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

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

This elegant, smartly-paced film turns Gluck’s Orfeo into a Dostoevskian study of a guilt-wracked misanthrope, portrayed by American countertenor Bejun Mehta.

Aureliano in Palmira in Pesaro

Ossia Il barbiere di Siviglia. Why waste a good tune.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

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’.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Pesaro

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 in Pesaro

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 Presents an Imaginative Carmen

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.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

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.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

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.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

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.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

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.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

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 Presents a Passionate Fidelio

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.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail @ Hangar-7

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.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

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.

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.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Peter Grimes (Stuart Skelton) and Ellen Orford (Amanda Roocroft) [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera]
13 May 2009

Peter Grimes — English National Opera, London Coliseum

In David Alden’s extraordinary new staging of Britten’s masterpiece, with sets by Paul Steinberg, the Borough is populated by stylised grotesques, a clever twist on the opera’s existing ‘Little England’ character stereotypes.

Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes: Stuart Skelton; Ellen Orford: Amanda Roocroft; Captain Balstrode: Gerald Finley; Auntie: Rebecca de Pont Davies; Swallow: Matthew Best; Ned Keene: Leigh Melrose; Bob Boles: Michael Colvin; Mrs Sedley: Felicity Palmer; First Niece: Gillian Ramm; Second Niece: Mairéad Buicke; Hobson: Darren Jeffery; Reverend Horace Adams: Stuart Kale; John, Grimes's apprenctice: Benny Gur. Conductor : Edward Gardner. Director : David Alden. Designer : Paul Steinberg. Costume Designer : Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Lighting Designer : Adam Silverman. Choreographer : Maxine Braham.

Above: Peter Grimes (Stuart Skelton) and Ellen Orford (Amanda Roocroft)

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera

 

In one of the production’s creepiest moments, the big man-hunt chorus in the middle of Act 3 is accompanied by waving of miniature Union Jacks.

Everyone you focus on has a darker secret than the last. At the more normal end of the range are Felicity Palmer’s Miss Marple-esque Mrs Sedley and Leigh Melrose’s apparently speed-addicted Ned Keene. The most disturbing include Darren Jeffery’s Hobson, who appears to have a whole boy-killing factory of his own going on unnoticed right under everybody else’s noses. Weirdest of all are Auntie and the Nieces — Rebecca de Pont Davies as a club-footed cross-dresser with a pinstripe suit and walking cane, and Mairéad Buicke and Gillian Ramm as a pair of possessed zombie twins in identical school uniform and pigtails. The Nieces are the production’s only faintly jarring note, with their vacant and jerky choreography which makes them barely even recognisable as human beings, but if they have one dramatic function it’s giving a new layer of depravity to Bob Boles, Swallow and everybody else who shows a sexual interest in them. Perhaps they are the ultimate product of this diseased community.

Yes, it’s the norm here to be disturbed, deformed or damaged (even Balstrode, sung by the excellent Gerald Finley, is missing an arm — besides the costumes, this is the most obvious visual clue to the production’s 1940s setting, though Auntie seems a throwback to the 30s) and Peter and Ellen are seemingly the only complete and sane individuals among them. Although her even-temperedness and common sense make her stand out from her neighbours, Ellen is integrated into the community — a community where people do everything together, moving in swarms — but Grimes is a loner, and it is this and this alone which leads to his becoming the local scapegoat. By the end, they have poisoned him into madness, but at least he is able to escape through death. Ellen is the one who has to live with it all, and I dare say she fits right in with the rest of them after all she has been through. With Amanda Roocroft in the role, there are echoes of her recent, brilliant Jenufa here — a bright-natured, attractive young woman worn down through her experiences. At times her singing is shrill on top and her diction indifferent, but her character portrait is spot on, the relationship with Grimes filled with real tenderness.

The Australian tenor Stuart Skelton is as fine a Grimes as you could wish to hear, wielding both his large voice and burly physique with intelligence and subtlety. Emerging from the man-hunt and the subsequent pained calm of the final interlude, Alden’s staging of the mad scene is devastating in its simplicity: the surtitle screen and orchestra pit go dark, and Grimes is alone in the abyss beneath a grey and foggy sky. Skelton maximises the effect the solitude of the setting with a performance of heartbreaking vulnerability and emotional intensity.

peter_grimes006.gifPeter Grimes (Stuart Skelton); Auntie (Rebecca de Pont Davies) (front rt); Bob Boles (Michael Colvin) (front rt in upturned chair); First Niece (Gillian Ramm) (lying down front nearest); Second Niece (Mairéad Buicke) (behind first neice)

As Grimes hears the drum-led procession approaching his hut — in a clear and chilling musical echo of his vision, moments earlier, of the first dead boy — he is distracted into letting go of the rope with which he is making safe John’s descent down the cliff. Thus the villagers become directly responsible both for the death of the apprentice and for Peter’s self-destruction as a result of it. It is a heart-stopping coup-de-theatre.

In the two years that Ed Gardner has been ENO’s Musical Director I don’t think he has ever drawn a better performance from the house orchestra than in this detailed but never fussy account of the score. The playing of the interludes was virtually faultless, with a particularly memorable brass timbre, the jazzy shape of the phrases in the Storm Interlude crafted so as to introduce the incongruous 1930s vintage of the inhabitants of the Boar. A number of remarkable and inventive Grimes stagings have been seen in London this decade, but musically, this is head and shoulders above the others. It is perhaps ENO’s finest musical achievement this decade.

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):