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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Ruxandra Donose as Concepcion [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of the Royal Opera House]
26 Oct 2009

Ravel and L’Heure Espagnole at Covent Garden

Greed, lust and folly … Richard Jones’ comic double bill, first seen in 2007 and faithfully revived here by Elaine Kidd, certainly sharpens the spotlight on those eternal human foibles.

Maurice Ravel: L’Heure espagnole
Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi.

Director: Richard Jones. Set Designer: John Macfarlane. Costume Designs: Nicky Gillibrand. Lighting: Mimi Jordan Sherin. Choreography: Lucy Burge. Illusionist: Paul Kieve. Conductor: Antonio Pappano.
L’Heure espagnole — Torquemada: Bonaventura Bottone; Concepcion: Ruxandra Donose; Gonzalve: Yann

Above: Ruxandra Donose as Concepcion

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of the Royal Opera House

 

Yet this is not an evening of dark cynicism: John MacFarlane’s front cloths for Ravel’s L'Heure Espagnole and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi for — a glimpse of busty cleavage, enticing coils of pasta — signal that it’s earthly pleasure and not divine punishment which is centre stage in these witty, delightful productions.

Macfarlane’s set for Ravel’s one-act gem is inspired. Frustrated by her husband’s prim devotion to his business affairs, and longing for more action in the boudoir, Concepcion, the frisky wife of the town clockmaker, Torquemada, is literally confined in the false proscenium. There are many clever touches; as when the embossed rose wallpaper and rich curtains are slyly transformed by Mimi Jordan Sherin’s slick lighting from shop décor to bedroom draperies. Torquemada’s weekly maintenance tour of the civic clocks offers Concepcion her sole hour of freedom, and the passionate poet, Gonzalve, is quick to take advantage. But, on this occasion, Torquemada has ordered Ramiro, a muleteer, to wait in the shop. The overwhelming number of ticking clock faces reminds us of just how little time Concepcion has to enact her plan, adding a tinge of hysteria to the frantic mood. And, there is plenty of opportunity for farce and slapstick, as first Gonzalve and then a second admirer, the banker Don Inigo Gomez, hide in the clocks, while Concepcion decides to spurn both, in favour of the brawny Ramiro.

The characters are parodies worthy of commedia dell’arte — the bloated banker, the idealist poet, the gullible youth, the frustrated housewife — and they are clothed in suitably garish costumes by Nicky Gillibrand. The Romanian soprano, Ruxandra Donose, is impressive as the aptly named Concepcion, fully convincing as she grows ever-more frustrated and desperate, and singing with superb projection. As the muscular muleteer, Ramiro, Christopher Maltman’s bright, golden sound is perfect. Maltman bounds with puppyish energy, happily heaving and twirling grandfather clocks at Concepcion’s whim, and showing both heft and lyricism in this detailed interpretation of the role. The hapless poet, Gonzalve, is sung by the French tenor, Yann Beuron, whose warm, passionate tone conjures a suitably dreamy air; Andrew Shore delivers a typically witty and well-timed cameo as the blustering Gomez.

Ravel’s score is rich and ravishing, almost too sophisticated for the ribald tale it illuminates. Pappano paced it perfectly, allowing us to appreciate how deftly Ravel eases between genres — here the lilt of a pasodoble, now a jazzy syncopation, next a pulsing habanera. Ravel is just as capable of musical irony as Les Six, and just as adept at pastiche and parody as Stravinsky. This is a dense, detailed score, with castanets, tambour de basque and sarrusophone supplementing just a few of the sounds supplementing the large orchestral forces. Drawing exquisitely refined playing from the ROH orchestra, Pappano reined in the forces at his disposal, never overwhelming his singers, while allowing the details to serve the stage incident.

A chorus of show-girls joins the cast for the final number on lust and love, the dazzling glitz and glamour both darkly ironic and lushly entertaining: we heed the moral, while relishing the rollick.

SCHICCHI-209-BENGTSSON AS LAURETTA&ALLEN AS SCHICCHI-(C)PERSSON.pngMaria Bengtsson as Lauretta and Thomas Allen as Gianni Schicchi

Long overshadowed by its tragic partners in Puccini’s triptych Il Trittico, Gianni Schicci is a delicious satire on avarice. Buoso Donati’s death prompts an anxious search by his presumptuous but down-at-heel family for his will: locating it, Rinuccio demands permission to marry the peasant girl, Lauretta, in exchange for handing it to his aunt, Zita. All are distraught to discover that Buoso has left his fortune to a monastery, but Rinuccio assures them that there is someone who can help — Gianni Schicchi, Lauretta’s father. Impersonating first a doctor who declares Buoso revived, and then Buoso himself, Schicci conjures a plan to ensure his and the lovers’ future wealth and happiness, while the Donatis make greedy grabs for their inheritance, torn between their avarice and their social pretensions.

Jones gives us quite a dark reading of this score: the grimy, drab 1950s décor, complete with peeling wallpaper, broken television set and rusting radiators, certainly enhances the Donatis’ mood of desperation. The large cast, including children and farceurs, are expertly choreographed throughout, in an astoundingly detailed, meticulous staging which demonstrates both imagination and an intelligent responsiveness to Puccini’s score. Not a movement, gesture or facial expression is misplaced: manic it certainly is, but never messy.

The cast are uniformly superb — a convincing portrait of collective greed. Yet each character is fully individualised through gesture. This revival featured many of the original cast, and they clearly enjoyed themselves, musically and dramatically. Mezzo-soprano Elena Zilio was outstanding in the role of Aunt Zita, confident and controlled; while Gwynne Howell made for a distinguished Simone, the head of the grasping clan. They were matched by fine performances from Marie McLaughlin (La Ciesca), Jeremy White (Betto di Signa), Robert Poulton (Marco), Alan Oke (Gherardo) and Janis Kelly (a hand-bag swinging Nella).

SCHICCHI-374-(C)JOHAN PERSSON.pngFrom left to right: Jeremy White as Betto di Signa, Gwynne Howell as Simone, Janis Kelly as Nella, Elena Zilio as Zita, Marie McLaughlin as La Ciesca, Robert Poulton as Marco, Thomas Allen as Gianni Schicchi

The celebrated aria, ‘O mio babbino caro’, is probably the only number from this dazzling score which is familiar to many in the audience. Here, rather than stopping the show, it was expertly incorporated into the dramatic fabric. Maria Bengtsson charmed and delighted as Lauretta; her powerful, affecting rendition was aptly supported by Pappano, who shaped the phrases sensitively and eloquently. Bengtsson was ably partnered by the American tenor, Stephen Costello who, as the dashing, aspiring young lover, both looked and sounded the part, his ardent tenor ringing out warm and true. In the title role, Thomas Allen gave a typically consummate musical and dramatic performance.

These two stylish, clever stagings offer an evening of light mischief, musical charm and dramatic froth. Delicious — not to be missed.

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):