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A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.
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.
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.
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 took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
22 May 2009
Don Carlos — Opera North, Leeds
Tim Albery’s production was first seen at Opera North in 1993 and has not been revived since 1998, when it was the first production of this opera I ever saw — an English-sung version of the four-act Italian version.
In the interests of context I would always favour five acts, not only for the background to Carlos’s meeting with Elisabeth, but for a fuller introduction to the character of Elisabeth who can be reduced almost to a cipher in the shorter version. But the four-act version is the tauter piece, and in the right hands has the potential to create the greater dramatic impact.
Janice Watson as Elisabeth
Hildegard Bechtler’s sets are austere and claustrophobic, the stage dominated by vast stone walls; even the sun-filled garden outside the cloister is hemmed in and inescapable. When the stage is dark, it is really dark: in the opening and closing scenes at San Giuste, there are times when unmoving figures are barely discernible. A pale grey curtain with a square aperture allows every scene to begin with a framed ‘thumbnail’, a trick which proves effective in clarifying and distilling each dramatic situation. Although the frequent and prolonged scene changes (the vast walls take some time to reconfigure) break up the pace somewhat, the intensity of each scene was such that I welcomed the opportunity to recover. Nothing here is empty spectacle - it is all cleanly focused, and there is no fat on the bones.
There was one particular bone upon which a little more fat would have been welcome. While the theatre’s superb acoustic enhances the volume of the orchestra and soloists, the start of the auto-da-fé scene should be a grand ensemble, and Opera North’s chorus simply sounded as if they would have benefited from a few more extras.
Julian Gavin sang the title role in the 1998 revival, and 11 years on he is no less credible as the young prince. His voice still has that urgent quality which captures Carlos’s angst, but now it’s combined with an open-throated evenness of tone which is really exciting to listen to.
From the start, Brindley Sherratt’s Philip II always seems rather cowed by the burden of responsibility, pale-faced and worn in the plain black costume which makes him look rather small and all too human. His dryish bass, too, captures well a disillusioned monarch who is comparatively easily overcome by the Grand Inquisitor - Clive Bayley, another returner from the 1998 revival, doesn’t really have the deep bass weight one might ideally wish for, but he projects real menace in his bearing.
Janice Watson as Elisabeth [left] and Jane Dutton as Eboli [right]
In her company debut, Janice Watson was a graceful and dignified Elisabeth. Not a natural Verdian, she sang very beautifully up until the last act, but was running out of steam during her aria and struggled to maintain the line in her subsequent duet with Carlos. William Dazeley was hugely impressive as Posa - he is unquestionably slightly on the light side, but he has an intelligent command of the music and is entirely convincing in this role which is so central to the opera. Jane Dutton’s Eboli was alluring and magnetic, with visceral power in ‘O don fatale’.
William Dazeley as Rodrigo [left] and Julian Gavin as Don Carlos [right]
Particularly impressive among the smaller roles was the monk of Robert Winslade Anderson, a dark-toned and focussed young bass who is surely a Philip-in-waiting. Julia Sporsén was a pert and courtly Thibault, and chorus member Kathryn McGuckin was a lyrical and secure Voice from Heaven, standing in for Rebecca Ryan (who, thanks to a visa problem, was stuck on the other side of the world).
Brindley Sherratt at King Philip II [left] and Clive Bayley as The Grand Inquisitor [right]
Conductor Richard Farnes really has the measure of the piece, throwing the score’s many bursts of passion or urgency into relief against the measured pace of the more intimate moments of intrigue. The word-setting in Andrew Porter’s superior translation is intelligent and natural-sounding, and it is delivered with clarity by every member of the cast. A recording is imminent in the Chandos Opera in English series, with most of the same performers; a welcome opportunity to keep for posterity a performance which presents as strong an argument for Verdi in English as we are ever likely to hear.
Ruth Elleson © 2009