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It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by
the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
09 Jun 2009
Così fan tutte, English National Opera
ENO's latest new production of Così — their third this decade — made the arts headlines from the start of its rehearsal period when director Abbas Kiarostami found himself unable to secure a UK visa and was forced to withdraw his direct involvement, leaving colleague Elaine Tyler-Hall to deputise.
The staging is an import from Aix-en-Provence, so did at least exist fully-fledged to begin with, but it was nonetheless a major blow to both Kiarostami and ENO that he could not be there to oversee its London revival.
Unlike some other recent opera productions by film directors one may mention, his début does not look or feel especially cinematic. Yes, there are complex animated video projections which provide the backdrop for the majority of the opera, but these seem quite separate from the live action on stage — or rather they seem to add little to the directorial interpretation of the opera as a theatrical piece. The vast calm sea projection looks lovely, but when in the second scene a little red-sailed boat heads slowly across the bay (to collect Ferrando and Guglielmo) it succeeds only in drawing the eye towards it for the entire duration of the scene, detracting attention from the singers. A projected on-stage orchestra for the wedding scene is entertaining at first, but it remains there for the whole of the final scene, and becomes annoying to watch once the real conductor’s beat has drifted slightly out of synch with it.
Otherwise the staging is an entirely conventional and old-fashioned one, disappointingly bypassing any attempt to deal with the opera’s difficult issues surrounding human nature, betrayal, and sexual double-standards. Without the projections (and some really lovely lighting by Jean Kalman) there would have been little else to distinguish this staging from one you might see from a run-of-the-mill touring company in a suburban town hall.
Of course it is highly unlikely that such a town-hall setting would boast two such classy performances as came from the evening’s soprano soloists. First, Fiordiligi: on the evidence of Susan Gritton’s performance of the same role in the previous ENO production, she wasn’t quite in her best voice on this occasion, and remains not entirely comfortable in the lower depths of the role’s enormous vocal range - but she is grippingly passionate, involving, and always intelligent. The other star turn came from young Sophie Bevan, whose confident, spunky Despina was a real highlight, using her diminutive figure to great comic effect in her guises as doctor and lawyer, and singing outstandingly well.
Stephen Page’s incisive and eloquent Don Alfonso easily dominated the two male leads, neither of whom left much of a dramatic mark, and to be honest it was tricky to see quite what the girls saw in them. At least the American baritone Liam Bonner was a vocally attractive and secure Guglielmo, but Canadian tenor Thomas Glenn was lightweight for Ferrando in such a large house, and sang untidily. Mezzo Fiona Murphy, vivacious and sassy as Valencienne in The Merry Widow and Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana, was an warm-voiced but unaccountably characterless Dorabella, and with indifferent diction too.
Sophie Bevan (Despina), Susan Gritton (Fiordiligi), Fiona Murphy (Dorabella), Liam Bonner (Guglielmo) and Thomas Glenn (Ferrando)
The young Swedish conductor Stefan Kingele kept everything brisk and energetic right from the start; the tempo change into the fast section of the overture was brought forward a few bars, so that the second half of the Così fan tutte motif was already charging along at the new pace. He had less success in maintaining a tight ensemble between pit and stage; there were far too many partings of the ways.
The production makes the ending simplistic to the point of nonsense, without any apparent exploration of how the couples’ feelings towards one another may have changed, developed, or turned on their head as a result of the little experiment. None of them seem, ultimately, to have been remotely challenged by it. We are left wondering why Don Alfonso bothered.
Ruth Elleson © 2009