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

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?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff adapted by Tony Britten
17 Aug 2009

Verdi: Falstaff

Those opera lovers prone to rage at the perceived dominance of the director in their beloved art form today may collapse in apoplexy at this first release from the company called SignumVision.

Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff adapted by Tony Britten

John Falstaff (Ian Jervis); Alice Ford (Jan Hartley); Francis Ford QC (Julian Forsyth); Doctor Cajus (Simon Butteriss); Bardolph: (Daniel Gillingwater); Pistol (Simon Masterton Smith); Mrs Quickly (Marilyn Cutts); Meg Page (Rosamund Shelley); Nanetta Ford (Katie Lovell); Fenton (Andy Morton).

Signum Vision SIGDVD001 [DVD]

$23.49  Click to buy

For this is, according to the booklet, “Falstaff in a new version by Tony Britten,” with the director’s name in huge font and below, barely in letter-size a third as big, “based on the opera by Verdi and Boito.” But Verdi and Boito might not object, as they could fairly claim any success this film version has and shrug off its less worthy aspects. After all, that same Tony Britten not only rewrote the libretto, but reorchestrated the score for a small ensemble, as well as serving, of course, as director.

Again, this is a filmed version, with the singers moving their lips to the pre-recorded soundtrack. Britten has set the action in a suburban (or borderline rural) golf club. Sir John has planted himself at the tiny club bar, with his two “henchmen” Bardolf and Pistol at a table nearby. Fenton is the golf pro, and the housewives are dedicated to the sport. Britten’s skill with the camera and his actors makes the film initially quite entertaining. Characters are well-delineated, and the seedy ambiance of this far-lying, older sport resort suits the action well enough. Even as a librettist, while no Boito, Britten has a fine ear for matching English inflection to Verdi’s rhythm’s, and some of the updating is fairly witty (the merry wives refer to themselves as “desperate housewives”). By the time of Sir John’s first date with the ladies, however, a sort of adolescent, sniggering approach to sexuality, familiar to US viewers through, say, “The Benny Hill Show,” curdles the cream, as it were. Sir John, instead of being dumped in the river, gets dumped in a trash dump. He reappears with a soiled baby diaper stuck to his back, and then pulls the corpse of a furry varmint from his pants. Well, many people found “The Benny Hill Show” uproarious, so…to each his own soiled baby diaper.

Purists will undoubtedly object, but Britten’ reorchestration captures much of the inventive charm of Verdi’s original. A keyboard lays down the basic harmonic fabric, and a small group of chirpy winds supplies the light-hearted thrust of Verdi’s score. Only in the final credits is there a credit for music direction (Jonathan Gill). The singers, whom the director admits were chosen more for their acting ability than vocal prowess, range from decent (Ian Jervis’s Sir John, Jan Hartley’s Alice Ford) or acceptable (Julian Forsyth’s Ford, Andy Morton’s Fenton) to strained (Katie Lovell’s Nanetta, especially at her top) and hooty (Marilyn Cutt’s Miss Quickly). They all get the words across efficiently, which is good, since there are no subtitles in any language offered by the disc. Words do tend tend to blur in ensemble numbers, unsurprisingly.

The booklet has no information on the score or the musicians whatsoever, although it has room for the director to expound on both the opera and his vision of it. A tiresome “making of” documentary adds little to interest to the set.

So, this Falstaff is well-filmed, amusingly acted, and adequately sung for the most part. If Britten hadn’t resorted to the lowbrow humor, his “new version” of Verdi and Boito’s masterwork could have made itself an enjoyable “addendum.” But as said above, to those who have to hold their sides when “Are You Being Served?” comes on the telly, no such objection will interfere with the tittering.

Chris Mullins

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):