Recently in Reviews
Dulce Rosa, a brand new opera, had its world premiere Friday night, May 17, 2013 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California. It was produced by Los Angeles Opera, but staged in the smaller theater.
Richard Jones’ 2009 production of Verdi’s Falstaff translates the action from the first Elizabethan age to the start of the second.
Baritone Gareth John is rapidly accumulating a war-chest of honours. Winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award, he recently won the Royal Academy of Music Patrons’ Award and was presented the Silver Medal by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
This second revival of Jonathan Miller’s La bohème was the first time I had caught the production.
It’s Verdi’s bicentenary year and Rolando Villazón has two new CDs to plug — titled somewhat confusingly, ‘Villazón: Verdi’ and ‘Villazón’s Verdi’, the latter a ‘personal selection’ of favourite numbers performed by stars of the past and present.
Nicola Luisotti and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra climbed out of the War Memorial pit, braved the wind whipped bay and held spellbound an audience at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Auditorium at UC Berkeley.
Paul Dukas’ Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, first heard in 1907, once seemed important. Arturo Toscanini conducted the Met premiere in 1911 with Farrar and later arranged some of its music for a 1947 recording with his NBC Symphony.
Utterly mad but absolutely right — Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos started the Glyndebourne 2013 season with an explosion. Strauss could hardly have made his intentions more clear. Ariadne auf Naxos is not “about” Greek myth so much as a satire on art and the way art is made.
“Man is an abyss. It makes one dizzy to look into it.” So utters Georg Büchner’s Woyzeck, repeating what was also a recurring motif in the playwright’s own letters.
National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.
Once upon a time, Frankfurt Opera had the baddest ass reputation in Germany as “the” cutting edge producer of must-see opera.
Productions of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto can serve as a vehicle for individual singers to make a strong impression and become afterward associated with specific roles in the opera.
Just in case we were not aware that the evening’s programme was ‘themed’, the Britten Sinfonia designed a visual accompaniment to their musical exploration of night, sleep and dreams.
Poor Aida! She never seems to have anything go her way.
Is it possible to upstage Jonas Kaufmann? Kaufmann was brilliant in this Verdi Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House, London, but the rest of the cast was so good that he was but first among equals. Don Carlo is a vehicle for stars, but this time the stars were everyone on stage and in the pit. Even the solo arias, glorious as they are, grow organically out of perfect ensemble. This was a performance that brought out the true beauty of Verdi's music.
The big names were absent: Duparc, D’Indy, Debussy, Ravel
and while Fauré, Chausson, Roussel and several members of Les Six put in an appearance, in less than familiar guises, this survey of French song of the early 20th century and interwar years deliberately took us on a journey through infrequently travelled terrain.
Composed between 1718 and 1720, Handel’s Esther is sometimes described as the ‘first English Oratorio’, but is in fact a hybrid form, mixing elements of oratorio, masque, pastoral and opera.
Hector Berlioz's légende dramatique, La Damnation de Faust, exists somewhere between cantata and opera. Berlioz's flexible attitude to dramatic form made the piece unworkable on the stages of early 19th century Paris and his music is so vivid that you wonder whether the piece needs staging at all.
St. John’s Smith Square was the site of Elizabeth Connell’s final London concert, intended as a farewell to London on her moving to Australia. It was rendered ultimately final by her unexpected death.
With the building of the Suez Canal, Egypt became more interesting to Western Europeans. Khedive Ismail Pasha wanted a hymn by Verdi for the opening of a new opera house in Cairo, but the composer said he did not write occasional pieces.
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.
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
Peter 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