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

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.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

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):