Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

On Trial in Saint Louis

That Opera Theatre of Saint Louis fearlessly embraces the cutting edge is once again evidenced by their compelling American premiere of The Trial.

A Traditional Rigoletto in Las Vegas

On June 9, 2017, Opera Las Vegas presented a traditional production of Verdi’s Rigoletto conducted by Music Director Gregory Buchalter with a cast headed by veteran baritone Michael Chioldi. A most convincing Rigoletto, Chioldi was a man in psychological pain from the begining of the opera. His fear and his vulnerability to the whims of the nobility were evident in every meaty, well-colored phrase he sang.

Thumbprint, An Amazing Woman Leaves an Indelible Mark

Thumbprint is the story of the young, innocent and illiterate Mukhtar Mai who was assaulted by a group of powerful men. Following the attack, Mukhtar, having supposedly been disgraced, was expected to commit suicide. Instead, she amazed everyone who knew her by going to the police and calling for the arrest of her attackers.

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
26 Jun 2009

La Traviata at Royal Opera House

Four years have passed since the most celebrated American soprano of recent times, Renée Fleming, graced the stage at Covent Garden, in Elijah Moshinsky’s classic production of Otello.

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

Violetta: Renée Fleming; Alfredo Germont: Joseph Calleja; Giorgio Germont: Thomas Hampson; Baron Douphol: Eddie Wade; Doctor Grenvil: Richard Wiegold; Flora: Monika-Evelin Liiv; Marquis D'Obigny: Kostas Smoriginas; Gastone: Haoyin Xue; Annina: Sarah Pring; Servant: Jonathan Coad; Giuseppe: Neil Gillespie; Messenger: Charbel Mattar. The Royal Opera. Conductor: Antonio Pappano. Director: Richard Eyre. Designs: Bob Crowley. Performance of Monday 22 June 2009.

Above: Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

So, anticipation and expectancy were running high at this performance, the second of seven, of La Traviata. Could Fleming bring the authority, emotional passion and musical intensity which characterised her Desdemona to Verdi’s dazzling courtesan-turned-angelic sacrificial-victim?

Sir Richard Eyre’s 1994 production has had countless revivals with numerous divas in the title role (and it’s scheduled for two more showings next season), but Fleming and the rest of the cast benefitted from the director’s own, and first, return to his conception. A traditional staging, this production convinces throughout, Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes raising many a gasp and round of applause. The assemblage of the sets did, however, necessitate two long intervals but the lavish designs were worth the wait — and, inadvertently, allowed the inter-act diners to avoid indigestion.

Hampson_Germont_ROH.gifThomas Hampson as Giorgio Germont

A frisson went through the audience when Fleming made her glittering entry, sweeping into the sumptuous, somewhat crowded, salon where revellers drifted and twirled around the sparkling ice-sculpture. But the audience were made to wait for the trademark golden, floating tone: Fleming was rather restrained and hesitant, holding back throughout the first act, negotiating rather than relishing the demands of the coloratura fireworks in ‘Sempre libera’. She compensated for her musical caution with exuberant dramatic gestures, flinging back the doors of the salon to hurl her words contemptuously at those who judge her, tossing ice defiantly around the room, and coughing loudly to foreshadow her demise. Fleming seemed a little unhappy with Pappano’s tempi and, surprisingly, her voice lacked depth and beauty in places, but she relaxed in the subsequent act and the audience were rewarded for their patience with singing of outstanding, velvety warmth, poise and pathos. Fleming moved effortlessly between soaring pianissimi and impassioned exhortations: as satisfying a demonstration of the meaning of bel canto as one could wish for.

A dilapidated mirror leaning haphazardly against the flaking wall, cast a sombre shadow over the now-bare stage for the famous death scene. Singing with sublime beauty and tender radiance, Fleming held the audience spellbound. ‘Prendi: quest’è l’immagine’, in which Violetta selflessly frees Alfredo to love another, was exquisitely poignant. Sadly, however, the final moments jarred somewhat. Violetta’s momentary resurgence of physical health, a false respite from suffering, was cleverly illuminated with a surge of light as Fleming sang ‘Rinasce’ (‘I'm reborn’), accompanied by a rising scale of pulsing urgency. But, rather than simply collapsing, overcome and exhausted by the intensity of this moment of joy, Fleming rushed around the room, grasping each astounded onlooker and informing them individually of her recovery. Then she fell to the floor, dead. This was an unfortunately anticlimactic end to an otherwise superb interpretation.

Joseph Calleja as Alfredo Germont and Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry

Fleming’s partner, in the role of Alfredo, was the Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja. He more than matched her musical mastery. Possessing a sweet, smooth voice, he sustained an Italianate warmth and took the Alfredo’s rigorous cabaletta, ‘O mio rimorso’, in his stride, although surprisingly he offered us only one verse. Calleja is not a natural actor, and the chemistry between him and Fleming was lacking in potency, but he inhabited the role with increasing conviction as the opera progressed, and in Act 2 his anger and bitterness were truly shocking as he hurled his gambling winnings at Violetta.

There was no weak link among the central trio. As Germont - the bourgeois father who disapproves of his son’s paramour - Thomas Hampson commanded the stage, immediately establishing his stern authority. He used his flexible baritone in his second-act aria, ‘Di Provenza’, to reveal the hypocrisy of this domineering emblem of wealth and respectability and his domineering cruelty — he brutally pushes Alfredo to the ground - while also hinting at the genuine regret which troubles his soul.

Wade_Fleming_Traviata_ROH.gifEddie Wade as Baron Douphol and Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry

This stunning triumvirate put every ounce of energy, focus, musicality and dramatic commitment to their task. And they were supported by some fine singing by Jette Parker Young Artists present and past in the minor roles, Monika-Evelin Liiv (Flora), Kostas Smoriginas (Marquis D’Obigny) and Haoyin Xue (Gastone de Letorières). As Annina, Sarah Pring was dramatically feisty and musically sure. The chorus, too, were in typically fine form, most notably in the Act 2 gambling scene — stunningly lit from above in complementary reds and greens — where the gypsy girls frolicked and cavorted on the enormous green baize gambling table, while matadors strutted and postured, entertaining the dissolute guests with wild abandon.

Offering a near-prefect reading of the score, Antonio Pappano gave the cast eloquent support. The expressive dynamic range he drew from his players, enlivened even the most mundane accompanying figures, powerfully colouring the words. He coaxed a rich display of expressive hues from the members of the orchestra, especially the superb clarinet solo which accompanies Violetta’s letter writing in Act 2, where the instrument’s innate variety of timbre perfectly conveyed her inner conflict and instability. The Prelude was simply stunning: delicate, scintillating strings commented on sepia projections of times past, images which anticipate the picture that Violetta will present to Alfredo just before her death.

Act_III_Traviata_ROH.gifScene from Act III — Sarah Pring as Annina, Renée Fleming as Violetta Valéry, Joseph Calleja as Alfredo Germont and Richard Wiegold as Doctor Grenvil

The catastrophic première of La Traviata at La Fenice in 1853 has entered the annals of infamous operatic disasters. During rehearsals, the librettist, Piave, had written to the Fenice management that the composer ‘insists with renewed firmness that to sing Traviata one must be young, have a graceful figure and sing with passion’. Fleming certainly ticks all the boxes. Her Violetta Valéry is neither angelic paragon of innocence or knowing schemer, but rather a high-spirited young woman of noble heart and pure soul whose self-contempt and fear of risking love win our sympathy and, ultimately, our tears and love.

Claire Seymour

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):