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

Giuseppe Gipali as the Duke of Mantua and L’ubica Vargicová as Gilda in San Diego Opera’s Rigoletto [Photo © Ken Howard]
01 Apr 2009

Rigoletto at San Diego Opera

In the current weak economy many an opera company has retrenched its programming to present primarily the most popular operas.

G. Verdi: Rigoletto

Gilda: L’ubica Vargicová; Giuseppe Gipali: Duke of Mantua; Lado Ataneli: Rigoletto; Maddalena: Kirstin Chávez; Sparafucile: Arutjun Kotchinian; Count Monterone: Scott Sikon; Borsa: Joseph Hu; Marullo: Malcolm Mackenzie. San Diego Opera. Edoardo Müller, conductor. Lotfi Mansouri, director.

Above: Giuseppe Gipali as the Duke of Mantua and L’ubica Vargicová as Gilda in San Diego Opera’s Rigoletto

All photos © Ken Howard

 

Think of it as operatic comfort food, if you will, in stomach-rattling times. San Diego Opera seems to have gone further, deciding to present its operas in stagings that can remind its audiences of long past high-rolling days.

Ian Campbell at San Diego Opera apparently discovered a secret trove of older New York City Opera productions, entirely traditional and only faintly musty. Spare but practical settings of Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Maria Stuarda were used in recent seasons, and the program for this season’s Rigoletto offers the vague credit “Scenery and costumes created for New York City Opera.” Elsewhere Carl Toms is identified as the creator, but no year is provided.

It looks to be from the mid-1970s, possibly early 1980s. Scene one of act one gets a handsome setting, with a palatial staircase dominating the picture, along with an oversized statue of an unidentified royal figure. The back opens to a deep view of a nighttime sky, which might get a little chilly for the attendees of the Duke’s get-together but adds to the atmosphere. A very lengthy scene change produced a less impressive set for scene two, with Rigoletto’s quarters being not much more than an iron gate and a staircase to an off-stage residence. This configuration returns to the stage the convention of characters using a gate when they could just step around it. Act two, supposedly the Duke’s private apartment, simply removed the statue from the act one set. Act three, tricky to stage with its action in the inn combined with positions for Gilda and Rigoletto to eavesdrop, as well as a riverbank locale, came off fairly well, if looking a bit like something from the old Disneyland Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The evening’s one innovation came across as superfluous, if not baffling: brief title screens, as if from a silent film, appeared before each curtain, mostly declaring that Rigoletto is an evil figure - arguable but still an odd framing device.

Rigoletto_SanDiego_09_02.gifArutjun Kotchinian as Sparafucile and Lado Ataneli as Rigoletto

Lotfi Mansouri is just the director for such a production, as he favors the stock gesture and routine stage movement. For a tenor such as Giuseppe Gipali, the Duke, the result was a stiff, uncharismatic performance. And Gipali does not have the voice to excuse such dramatic weakness. His tenor refuses to project unless at the very top of his range, and it possesses no interesting colors. L’ubica Vargicová, however, revealed a keen identification with the character of Gilda, evoking her innocence and faith without seeming weak or foolishly deluded. Even better, Vargicová sings beautifully, managing the trickier parts with no evident effort (she is also a successful Queen of the Night), and dominating many ensembles with her penetrating sound. It wasn’t always beautiful, but it was mostly exciting, and the San Diego audience greeted her passionately at final curtain.

Lado Ataneli has not proven himself in the past to be a captivating performer, but his dark baritone is a top class instrument. He really gave himself completely to this role, and if he had been in a production with a bit more imagination, he could have had even more impact. At least vocally, however, he could dominate most scenes, and the end of act two, in the duet with Gilda, became the highlight of the evening.

Rigoletto_SanDiego_09_03.gifA scene from Rigoletto

Ian Campbell cast the rest of the opera from strength, with a very sexy Kristin Chavez as Maddalena, and the truly scary, rail-thin Sparafucile of Arutjun Kotchinian, his bass oozing out of him. Malcolm Mackenzie stood out in his brief appearances as Marullo, unctuous and self-satisfied, as did the tragic Monterone of Scott Sikon.

The capable Edoardo Müller did his usual efficient work with the orchestra, although the act three quartet lacked punch and cohesiveness.

The program featured photographs of previous San Diego Rigoletto productions, and the 2002 snapshots revealed a fresh, updated approach. Either it was a failure at the time, or Campbell just decided that staging is not what his audience is currently in the mood for. Which is fine, but traditional stagings need fresh approaches as well. Despite the fine work of Ataneli and Vargicová, some cobwebs remained on the set by the end of the evening.

Chris Mullins

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):