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

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. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

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. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

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. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

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.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

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?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sally Dexter (Titania) [Photo by Neil Libbert courtesy of The Glyndebourne Festival]
29 Jun 2009

Glyndebourne : a spectacular Purcell The Fairy Queen

Glyndebourne is the epitome of British opera festivals. Seventy-five years ago, John Christie founded the tradition of “country house opera”, where opera can be enjoyed in beautiful settings.

Henry Purcell : The Fairy Queen

Singers include Carolyn Sampson, Lucy Crowe, Claire Debono, Miriam Allan, Anna Devin, Ed Lyon, Sean Clayton, Andrew Ward, Robert Burt, Andrew Foster-Williams, Lukas Kargl, Adrian Ward and Desmond Barrit. William Gaunt (Theseus), Terrence Hardiman (Egeus), Oliver Kieran Jones (Lysander), Oliver Lesueur (Demetrius), Susana Wise (Hermia), Helen Bradbury (Helena), Sally Dexter (Titania), Joseph Millson (Oberon), Jothan Annan (Puck), Paul McCleary (Quince), Brian Pettifer (Snug), Roger Sloman (Starveling) Jack Chissick (Snout). Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor: William Christie. Director: Jonathan Kent. Designs: Paul Brown. Lighting: Mark Henderson. Choreography: Kim Brandstrup. 25th June, 2009, Glyndebourne, England.

Above: Sally Dexter (Titania) [All photos by Neil Libbert courtesy of The Glyndebourne Festival]

 

The estate itself is magnificent, but Glyndebourne is distinctive because it’s dedicated to excellence. Christie’s vision was to create “not the best we can do, but the best that can be done anywhere”. Glyndebourne is like Bayreuth, but with wider range.

Celebrating Glyndebourne’s anniversary with The Fairy Queen was a masterstroke, honouring Shakespeare and Henry Purcell, born 350 years ago. This production, conducted by William Christie (no relation to John), conducted by Jonathan Kent and designed by Paul Brown is spectacular in every sense. For Purcell and his contemporaries, opera was meant to be spectacle, to astound audiences with its inventiveness and wit. In the current economic climate, this glorious production may seem extravagant. But baroque is a statement of faith in the power of art to transcend grim reality.

Baroque taste was inspired by the exotic, by the possibilities offered by new worlds “discovered” in Asia, South America and Africa. Thus the first scene, in a conventional 18th century drawing room, cabinets filled with porcelain and a tree of crimson coral. But The Fairy Queen is based loosely on A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, where, in the darkness of night, fairies rule, and the realm of dreams finds release. Bizarre as it may seem, baroque sensibilities bore fruit in Romanticism and in 20th century ideas about the subconscious.

glyndebourne2.gifSally Dexter as Titania and Joseph Millson as Oberon

Oberon and Titania (Joseph Millson and Sally Dexter), and their minions are fairies with attitude, sporting sinister wings like ravens, and black costumes, part evening dress, part bondage gear. They tumble out of the cabinets, invading the rational world. Even Titania isn’t safe : Oberon’s magic potion goes awry, so she falls in love with Bottom, transfigured as an ass.

Shakespeare’s play within a play lends itself superbly to Purcell’s concept of opera as a combination of different forms of theatre — song, masques for dancing, orchestral fantasies, tracts of spoken dialogue and dramatic tableaux. Towards the end, stage overflows into auditorium, players running in through the stalls. William Christie turns to the audience, encouraging them to sing along. At the very end, rose petals fall from the ceiling, engulfing the patrons, a final coup de théâtre which evokes Glyndebourne’s lovely gardens beyond the building.

The workmen-actors enter the drawing room with cleaning tools. Their very bumptiousness is a subversive send up of the bewigged formality with which the tale begins. The play they create, complete with talking wall and cowardly lion is an anarchic parody of theatre, which is itself an illusion of ordinary life. At the performance I attended, Robert Burt who plays Flute who plays Thisbe tore a ligament in one scene, coming on later with a splint and walking stick. It was a wonderful moment where practical reality merged, yet again, into art.

In dreams, symbols hold sway. Literally, in the scene where Titania is wrapped in shrouds of muslin as she falls into deep sleep. Then a giant spider descends from the ceiling, sweeping the queen upwards like prey, suspended dangerously above the stage. It’s a shockingly potent image, dangerous and breathtaking — if the spiders thread should break, the singer might indeed be killed. A giant opium poppy appears alluding to unnatural dreams and again to the implication of danger and death. Titania and Bottom, played by Desmond Barrit, his head now an ass, float away in a boat shaped like a giant pea pod which emerged from the bowels beneath the stage. As if crossing the River Styx, they are ferried by a gondolier with the head of a fish.

glyndebourne3.gifAutumn

Purcell’s drama was influenced by the exigencies of his time. Thus the baroque taste for elaborate theatrical illusions, which this production faithfully honors with the extra benefit of modern technology and lighting. The roof opens as huge wooden cut outs of clouds descend. The clouds part to reveal a resplendent Sun King astride a golden Pegasus, wings unfurled. Then, vignettes of each of the Four Seasons. Autumn comes dressed as cabbage and pumpkin, like those paintings of men as vegetables, so popular in baroque times. These tableaux don’t serve the narrative as such, they’re pure spectacle, in true 17th century spirit.

Adam and Eve appear, naked but for well-placed fig leaves under the canopy of a huge golden apple tree. Baroque audiences liked a bit of titillation, but would have understood the Biblical allusion. Eve flirts about and Adam eats an apple, after which the fairies throw them clothing from the wings. Finally the lovers are married - in the right combinations — and there’s a masque where the god of Marriage, Hymen (Andrew Foster-Williams) appears proffering the joys of wedded bliss. Perhaps baroque audiences related to marriage as a symbol of social stability, as opposed to the anarchy of nocturnal mayhem, portrayed earlier in the opera by giant bunnies copulating in myriad ways. Certainly ribaldry runs throughout this opera and even Shakespeare as bard was bawdy.

glyndebourne1.gifIn peapod boat : Desmond Barrit as Bottom and Sally Dexter as Titania

William Christie led the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in free spirited, vivacious performance. This is the best baroque orchestra in England, so it was wonderful to hear them conducted by Christie, who is usually based in France. Very good singing, too. So many songs and ensembles flow in rapid succession that perhaps it’s better not to single out a few from the overall god work. Lovely dancing, too, and a delightfully athletic Puck (Jotham Annan).

This was an amazing Fairy Queen, which will be almost impossible to translate in the semi-staged performance to come at the Proms in London this summer. Nor will it work in theatres outside Glyndebourne which don’t have its superb facilities, so it won’t be included in the Glyndebourne Touring season. Let’s pray this production will be immortalized on film, so all can share in its glory.

Anne Ozorio

The Fairy Queen runs at Glyndebourne until 8th August 2009. This season at Glyndebourne includes Falstaff, Guilio Cesare, L’Elisir d’amore, Rusalka, Jenůfa, Tristan und Isolde and Così fan tutte. After the summer season, Glyndebourne Touring Opera can be heard in other cities in the United Kingdom. This production can also be heard in semi staged performance at the BBC Proms in London on 19th July 2009 , and will be broadcast internationally and online.

For more information please see the Glyndebourne website.

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):