Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs : Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

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):