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

West Wind: A new song-cycle by Sally Beamish

In a recent article in BBC Music Magazine tenor James Gilchrist reflected on the reason why early-nineteenth-century England produced no corpus of art song to match the German lieder of Schumann, Schubert and others, despite the great flowering of English Romantic poetry during this period.

Florencia en el Amazonas, NYCO

With the New York Premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, the New York City Opera Steps Out of the Shadows of the Past

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Don Carlo in San Francisco

Not merely Don Carlo, but the five-act Don Carlo in the 1886 Modena version! The welcomed esotericism of San Francisco Opera’s extraordinary spring season.

Jenůfa in San Francisco

The early summer San Francisco Opera season has the feel of a classy festival. There is an introduction of Spanish director Calixto Bieito to American audiences, a five-act Don Carlo and two awaited, inevitable role debuts, Karita Mattila as Kostelnička and Malin Bystrom as Janacek's Jenůfa.

Musings on the “American Ring

Now that the curtain has long fallen on the third and last performance of the Ring cycle at the Washington National Opera (WNO), it is safe to say that the long-anticipated production has been an unqualified success for the company, director Francesca Zambello, and conductor Philippe Auguin.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Tristan, English National Opera

My first Tristan, indeed my first Wagner, in the theatre was ENO’s previous staging of the work, twenty years ago, in 1996. The experience, as it should, as it must, although this is alas far from a given, quite overwhelmed me.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

London: A 90th birthday tribute to Horovitz

This recital celebrated both the work of the Park Lane Group, which has been supporting the careers of outstanding young artists for 60 years, and the 90th birthday of Joseph Horovitz, who was born in Vienna in 1926 and emigrated to England aged 12.

Opera Las Vegas: A Blazing Carmen in the Desert

Headed by General Director Luana DeVol, a world-renowned dramatic soprano, Opera Las Vegas is a relatively new company that presents opera with first-rate casts at the University of Las Vegas’s Judy Bayley Theater. In 2014 they presented Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and in 2015, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year they offered a blazing rendition of Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

La bohème, Opera Holland Park

Ever since a friend was reported as having said he would like something in return for modern-dress Shakespeare (how quaint that term seems now, as if anyone would bat an eyelid!), namely an Elizabethan-dress staging of Look Back in Anger, I have been curious about the possibilities of ‘down-dating’, as I suppose we might call it. Rarely, if ever, do we see it, though.

Holland Festival: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, Amsterdam

Leading a very muscular Dutch Radio Philharmonic, Principal Conductor Markus Stenz brilliantly delivered Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with a superb Florian Boesch in the lead and a mesmerising Asmik Grigorian as Marie his wife.

Lalo: Complete Songs

Edouard Lalo (1823-92) is best known today for his instrumental works: the Symphonie espagnole (which is, despite the title, a five-movement violin concerto), the Symphony in G Minor, and perhaps some movements from his ballet Namouna, a scintillating work that the young Debussy adored.

Pietro Mascagni: Iris

There can’t be that many operas that start with an extended solo for double bass. At Holland Park, the eerie, angular melody for lone bass player which opens Pietro Mascagni’s Iris immediately unsettled the relaxed mood of the summer evening.

L’italiana in Algeri, Garsington Opera

George Souglides’ set for Will Tuckett’s new production of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Garsington would surely have delighted Liberace.

Carmen in San Francisco

Calixto Bieito is always news, Carmen with a good cast is always news. So here is the news.

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera

Distinguished theatre director Michael Boyd’s first operatic outing was his brilliant re-invention of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo for the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in 2015, so what he did next was always going to rouse interest.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Ariane and Alexandre bis

Although Bohuslav Martinů’s short operas Ariane and Alexandre bis date from 1958 and 1937 respectively, there was a distinct tint of 1920s Parisian surrealism about director Rodula Gaitanou’s double bill, as presented by the postgraduate students of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Lohengrin, Dresden

The eyes of the opera world turned recently to Dresden—the city where Wagner premiered his Rienzi, Fliegende Holländer, and Tannhäuser—for an important performance of Lohengrin. For once in Germany it was not about the staging.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Tom Randle As Macheath & Leah-Marian Jones As Polly Peachum [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
08 Feb 2009

The Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden

Entering the Linbury Studio for this production of The Beggar’s Opera, one might have been forgiven for thinking that one had wandered into the main house by mistake.

The Beggar’s Opera
Music by Benjamin Britten (realised from the original airs of John Gay). Libretto – John Gay (with alterations and additions by Tyrone Guthrie)

Macheath: Tom Randle; Polly Peachum: Leah-Marian Jones; Lucy Lockit: Sarah Fox; Peachum: Jeremy White; Mrs Peachum: Susan Bickley; Lockit: Donald Maxwell; Filch: Robert Anthony Gardiner; Diana Trapes: Frances McCafferty. The Royal Opera. City of London Sinfonia. Christian Curnyn, conductor. Justin Way, director.

Above: Tom Randle As Macheath & Leah-Marian Jones As Polly Peachum

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

A half-drawn stage curtain revealed plush, red velvet upholstery, illuminated by the golden glow of balcony lights, elegant tabs extending into the auditorium space. The designs effectively emphasised the architectural heritage – the current building is the third theatre on this site; the first, the Theatre Royal, having been opened in 1732 by the impresario, John Rich, who also staged the first performance of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera at his theatre in Lincoln-Inn-Field. However, in the light of this, it was perhaps an unfortunate choice to have actress Sirena Tocco, in the role of the Beggar, dressed as an ROH usher … what does this suggest about ROH wages? Closer inspection of the ‘lavish’ set exposed deliberate signs of structural decay - the ominous cracks and crevices a warning perhaps of the fissures in the ‘concepts’ behind this production.

Despite the visual ingenuity (and indeed, the sets by Kimm Kovac and Andrew Hays vividly and convincingly conjured an appropriately seedy air, as we visited Peachum's off-licence, a lap-dancing club and a jail) what followed on the stage was decidedly less impressive. While musical standards were generally high, the acting skills of these professional opera-singers, dressed as modern-day prostitutes, pimps and villains, left much to be desired. Indeed, at times there was more life in the cardboard ‘audience members’ that gazed, one-dimensionally down from the balconies looming above the stage.

Australian director, Justin Way, directing his first opera in the Linbury Studio Theatre, aimed high but missed his target by miles. If ever the time was ripe for the whole-scale transportation of Gay’s satirical masterpiece from the eighteenth century to the modern age, surely this is it. With the headlines telling lurid tales of alleged bribery in the House of Lords and exposing the self-interested schemes of unscrupulous city bankers, amid the shock of rising unemployment and house repossession rates, this ‘low-life opera’ can still hold up a telling mirror to the greed and corruption endemic in today’s world. Yet this pedestrian production, translated from the taverns and brothels of London past to the sex-shops and red lights of modern-day Soho, lacked punch and grit, missing the obvious opportunities to lampoon and caricature the ‘great and the good’.

Two of the major flaws in this production were inconsistency and incongruity. Gay may have successfully ‘borrowed’ assorted airs and songs from his contemporaries - including Handel and Purcell, only to ridicule them in the process – but this untidy assemblage of sundry ideas lacked coherence. Furthermore, although Britten’s revisions are innovative and interesting, such a complex harmonic and rhythmic treatment of the ‘folksong’ originals did not concur with any of Way’s jumbled ideas, and simply aggravated the muddle.

Similarly, the cast formed a motley crew, a wearying confusion of types and epochs - chavs, skins, Goths, lager louts – among whom the Beggar wandered, aimlessly but apparently angrily, her gestures and movements adding little to an already confused concept.

Beggar_02.pngTom Randle as Macheath

The amateurish acting, straight from the village hall, was exacerbated by the fact that there is simply so much dialogue to get through in this ballad opera. Gay wrote his piece for actors who could sing; this production gave us singers who can’t act. Unconvincing soap-opera stereotypes, the cast adopted ‘Mockney’ accents, an uncomfortable idiom for the antiquated diction, which was delivered woodenly and unconvincingly. They seemed distracted by their pseudo-erotic costumes, the female chorus writhing embarrassingly in their peep-show booths, and were left drifting in the absence of meaningful choreography, or even basic stagecraft. When they weren’t wanted on stage, they climbed into the faux dress-circle and passively observed the events. Most frustratingly, moments of superb music-making were sadly destroyed by the jarring return to lengthy passages of confusing spoken text.

At least one could close one’s eyes and listen to some glorious singing. Tom Randle, as Macheath, presented a perfect ‘lovable rake’, his warm, smooth tenor bringing out the lyric simplicity of Gay’s airs, though his acting was little better than the rest of the leaden cast. The Peachums were a convincingly criminal clan: in particular, Leah-Marian Jones relished Polly Peachum’s uninhibited strutting, and made an engaging foil to Sarah Fox’s Lucy Lockit – although both conveyed a vocal tenderness and sweetness that belied their dramatic stridency. The laughs were supplied by the ‘old guard’ - Susan Bickley (Mrs Peachum), Jeremy White (Mr Peachum) and Donald Maxwell (Lockit). And, despite a pre-performance announcement that she was suffering from a severe sore throat, mezzo-soprano Frances McCafferty was a superbly grotesque Diana Trapes.

Beggar_03.pngA scene from The Beggar's Opera

But, the trouble was, quite simply, that it was all far too middle-class and ‘nice’.

Scottish-born Christian Curnyn, standing in for the late Richard Hickcox and making his ROH debut, led the musicians of the City of London Sinfonia in courageous style, striving in vain to inject some energy into this flagging show. His vigorous gestures, fully visible to the audience via the oddly-positioned stage screens, did draw some excellent ensemble playing from the twelve-piece chamber orchestra; and the challenging obliggato solos were delivered with confidence and élan.

The final verdict? More pantomime than parody, more Gilbert and Sullivan than Brecht … and more boredom than bite.

Claire Seymour

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):