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

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):