Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.



The Full Monteverdi: A Film by John la Bouchardière
23 Aug 2009

The Full Monteverdi: A Film by John la Bouchardière

Although the cutesy title sounds like something conjured up by a community college marketing intern working for a mid-sized city orchestra’s ticket office—where every concert featuring Wagner and Brahms gets the sobriquet “Teutonic Titans”—don’t be put off by the moniker. This film is a brilliant adaptation of Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals that is totally faithful to the composer’s music.

The Full Monteverdi: A Film by John la Bouchardière
A Music-Drama based on Claudio Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals.

Featuring I Fagiolini: Anna Crookes, Carys Lane, sopranos; Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Mulroy, tenor; Matthew Brook, baritone; Giles Underwood, bass; and Robert Hollingworth, director. Actors: Pano Masti, Alan Mooney, Mark Denham, Katherine Peachey, Anna Skye, and Gina Peach. Written and Directed by John la Bouchardière.

Naxos 2.110224 [DVD]

$19.98  Click to buy

The development of opera in Italy is largely unthinkable without the madrigal. Although the madrigal was a highly sophisticated musico-poetic form featuring advanced harmonies and subtle texts of great literary value, it was, after all, a choral form meant for unstaged performance. Yet the dramatic power of the madrigal was such that monody—an early form of recitative--would eventually evolve from it. What director John la Bouchardière and the members of I Fagiolini have done is to demonstrate in a staged version the dramatic and rhetorical power of Monteverdi’s madrigals.

The Fourth Book of Madrigals for 6 voices (1603) is perhaps Monteverdi’s most famous book of madrigals because they were used by the composer to adumbrate the principles of the seconda prattica, that is, madrigals in which the composition of the music followed the lead of the rhetoric of the poetry. The Fourth Book is also notable for the high quality of the texts, consisting of poems by Giovanni Guarini (Il pastor fido) and Torquato Tasso among others. The 19 madrigals of the book share an emotional intensity expressive of the ebb and flow of a profound love. What the creators of this film have done is to pair each of the six singers with an actor and then to stage the performance as though it were six couples who coincidentally are having dinner at a contemporary restaurant. This allows each of the singers to have a dramatic foil, a person who is the object of the subjective text. This is a brilliant conceit and it works spectacularly well. What is even more remarkable is that this movie is a studio filming of the work that was originally performed live on stage. It is hard to imagine the concentration involved in performing highly chromatic madrigals with the performers not being in close proximity, and at time not even facing one other.

The film introduces a personalization of the intense emotional drama, alternating its focus among the various couples and even allowing for visual flashbacks as the music unfolds. Thus, we can be given the “back story” visually (for example, a past argument) as the couple in question grieves for a split up that is about to take place. Although they have no words to say, the task for the six actors is especially daunting as they must express the rhetorical and dramatic power of the madrigals utilizing only facial cues and body gestures and avoiding the overly melodramatic style of silent film acting.

Another aspect of this film that I found particularly satisfying is that a number of the madrigals are performed attacca. The elision of the performances of the madrigals heightens their poetic and dramatic unity, even when the texts of the madrigals are by different authors.

Madrigals of this sort were considered to be musica reservata, that is, music of extraordinary complexity and subtlety that was meant to be appreciated primarily by a highly educated and relatively small elite. As such, seconda prattica madrigals are often a tough go for the uninitiated and especially so for the typical college music appreciation student. This film makes explicit the drama that is inherent in the music and poetry and can, therefore, do a great deal to promote appreciation of Monteverdi’s madrigals.

The members of I Fagiolini sing with tremendous expressivity, flawless intonation, and amazing vocal technique. So convincing was their performance that it was not difficult at all to suspend disbelief at watching 21st century couples in a restaurant sing Italian madrigals while breaking up before the first course. This is a highly recommended DVD that should prove attractive to both opera lovers and early music devotees.

William E. Grim

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):