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

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Natalie Dessay as Violetta [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera]
27 Jul 2009

An Evening at Père Lachaise [Or, Natalie Dessay Attempts Violetta]

A fine-sounding Santa Fe Opera orchestra, excellently conducted by Frédéric Chaslin, was barely into the haunting, delicate prelude to Act I of La traviata, when a funeral procession, wet umbrellas unfurled, arrived to wend its way though a stage full of big grey marble rectangular boxes, handsomely abstracted tomb shapes, soon to be the courtesan Violetta Valéry’s destination. So much for the Prelude to Act I.

Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata

Violetta: Natalie Dessay; Alfredo: Saimir Pirgu; Gastone: Keith Jameson; Germont: (through Aug. 17) Laurent Naouri, (Aug. 22, 26, 29), Anthony Michaels-Moore; Douphol: Wayne Tigges; Dr. Grenvil: Harold Wilson. Conductor: Frederic Chaslin. Director: Laurent Pelly. Scenic Designer: Chantal Thomas. Costume Designer: Laurent Pelly. Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler.

Above: Natalie Dessay as Violetta

All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Santa Fe Opera

 

_MG_2947a.gifSaimir Pirgu (Alfredo)

During the intensely dramatic prelude to Act IV, anonymous stage figures in half light, darted about draping the tombs with white shrouds preparing the death scene of Violetta — so much for that essential orchestral moment; again our attention had fled. For Flora Bervoix’s Act III party, the weighty boxes, artfully arranged at varying heights, served as pedestals to show off swaying party girls in lavish 20th century dancing gowns. “Dancing on her grave?” Santa Fe’s new mounting of Verdi’s opera, largely the work of a director Laurent Pelly’s French team and the prima donna Natalie Dessay, seemed an evening at Père Lachaise, almost literally, but Lachaise-manqué, transmogrified. The conceit was interesting; many in the audience liked it and enjoyed its innovative energy, yet it was, as we say, for its own sake — it added no new insight into the old opera. It could also get in the way.

_MG_3847a.gifLaurent Naouri (Germont) & Natalie Dessay (Violetta)

Opinion divides on Mme. Dessay, as it usually will when coloraturas essay Violetta’s essentially dramatic role. Through history, light-voiced divas such as Galli-Curci, Lily Pons and Roberta Peters have tried and faded with the fatal part. Deconstructively ruinous at Santa Fe was Dessay’s Act II costume — dull, shapeless cotton slacks and a large man’s-style white overshirt; barefoot. She was a 1960s hippie caught at home. The problem was it robbed her of much dignity: and Violetta’s self-denying dignity is key to the effect of this central act, with the two Germont men, each asking her something different, and opposing. She is cruelly torn; it takes all her resources to survive intact. By dressing her way down for the big confrontation scenes, Dessay’s Violetta lost a lot of feminine stature and, unintentionally I am sure, pushed her comic-seeming side; she looked raffish and moved in an almost Carol Burnett way — all wrong. Producer Pelly got this act badly off key. To do anything to defeminize Violetta is a grave mistake. Violetta must be poignantly believable in Act II — or her show does not fly, hélas!

The device of the graveyard underlying the whole opera seemed an over-kill, ultimately a kind of director’s bad joke. Once again, where was dignity, seriousness? La traviata is a mid-19th century tragic opera, with many social overtones; it is most certainly to be taken seriously. But I did not sense a lot of that with M. Pelly, though the performing artists worked hard. Where was letting the music speak for itself (as in the two preludes mentioned above)? Is it anything less than an affront to second-guess Giuseppe Verdi in judging the effect of his music, and what it takes to put it over in theatrical terms? Opera lovers will have their own views on this. In an interesting touch, Père Germont was costumed and played as a 19th century figure, and that he surely is; but Violetta is no less so, and to take her out of that cultural milieu was counterproductive.

_MG_6138a.gifNatalie Dessay (Violetta)

Finally, Mme. Dessay is not a Violetta. As seen on the Santa Fe stage, she is a little bird — in Act I a frantic, drunken little bird with an orange wig and bright red and pink plumage; by the end she was a plucked pullet flopping about the stage. Her voice does not have the dynamic or tonal range to explore the full dimensions of Verdi’s music or Violetta’s emotions; it is almost always the same color. She was wise to sing both stanzas of “Addio del passato…” for a soft pianissimo tone is her best asset just now, and she long held the aria’s final p. high-A. A singular moment. I like Mme. Dessay a lot, and she’s had a wonderful career, especially considering two throat surgeries and a baritone husband. I think she has the spunk, but ultimately not enough vocal resource to do justice to Verdi’s paragon soprano role. The surprise of the evening was the excellence of Parisian baritone Laurent Naouri in the role of Père Germont. His well-voiced traditional portrayal played strongly against the eccentricity of the rest of the production; he showed vividly how this wonderful opera should be treated. The young Alfredo was debut artist Saimir Pirgu, an Albanian tenor with a pleasing voice and manner, graced by a nice smile. In the latter stages of the opera he warmed to some beautiful soft-toned singing.

J. A. Van Sant ©2009

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):