Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Simon Keenlyside as Rodrigo [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of the Royal Opera House]
11 Oct 2009

Don Carlo at Covent Garden

The full five-act version of Verdi’s historical epic, Don Carlo, makes for a long evening, but thanks to some fine singing and to the driving sweep of the baton of Semyon Bychkov this four-and-a-half hour performance raced by.

Giuseppe Verdi: Don Carlo

Don Carlo: Jonas Kaufmann; Elisabetta di Valois: Marina Poplavskaya; Rodrigo: Simon Keenlyside; Philip II: Ferruccio Furlanetto; Princess Eboli: Marianne Cornetti; Tebaldo: Pumeza Matshikiza; Grand Inquisito: John Tomlinson; Conte di Lerma: Robert Anthony Gardiner; Carlos V: Robert Lloyd; Flemish Deputies: Dawid Kimberg, Changhan Lim, David Stout, John Cunningham, Daniel Grice, Lukas Jakobski; Voice from Heaven: Eri Nakamura. Director: Nicholas Hytner. Designs: Bob Crowley. Lighting Design: Mark Henderson. Movement: Scarlett Mackmin. Fight Director: Terry King. Conductor: Semyon Bychkov.

Above: Simon Keenlyside as Rodrigo

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of the Royal Opera House

 

Bychkov’s was a controlled reading; but, while some may argue that he kept the leash too tight, he appreciated the need for contrast - now urgent, now relaxed. Moreover, he draw from the ROH orchestra a startling array of colours and textures, paying scrupulous attention to the exquisite details within the instrumental fabric and drawing the delicacies of the inner voices to the surface. A perfect canvas upon which to play out this drama of political violence and private trauma.

This is an opera about confrontations. From the first Fontainebleau scene - when indicatively the lovers’ triplet ‘resistance motif’ is introduced to the text, ‘The fatal hour is nigh’, against the jaunty, repetitious theme of chorus - an unremitting battle wages between Church and State, father and son, individual and society, love and duty. Such oppositions are enhanced by Verdi’s contrasting vocal roles - the bright baritone of Posa juxtaposed with the deep resonance of Philip, the indomitable fury of Princess Eboli distinguished from the vulnerability and near-hysteria of Carlos.

Cornetti.pngMarianne Cornetti as Princess Eboli

So, it is no surprise that it was the epic confrontations between the Spanish King Philip II - the real centre of this work, despite the precedence given to his son in the title - and first Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, and then the Grand Inquisitor which were the driving force of the opera. Ferruccio Furlanetto’s Philip II is a disturbed, troubled man. His struggle with Simon Keenlyside’s Posa, signalled by an electrifying outburst of orchestral thunder, provided the first moment of chilling dramatic intensity, a shocking insight into the fire of Inquisitional Spain, where religious fervour, political zeal and personal strife intermingle. This was a masterly conception by Furlanetto, every note, every gesture placed with consummate care and conviction. He released a beautiful stream of sound which did not diminish his steely authority, convincing us that this really was the man whose very name could make all of Europe tremble. This Philip has genuine regal gravitas; which makes his demise in Act 4 all the more astonishing and affecting, as the sonorous bass, underpinned by a beautiful ’cello solo, reflects on his loneliness and despairingly acknowledges his empty, loveless marriage. Having revealed his humanity, in Act 5 Philip faces the Grand Inquisitor, in a hostile confrontation between State and Church. John Tomlinson’s ghastly Inquisitor was certainly the -physical embodiment of terror in his blood-red robes, but did not always match the ominous visual effects with sufficient vocal intimidation and menace.

Does Italian opera need Italian voices? Perhaps not, but the other members of the cast, no matter how well trained in Italian technique, or schooled in language and diction, simply don’t possess the same innate sense of the tradition. Does this matter? Keenlyside may not have a truly Italianate sound but he brought a relentless energy and vibrancy to the role, perfectly conveying an obsessive fervour which really could sway the unworldly Carlos from idyllic love to political idealism.

Kaufmann_Opoplavskaya.pngMarina Poplavskaya as Elizabeth of Valois and Jonas Kaufmann as Don Carlos

Carlos himself was performed here by Jonas Kaufmann, a baritonal tenor who looked, acted and sang the part with impressive skill, sustained musicianship and stamina. Carlos is difficult role to pin down: is he a romantic dreamer, à la Werther, or a genuine political idealist? He’s certainly come in for some criticism … while it’s probably true that all Verdian tenors commit acts which lead to their deaths or to the deaths of those they love, Carlos has been attacked for his ‘inner paralysis’ which condemns him to inaction, for his self-destructive rage and empty threats, and described as a man who is ‘incapable of coherent political thought’. Part of the problem is the change of emphasis which results from the inclusion or excision of the opening Fontainebleau scene. If it is included, Carlos appears as a man of sensibility, living in a world of inner dreams. But, in this production, Kaufmann later chose to focus on Carlos’ political idealism, an aspect somewhat at odds with the romantic dreamer of the opening; and he never quite convinced that the passion for which so much is sacrificed is genuine and not self-delusory. Kaufmann’s Carlos is easily influenced by the fervent Posa, but he seems perhaps too ready to sublimate his love for Elizabeth to the ideological principles that define Rodrigo’s existence. Their Act 2 duet, a heroic hymn of brotherhood, suffered from the similarity of their vocal timbre, the rather passive direction and a tempo that lacked urgency: perhaps the problem is that the melody that embodies the warmth of their personal friendship also has to serve as an anthem of their political commitment to the liberation of Flanders.

That said, there was undoubtedly a dramatic chemistry between the two men, and this was a musically compelling performance from Kaufmann. In scene one, when the chorus have departed and fall silent, Carlos’ line disintegrates and in a breathless wavering over a coda-like orchestral elaboration of the chorus’s theme, Kaufmann used his mezza voce to great effect.

Marina Poplavskaya, as Elizabeth of Valois, could have made more liberal use of this sort of well-placed, controlled pianissimo. Confident and powerful, Poplavskaya rode the orchestral sound well, and created a smooth line in the upper register. Her bitter tirade after the dismissal of her lady-in-waiting for neglecting her duties when the Queen is discovered alone in the garden, demonstrated her frustration and anger, but there was little light and shade in this interpretation. Marianne Cornetti has the necessary weight for Princess Eboli but the coloratura in her Act 2 Veil Aria was hopelessly imprecise and some unsubtleties in her portrayal drew some unfortunate laughs.

The large Chorus made an imposing sound; the Act 3 auto-da-fe scene seemed less cluttered and busy than when this production was first aired, but still created an impressive spectacle. However, Hytner’s largely naturalist reading and the period costumes were rather at odds with designer Bob Crawley’s somewhat stylised sets; the stark colours, from glaring silver of ice and birch tree in opening forest scene, to glowing red of Spanish sun glaring down on conical pine trees as women gather in piazza, evoked a fairytale ambience which did not accord with the realism of Hytner’s vision and diminished the opera’s grandeur.

Despite the frustration of hearing the text sung in Italian rather than French, this was a persuasive performance, musically and dramatically, and one which achieved the necessary balance between political epic and private passion, between the grand sweeps of history and personal intimacy.

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):