumae on friendly terms.

A bit too madcap by the average standard of early opera seria, Silvio Stampiglia’s libretto was written for Naples in 1699 and subsequently set by several composers. Rather than in outstanding literary or dramatic merit, the secret of its popularity may lie in the variety of situations and the panoply of stock affetti associated to them. One would like to call Partenope a Baroque sitcom, now and then on the verge of vaudeville. A radical admirer, none less than Edward J. Dent, affected to find in it something of a Shakespearean atmosphere, apparently referring to the bittersweet climate of The Twelfth Night rather than to the Bard’s tragedies or history plays. As recently argued by the British Handel scholar David Vickers: ‘The plot offers ample scope for emotional intensity, insightful characterization, wit, sexual innuendo, and profound despair’. This is probably what most appealed to Handel, who, after an abortive attempt in 1726, succeeded to present his own setting of Partenope to the London public in 1730. After two not-too-successful runs in that year at the King’s Theatre, and a nearly disastrous revival in 1737 at the Covent Garden, Partenope disappeared for two centuries. Modern revivals in German and English translations started at the Göttingen Handel Festival in 1935 and went forth, if very sparsely, until 1998, when the original Italian libretto resurfaced in Cooperstown, NY, and in New York City. The present staging at Ferrara — scheduled to circulate later in Modena, Naples and Montpellier, France — was, believe it or not, the opera’s Italian premiere ever.

To devout Handelians like myself (as opposed to sane folk who would object to sitting at the opera for three-and-a-half hours), the experience of hearing live an almost uncut score of the Harmonious Blacksmith is increasingly rare and a potential source of delight. It did not happen this time. In addition to its unusually high number of arias, Partenope has a remarkably prominent number of ensembles (eight, including two choruses), two accompanied recitatives and some flamboyant instrumental music of a warlike character. Ottavio Dantone’s performing version, essentially based on Handel’s first version of three, pruned 8 out of 48 set pieces: four arias for Arsace, as many for Partenope, and one for Armindo — which seems a generous appeasement with modern listening habits.

Partenope_Ferrara_02.pngElena Monti as Partenope, Sonia Prina as Rosmira

Nevertheless, there was still much left to cherish. First of all, a classy ensemble of voices, all well versed in period performing practice. A trio of ladies shared the best applause: as the de-facto protagonist Arsace, Marina De Liso sketched an enigmatic and irresolute anti-hero; nonetheless, her cleanly secure intonation, refined uttering and elegant coloratura were glorious throughout. As Rosmira/Eurimene, Sonia Prina towered as the relentless powerhouse she usually is onstage, sparking a regular ovation in her defiant aria ‘Io seguo sol fiero’ with obbligato horns and oboes. Valentina Varriale, as the moonstruck Armindo who finally gets the girl, impressed for the sheer beauty of her color, dark and fully fleshed-out. The quiet lilt of her heart-rending andante ‘Non chiedo, o luci vaghe’ conveyed all the elegy of selfless love, quite Arcadian-style.

Partenope_Ferrara_03.pngSonia Prina as Rosmira, Gianpiero Ruggeri as Ormonte, Cyril Auvity as Emilio, Marina De Liso as Arsace

In the title role, Elena Monti embodied the seductive, authoritative and slightly vindictive nature of her character almost to perfection. Depriving her of her signature aria ‘Qual farfalletta’, towards the end of Act II, was indeed insensitive. Both Emilio and Partenope’s chamberlain Ormonte (bass) are deadpan roles, yet their respective performers Cyril Auvity and Gianpiero Ruggeri came out egregiously for their assured technique, also showing a firm grip of style requirements. In the remote confrontation with the role-creator Annibale Fabri (a virtuoso from Bologna who managed to become a lone tenor star in the age of castrati), Auvity had to struggle hard with a terrific range and treacherous coloratura. He emerged unscathed, albeit switching to a peculiar mixed utterance at the upper and lower ends of his tessitura. Who knows whether Fabri, described by a contemporary British observer as ‘a very good master of musick’ did the same?

Partenope_Ferrara_04.pngSonia Prina as Rosmira, Valentina Varriale as Armindo

Giuseppe Frigeni’s integrated light-set-direction design and Regina Martino’s costumes provided a lesson of how to approach early opera without either irreverent gimmicks or cheap archaeological historicism. Their easily recognizable color codes, applied to studies in abstract perspective resembling chessboards, their luxuriant headpieces and peacock-shaped gowns for everybody (whether males, females or cross-dressers), conveyed a quintessential Spirit of Baroque — somewhat near to the Beijing Opera, where a single flag stands for ten thousand warriors or a model ship for whole fleets. Body language and perusal of stage space did fit admirably into the frame.

Antonio Florio and his (Naples-based) Pietà dei Turchini were slated to steer this important production. In the end, they declined because of budget disagreements, so the baton passed onto Dantone, whose period band Accademia Bizantina can stand on equal footing with any such ensemble in Italy. Indeed, they brought the wondrous machine to triumph and were awarded full honors; only a few skipped notes in the natural brasses gave evidence of limited rehearsing time, but this may improve later in the tour.

Carlo Vitali

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):