Recently in Reviews
In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.
Both by default and by merit Il barbiere di Siviglia is the hit of the thirty-fifth Rossini Opera Festival. But did anyone really want, and did the world really need yet another production of this old warhorse?
Armida (1817) is the third of Rossini’s nine operas for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, all serious. The first was Elisabetta, regina di Inghilterra (1815), the second was Otello (1816), the last was Zelmira (1822).
Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.
Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.
Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.
Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.
On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.
Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.
In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.
Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.
We see the characters first in two boxes at an opera house. The five singers share a box and stare at the stage. But Konstanze’s eye is caught by a man in a box opposite: Bassa Selim (actor Tobias Moretti), who stares steadily at her and broods in voiceover at having lost her, his inspiration.
Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
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.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.
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.
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.
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.
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.
15 Mar 2009
Don Giovanni — Victorian Opera
Each Australia state maintains its own opera company. The dominant company is Opera Australia, a permanent ensemble based at the Sydney Opera House but which originated in the Melbourne based National Theatre Opera Company in the 1940s.
Headed by the Melba protégée soprano Gertrude Johnson the company
grew in stature and by the 1950s featured expatriate singers such as Marjorie
Lawrence (whose centenary passed on 17 February this year) as Amneris in
Aida and another Melba protégée John Brownlee as Don Giovanni. The
company gave joint seasons in Sydney with the National Opera of New South
Wales. The Sydney company recruited many of the singers from Johnson’s
company and, in 1956 as part of the larger Australian Elizabethan Theatre
Trust founded what is now Opera Australia. As a national company a
requirement of Opera Australia’s funding is that it tour but performances
outside of Sydney are almost exclusively to Melbourne for seasons between
April and June and November and December each year.
Meanwhile companies established in other sates during the 1960s and in
1976 the Victoria State Opera formed and seasons by both companies continued
until 1996 when financial difficulties caused the Victorian company to be
absorbed by the national company and cease to exist. A decade later Victorian
Opera was founded under the artistic direction of former Opera Australia
staff conductor Richard Gill. Productions are modest to look at and use
emerging singers but the musical preparation is scrupulous and the singers
perform the roles rather than learn them as rarely-performing covers as
trainees in a larger company would do.
French director Jean Pierre Mignon has long been resident in Australia
where he established a theatre company that produced, among other things,
Molière’s version of the Don Juan legend. Mignon’s production of the
opera is reminiscent of Molière’s farce and the intimacy of the production
allows for subtle comedy more than usual in the opera. The Don himself
(Samuel Dundas), dressed in a gleaming white costume, the reverse of his true
colours, is an arrogant and conceited young pup (that so young-looking a Don
has notched up so many conquests beggars’ belief). Although his voice is
still young and light toned, he uses it with great skill, projecting the text
in very good Italian and giving it shape and nuance. He has a good grasp of
the Don’s mercurial character too, physically handsome he also conveys the
swaggering, aristocratic arrogance and, above all, the snake-eyed charm. With
only two modest arias Don Giovanni’s persona lives through music involving
other characters. Dundas savors these moments and is even more impressive in
the recititative passages, making them carry the bulk of his
characterization. An example is the brief scene with Zerlina (Michelle
Buscemi) before their duet “La ci darem la mano” where he seems to taste
the honey of his own words. Only the softest parts of the music, the opening
phrase of “La ci darem” and the mandolin serenade need the elusive
Samuel Dundas (Don Giovanni) and Andrew Collis (Leporello) [Photo by Jeff Busby/Victorian Opera]
Zerlina’s music suits Buscemi’s silvery voice and she conveys
Zerlina's gentle eroticism, ecstatically sighing the words “toccami qua”
in ‘Vedrai, carino’ with same understanding as Dundas conveying
Giovanni’s lust. Tiffany Speight sings regularly with Opera Australia and
has established herself in the lighter Mozart roles. A splendid Zerlina she
steps up to the dominant female character Donna Elvira. Speights’s radiant
soprano easily encompassed the music including the often-difficult lower
passages in the epilogue and elsewhere. She is a very subtle comedienne too,
doomed by her unshakable obsession with the faithless Don her Elvira flusters
like a frustrated schoolmistress. The Prague version of the opera was
performed (eliminating Don Ottavio’s “Dalla sua pace” and Elvira’s
“Mi tradi”) which is a pity as Speight would have crowned a spectacular
performance had she been allowed “Mi Tradi”. As Don Giovanni’s sidekick
Andrew Collis is another more experienced singer who creates an oily
Leporello, the director relating him back to the character, Sganarelle, in
Molière’s play. His ‘catalogue’ aria bubbles with vulgarity and just a
hint of admiration for his master’s virility. With no sign of stage nerves,
Dundas is a natural clown too and with Speight and Collis made the serenading
scene in act two hilarious without undermining the beauty of the music.
Donna Anna’s music presented a challenge to Caroline Wenborne but she
managed the difficult fioritura without any compromises. The fearful drama in
"Or sai chi l'onore" was less evident but again her performance was musically
intelligent. James Egglestone was equally adept at Don Ottavio's 'Il mio
tesoro'. Pity his “Dalla su pace” was omitted as it would have suited his
well supported and focused tenor voice. The vocal preparation of all of the
soloists was obviously thorough and the intimate scale allowed for some
dramatic details that would never work in a larger theatre. The Don, for
example, gives Zerlina a flower which drops suggestively from her hand at the
end of “La ci darem la mano” and is retrieved and re-used, like the Don's
come-on lines, until it ends up planted in Elvira's hopeful cleavage.
Richard Roberts’s set is a marvel of economy, transforming from back
streets to a Moorish palace and sinister tomb. Steeply raked and angled it
suggested the endless corners Don Giovanni backs into and escapes from.
Performed in the old National Theatre (named after Johnson’s enterprise and
where a portrait of her, knife raised, as the Queen of the Night fearlessly
protects what remains of her legacy) which seats 500 has the intimacy to put
Mozart’s masterpiece under a microscope. With a small chorus it was played
and sung without perhaps the greatest refinement but with undoubted
professionalism and a constant feeling for the excitement of the story and
3, 5, 7, 10, 12 & 14 March, followed by a metropolitan and regional
Victorian tour between 28 March and 25 April 2009