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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

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).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Joyce DiDonato as Rosina [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
14 Jul 2009

Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Covent Garden

Music-masters, singing lessons and serenading bands all abound in Rossini’s comic masterpiece, Il Barbiere di Sivilglia, but at this performance it was the medical rather than the musical puns which drew the loudest laughs.

Gioachino Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Figaro: Pietro Spagnoli; Rosina: Joyce DiDonato; Count Almaviva: Juan Diego Flórez / Colin Lee; Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli; Don Basilio: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Fiorello: Changhan Lim; Berta: Jennifer Rhys-Davies. Conductor:Paul Wynne Griffiths / Antonio Pappano. Director: Patrice Caurier / Moshe Leiser. Set Designs: Christian Fenouillat. Costume Designs: Agostino Cavalca. Lighting: Christophe Forey.

Above: Joyce DiDonato as Rosina

Except as indicated, all photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

With the characters afflicted by ‘anvil-hammer headaches’, scarlet fever and debilitating foot cramps, we were reminded that Bartolo is in fact an ‘esteemed’ doctor and that Figaro lists ‘surgeon’ as one of his skills. Indeed, it seemed that Bartolo was right when he complained that Figaro was turning ‘this house into a hospital’ — not least because the prima donna, Rosina, was wheelchair-bound throughout.

This was not, however, a quirky directorial whim of the kind that 21st-century audiences have become all too familiar with. There cannot be many Rosinas who would willingly elect to tackle the substantial challenges of the role from this confining position, but there was little choice for the American mezzo-soprano, Joyce DiDonato who, having continued valiantly after slipping on the opening night, subsequently discovered that she had in fact fractured her fibia. Forbidden to put any weight on her plaster-encased leg, DiDonato must have been in considerable discomfort, if not pain, and the audience whole-heartedly appreciated her determination to continue in the role, welcoming her first stage entry with a rapturous outburst of grateful applause.

BC200907020779.gifPietro Spagnoli as Figaro and Alessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo

If she was physically incapacitated, DiDonato was in no way vocally, musically or dramatically hampered. This was an outstanding - and given the circumstances, astonishing — performance. Capricious and independent throughout, she overcame the physical restrictions imposed on her, offering a consummate display of coloratura singing and acting with panache and verve. DiDonata’s technical mastery is accompanied by innate musicality and powers of communication: she manages to make Rossini’s idiosyncratic twists, leaps, stutters and dynamic dips sound both effortless — in ‘Dunque io son’ she dazzled with a thrilling sparkle of a trill — and genuine.

Paradoxically, she used her injury to superb dramatic effect. Trapped both figuratively and literally, DiDonato presented a poignant picture of innocent vulnerability, threatened by a domineering tyrant; but simultaneously she twisted, pouted, whizzed from left to right, swung her undamaged legs and flailed her arms, allowing the petulance and feistiness of the ‘real’ Rosina to shine through.

BC200907010770.gifJennifer Rhys-Davies as Berta, Juan Diego Flórez as Count Almaviva and Joyce Didonato as Rosina

DiDonato was partnered by a fine cast of principals. From the moment he leapt onto the stage with a knowing nod and grin, after striding masterfully through the surprised audience, Pietro Spagnoli’s Figaro held the attention of all. This was a Figaro of enterprise, boundless energy and optimism, and the sprightliness of Spagnoli’s stage presence was matched by the vigour and meatiness of his singing. He relished the tongue-twisting patter and demonstrated a rich, deep warmth when offering a supporting shoulder to the pair of thwarted lovers. Standing in for Simon Keenlyside, this was Spagnoli’s Covent Garden debut — and on this evidence he should be back soon.

2009_ndg_0103(C)NEIL-GILLES.gifJoyce DiDonato as Rosina [Photo by Neil Gillespie courtesy of The Royal Opera House]

One pities Colin Lee, sharing the role of Count Almaviva with no less a stellar light than Juan Diego Flórez, whose effortless dispatch of the fiendish coloratura in the closing scene nearly brought the house to a standstill on the opening night of the run. Understandably perhaps, Lee seemed nervous at the start, as he strove to over-colour the words in his opening ‘Ecco ridente’, worthily emphasising the pain of unrequited love but producing an ugly, strained timbre in the process. Fortunately he became progressively more relaxed, and a legato tenderness and more subtlety of tone characterised his performance subsequently. More comfortable with his disguise as the spineless music teacher, Alonso, than as the drunken soldier who blunders his way into Bartolo’s house, in Act 2 Lee settled into the role, and in ‘Cessa di piu resistere’ he demonstrated a beautiful tenore di grazia, lightly presenting the vocal flourishes and singing with a joyful delicacy at the top of his register, with no sense of strain.

He was often criticised for creating emotionless characters, and it is true that many of Rossini’s principal roles here are simply caricatures. Nevertheless, Alessandro Corbelli warmed up nicely as the egotistical, domineering Dr Bartolo, producing some wonderful comic timing. His acting prowess was matched by Feruccio Furlanetto, as the unctuous, despicable Basilio. Furlanetto’s massive bass resonated with menace and evil intent. Indeed, in his calumny aria, he so revelled in the salacious, almost hysterical, delight he gained from his plans to slander Almaviva, that he came a little adrift from Pappano’s tempo, in one of the rare moments of shaky ensemble between stage and pit.

BC200907021080.gifAlessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo, Joyce Didonato as Rosina, Pietro Spagnoli as Figaro, Jennifer Rhys-Davies as Berta, (Back Row) Ferruccio Furlanetto as Don Basilio, and The Royal Opera Chorus as Police

The smaller roles were also strongly cast. Jennifer Rhys-Davies presented a well-conceived Berta, singing with a verve and confidence which were equalled by Korean baritone, Changhan Lim, a Jette Young Artist, who showed much promise as Fiorello.

It was a minor flaw of this starry production that occasionally the zany design of this revival of Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s wacky 2005 staging (with slight adaptations to accommodate DiDonato’s new mode of locomotion) threatened to upstage the singing. Leiser and Caurier’s long-term collaborators, Christian Fenouillat and Agostino Cavalca did not fail to exaggerate every comic moment. The pastel-box set with its web of sliding panels, trap doors and concealed windows certainly conveyed Rosina’s entrapment, but the garish, postmodern lines and dots and pantomimesque costumes — the nadir was reached when the police arrived sporting white, plastic helmets and black PVC capes — were cheap and nasty. The closing picture of red, heart-shaped balloons floating aloft was pure Eurotrash.

This is an undoubtedly funny production, but the directors over-play Rossini’s subtle side-swipes at theatricality and operatic conventions. In particular, the end of Act 1 was distinctly bewildering: the stage tilted and rocked from side to side, escape routes disappeared, as the ‘dazed and confused’ cast clutched their heads in uniform agony. Even Pappano, elsewhere so sure and in command at the podium or harpsichord, struggled to maintain the dramatic and musical momentum as the entire cast wobbled and staggered like a ship in danger of sinking.

Fortunately Antonio Pappano ensured that Rossini’s music retained prime position. From the crisp rhythms and tight runs of the overture, it was clear that the ROH band were once again on sparkling form. Pappano coaxed fresh colours from this well-known score and reinvigorated familiar rhythms with spontaneity. This operatic ‘old friend’ can certainly still astonish and impress.

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):