14 May 2009
L’elisir d’amore at Covent Garden
L’elisir d’amore is perhaps Donizetti’s silliest opera — but also one of his most charming.
The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.
On 9 January 2017 the London Festival of Baroque Music (formerly the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music) announced its programme for 2017. The Festival theme for 2017 is Baroque at the Edge. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
On Thursday 19th January, opera lovers around the world started bidding online for rare and prized items made available for the first time from Opera Rara’s collection. In addition to the 26 lots auctioned online, 6 more items will be made available on 7 February - when online bidding closes - at Opera Rara’s gala dinner marking the final night of the auction. The gala will be held at London’s Caledonian Club and will feature guest appearances from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury.
Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.
‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’
An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.
A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.
800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.
It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.
For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.
One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.
The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.
In 2015, Bampton Classical Opera’s production of Salieri’s La grotta di Trofonio - a UK premiere - received well-deserved accolades: ‘a revelation ... the music is magnificent’ (Seen and Heard International), ‘giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy’ (The Spectator), ‘lively, inventive ... a joy from start to finish’ (The Oxford Times), ‘They have done Salieri proud’ (The Arts Desk) and ‘an enthusiastic performance of riotously spirited music’ (Opera Britannia) were just some of the superlative compliments festooned by the critical press.
How many singers does it take to make an opera? There are single-role operas - Schönberg’s Erwartung (1924) and Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies (1969) spring immediately to mind - and there are operas that just require a pair of performers, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart i Salieri (1897) or The Telephone by Menotti (1947).
Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.
As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.
Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!
Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.
When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.
L’elisir d’amore is perhaps Donizetti’s silliest opera — but also one of his most charming.
Laurent Pelly’s 2006 staging, first seen at Covent Garden in 2007 and revived here by Daniel Dooner, certainly supplies much absurdity, capriciousness and inanity, but it is rather lacking in genuine warmth and tenderness. In this ‘busy’ staging, characters are entertaining but not fully engaging; we smile gently at their follies and witticisms, but they don’t truly touch our hearts. We don’t really care; and, it seems, neither do they. The humour is largely visual: indeed, on the opening night the largest laughs were raised by the manic terrier which intermittently whips across the stage, and by the between-scenes front cloth advertising Doctor Dulcamara’s entire range of miraculous potions and lotions - the clutter of cures for Constipazione and Impotenze recalling an email inbox, deluged by SPAM offering fake Viagra.
Striving for a realism that would put many a verismo production to shame, Pelly furnishes his stage with a relentless assemblage of period props — tractors, lorries and Vespas — to evoke rural, post-war Italy. The curtain rises on a precipitous mound of hay-bales. It’s true that this Nemorino — a foolish bumpkin — certainly has a mountain to climb if he’s to win the hand of Diana Damrau’s feisty, spoiled Adina. While the workers toil in the sun-drenched fields, the queen bee perches aloft, preening herself beneath her pink parasol, laughing disdainfully at tales of ‘real’, un-dying love of the kind that will later catch her unawares.
No-one could accuse Giuseppe Filianoti of lack of commitment: as Nemorino he, literally, throws himself into the part, hurling himself around the stage like a hyperactive child, tumbling and flailing in a hopeless effort to catch the eye of the indifferent Adina. When Dulcamara declares that he met a few fools in his time but none quite as dim as Nemorino we are inclined to nod in agreement. While this self-deprecating slapstick raised a few chuckles, it did not distract from Filianoti’s vocal weaknesses. His is a dark-toned tenor, but the upper range is strained and reedy, and his opening number was particularly uncomfortable. In the Act 1 finale he seemed completely adrift, musically and dramatically. Despite these problems, there were moments to admire. Filianoti’s diction is excellent, he uses the words well, and his performance did improve as he slowly warmed up. He certainly conveyed Nemorino’s ardency and sincerity in the Act 2 ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. Yet, it was rather an effort, and the simple elegance required to communicate the profound, ‘poetic’ sensibility to be found beneath the buffoon’s clownish exterior was lacking.
As Adina, the German soprano, Diana Damrau, commands the stage. Dressed in a seductively low-cut dress (costumes are by Chantal Thomas), she flirts and flaunts, incessantly prancing, posing and pouting. However, while she entirely lacks innocence and does not really earn our sympathy, she can be forgiven for these exaggerated excesses as she renders Donizetti’s lyrical melodies and capricious coloratura with delicious beauty and ease. Outraged by the attention that Nemorino’s new-found wealth garners from the other girls, Damrau’s fiery fioratura is flawless. And, her declaration of love - a stunning two-octave plunge sealing her promise to make him ‘as happy as I used to make you miserable’ - is the high-point of the evening.Simone Alaimo as Dulcamara and The Royal Opera Chorus [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
The Sicilian bass-baritone, Simone Alaimo, played Dulcamara as if this was his five-thousandth performance of the role … perhaps it was. His buffo gestures were rather tired; even the chorus, who excitedly anticipated his entrance, didn’t wait around to hear his sales pitch — leaving Alaimo addressing an empty stage. A sharp, red suit in Act 2 enlivened him somewhat; responding to Adina’s confident assertions that the power of her own physical attributes is more than a match for any elixir Dulcamara cares to offer, he demonstrated more energy and sparkle. But, Pelly seems to view the quack doctor less as a loveable rogue than as a greasy slime-ball. Like Anthony Michaels-Moore’s cock-sure Sergeant Belcore, he is presented as a cynical opportunist. In Belcore’s opening aria, despite standing aloft the hay-bales, a ‘king of the mountain’, Michaels-Moore struggled to project his baritone; he was a rather one-dimensional figure throughout, a charmless bully. The Japanese soprano, Eri Nakamura, supplied the evening’s one genuine moment of sweet, unaffected tenderness, as Giannetta.
Pelly’s direction of the chorus is confusing and over-emphatic. At times, they are uncompromisingly involved in the action, was in the opening scene when they taunt and torment Nemorino with an alarming aggression! Elsewhere they ignore the action entirely, and face forwards, immobile, to address the audience — a gesture which lacks subtlety, relevance and becomes increasingly irritating.A scene from L’elisir d’amore [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
Despite Pelly’s desire for realism, this production does not truly convey the dark side of the drama - the potential sadness, even tragedy, hiding behind the comic frills, or the cynical exposure of the true elixir of love: money. Fortunately, Bruno Campanella understands the aesthetics of bel canto, and he stylishly controlled the colour and pace of the performance from the pit.
So, in this visually catchy production there is lots to entertain and much to admire, but perhaps rather less to enchant.