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Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.
Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.
George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.
Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.
‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’
Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is
wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.
This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.
As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.
From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the
Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the
appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic
dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today,
‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in
genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.
On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.
A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.
Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.
Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.
What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.
I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s
Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The
Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and
further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic
term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.
Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical
Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the
previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final
at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the
young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.
On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.
Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.
London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.
Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.
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