Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).



Katherine Rohrer as Lady Macbeth [Photo by Dan Swerdlow]
30 Mar 2009

Bloch’s Macbeth by UC Opera, London

Mention Macbeth — The Opera and most think of Verdi. Ernest Bloch took on the subject more than half a century later, in Paris in 1910, when Verdi’s version was almost as obscure as Bloch’s is today.

Ernest Bloch: Macbeth

Macbeth: George von Bergen; Lady Macbeth: Katherine Rohrer; Duncan: Ryland Davies; Banquo: Richard Rowe; Macduff: Carl Gombrich; Lady Macduff: Louise Kemeny; Son of Macduff: Laura Murphy; 1st Witch: Mimi Kroll; 2nd Witch: Jessica Blackstone; 3rd Witch: Ella Jackson; Lennox: Woon Kim; Porter: Ed Davison; Murderer: Rory Mulchrone; Servant: Simon Hall; Apparition: Alicia Bennett. University College Opera. Directed by: John Ramster, Conducted by: Charles Peebles.

Above: Katherine Rohrer as Lady Macbeth

All photos by Dan Swerdlow


Originally the opera was composed to a French libretto by Edmond Fleg, but Bloch revisited the piece forty years later and adapted it to an English libretto, much of it Shakespeare’s own text. The French version of Bloch’s opera had its UK concert premiere in 1975 at the Royal Festival Hall, but it has never been performed here in the English version, nor in a fully staged production. Not, that is, until UC Opera — that champion of neglected masterpieces and justly forgotten flops alike — took it upon themselves to rectify the omission from the repertoire.

Macbeth.gifGeorge von Bergen as Macbeth

This is an opera which concentrates on private moments, monologues and dialogues; the sleepwalking scene is a private nightmare, without the usual pair of onlookers. Far more of the play’s soliloquys survive than in the libretto Piave wrote for Verdi; even the Drunken Porter makes an appearance, with the opera’s one straightforward strophic song; a contrast in word-setting which reflects Shakespeare’s own switch from blank verse to prose.

The score is primarily reminiscent of Debussy in its often rather nebulous drift through the text, but has shades of Salome and Götterdämmerung as well. The student orchestra (UCL has no music department) was problematic: in a woodwind-dominated score, the wind and brass playing was at best weak and at worst excruciating. In his one-monologue cameo as Duncan, the distinguished veteran tenor Ryland Davies sang with a expertly-crafted lyrical arch to his phrasing which showed up the accompanying instrumentalists as being flat as a pancake beneath. The string playing was better, the basses making a particularly strong atmospheric impression with the darkly throbbing pizzicato in the scene immediately after Duncan’s murder. Charles Peebles, conducting, shaped the orchestration and choral singing as best he could; the final rhythmically-driven chorus in which all are united against Macbeth comes as a refreshing climax.

Bloch changes the order of the later scenes (Shakespeare’s Acts 4 and 5) giving an alternative slant to the plot: it’s not until after the (apparently motiveless) slaughter of Macduff’s family that Macbeth seeks the witches a second time, and they reveal to him only the parade of kings and the Birnam Wood prophecy. The other two prophecies are cut, so Macbeth’s only reason to fear Macduff is that he will be seeking to avenge his wife and children. It takes the tautness out of the structure: this is a play in which bad things definitely come in threes.

Scene_Act3.gifScene from Act 3

And indeed, director John Ramster makes good use of the Witches (student soloists Mimi Kroll, Jessica Blackstone and Ella Jackson). They hover over the battle-slain like malign Valkyries, and travel as tree-spirits with the avenging army to see the final part of their prophecy played out. It’s a very strong staging all round, with space and lighting always used effectively; Bridget Kimak’s set is presided over by a blood-red moon, which moves into a total eclipse at the denouement — a strong visual evocation of the coming together of all the fateful prophecies which have governed Macbeth’s bloody reign.

The (hired) major principals were also strong — considerably stronger, in fact, than most of UC Opera’s casting in recent years. George von Bergen was especially good in the title role, dominating his every scene with a strong stage presence and full, finely-nuanced baritone. The young American mezzo Katherine Rohrer (Glyndebourne on Tour’s recent Carmen) has a lightish, agile voice with an excellent top; her Lady Macbeth was elegant and fiery, the progress of her self-destruction visible in her face. Richard Rowe sang Banquo in an even, well-produced tenor (his murder takes place offstage). The bass-baritone Carl Gombrich (National Opera Studio trained, now on the administrative staff at UCL) was a soft-grained Macduff, needing a little more heft and edge when urging the household to awake and hear the news of Duncan’s murder. Of the student soloists, tenor Hal Brindley’s Malcolm was the stand-out performance.

Ruth Elleson © 2009

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):