Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Mark Padmore on festivals, lieder and musical conversations

I have to confess, somewhat sheepishly, at the start of my conversation with Mark Padmore, that I had not previously been aware of the annual music festival held in the small Cotswolds town of Tetbury, which was founded in 2002 and to which Padmore will return later this month to perform a recital of lieder by Schubert and Schumann with pianist Till Fellner.

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Giovanni Simon Mayr: Medea in Corinto

The Bavarian-born Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845) trained and made his career in Italy and thus ended up calling himself Giovanni Simone Mayr, or simply G. S. Mayr. He is best known for having been composition teacher to Giuseppe Donizetti.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

Matthias Goerne: Bach Cantatas for Bass

In this new release for Harmonia Mundi, German baritone Matthias Goerne presents us with two gems of Bach’s cantata repertoire, with the texts of both BWV 56 and 82 exploring one’s sense of hope in death.  Goerne adeptly interprets the paradoxical combination of hope and despair that underpins these works, deploying a graceful lyricism alongside a richer, darker bass register.

Gramophone Award Winner — Matthias Goerne Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge

Winner of the 2017 Gramophone Awards, vocal category - Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach - Johannes Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge and other Brahms Lieder. Here is why ! An exceptional recording, probably a new benchmark.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sian Pendry (Dorabella) and Luke Gabbedy (Guglielmo) [Photo by Jeff Busby courtesy of Opera Australia]
24 Nov 2009

Così fan tutte, Opera Australia

Like most opera companies, the Mozart/da Ponte trifecta of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte are central to Opera Australia’s repertoire.

W.A. Mozart: Così fan tutte

Fioriligi: Hye Seoung Kwon; Dorabella: Sian Pendry; Despina: Tiffany Speight; Ferrando: Henry Choo; Guglielmo: Luke Gabbedy; Don Alfonso: José Carbó. Conductor: Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo. Director: Jim Sharman. Set Designer: Ralph Myers. Costume Designer: Gabriela Tylesova. State Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne. 19, 21, 24, 27 November 3, 5, 9 & 12 December 2009.

Above: Sian Pendry (Dorabella) and Luke Gabbedy (Guglielmo)

All photos by Jeff Busby courtesy of Opera Australia

 

Like his production of Don Giovanni, the staging of Così fan tutte by the late Göran Järvefelt served the company well for decades before being replaced in September by this new take on the story by Jim Sharman. Sharman is one of Australia’s most invigorating stage directors whose earliest work was with Opera Australia (then called The Australian Opera) when, in 1967, as a twenty-one year old, he produced Don Giovanni, setting it on a huge chess board and calculating the Don’s progress to Hell like chess strategies. Sharman’s biggest claim to worldwide fame, however, is as director of the original The Rocky Horror Show and it’s subsequent film adaptation. In Australia he now counted among the country’s foremost directors with laudable stagings of classic and contemporary plays, musicals and occasionally operas. His staging of Britten’s Death in Venice was mounted for the 1980 Adelaide Festival, barely five after it’s premiere where it garnered favourable comments from local and international critics before being taken into Opera Australia’s repertoire where it still holds sway nearly thirty years later.

Like than early Don Giovanni, Sharman’s Così fan tutte sadly seems to be trying too hard. But by most accounts Così is a difficult opera to pull off. The partner swapping shenanigans and misogynist sentiment have stranded it as a kind of antiquated boulevard farce like Georges Feydeau set to music!

Cosi_OA_03.gifHenry Choo (Ferrando) and Hye Seoung Kwon (Fiordiligi)

Using a contemporary setting, Sharman reveals during the overture a wedding party, the couple, a Japanese Bride and Groom, arriving at the reception before freezing the action and transporting the Bride and Groom to either side of the stage where they watch the opera unfold before being transported back at the end of the opera to their nuptials as the cast sing the opera’s moral. Don Alfonso’s (José Carbó) bet appears to be a the result of a locker room brag as Ferrando (Henry Choo) and Guglielmo (Luke Gabbedy), under stylised showers, compare their respective fiancée’s virtue (rather, as one would imagine in a locker room situation, their physical or sexual attributes). The action unfolds in a white walled set, designed by Ralph Myers, with an arched floor where the stranded wedding organisers and guests act as chorus and occasional prop movers. Occasionally the wedding photographer appears with a live video camera to zoom in on characters during their principal arias and relay their image to a huge curtain interminably pulled back and forth throughout the long opera.

While the concept may be puzzling it works well enough until the second act where these directorial high jinks gloss over the searing bitterness as Fiordiligi (Hye Seoung Kwon) agonises over her situation and the two men agonise over the swiftness of their lovers infidelity. Unlike Brad and Janet in Sharman’s notorious The Rocky Horror Show, the partner swapping and sexual humiliation is far from funny. In fairness the fault lies with the opera itself it’s sexual attitudes are as infuriating to modern audiences as those of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and even the best directors have a tough job with either.

Cosi_OA_02.gifSian Pendry (Dorabella), José Carbó (Don Alfonso) and Hye Seoung Kwon (Fiordiligi)

The opera is also sung in a modern English translation by Jeremy Sams that almost matches the famous, mid-twentieth century, Ruth and Thomas Martin translation for its lumpiness. While getting plenty of laughs for its up to date casualness (“I might forget myself or even wet myself” sing the men after Guglielmo’s ‘mustacchi’ serenade sends the ladies packing), Sams’s choice of words robs the open-vowelled flow of da Ponte’s Italian text. Nor does Sams even try to be literal about translating the original words, let along consider their singability “I have sinned my best beloved” is his substitution for Fiordiligi’s “per pieta, ben mio perdona”. Sams even suggests that the opera's ‘motif’’ “Così fan tutte”, when sung by Don Alfonso should be “That’s how God made them”. If an opera company must perform a work in translation (and spend good money on royalties for it) it should at least be better than this.

To their credit, the young cast sing even the most difficult passages clearly; nearly every word of the unfortunate text is audible. Henry Choo is a most stylish tenor; his voice has the heft to carry into the big auditorium without apparent force. He establishes a beautiful and limpid line through ‘Un’aura amorosa’ and is spot-on in the difficult runs in the act one finale. As Guglielmo, Luke Gabbedy’s light baritone could almost be mistaken for a tenor and a darker colour might be wished for in the duet with Dorabella (Sian Pendry) and the act two aria. The same applies to José Carbó’s as Alfonso, the voice seeming lighter than one would expect for the role. Of the ladies the most accomplished is Tiffany Speight as Despina. Speight is one of the company’s best Mozartians, her voice is silvery, carries effortlessly and her charming stage presence carries with the same clarity. Hye Seong Kwon handled Fiordiligi’s big moments with breathtaking ease, long phrases, octave jumps and embellishments all perfectly judged despite the impositions the English words placed on her. Sian Pendry handled Dorabella’s music with similar ease; hers is a high, light mezzo, rather like Gabbedy’s high, light baritone. Kwon and Pendry also make their first appearance in swim suits and spend the rest of the opera equally revealing costumes and both have catwalk figures.

Cosi_OA_04.gifHenry Choo (Ferrando) and Luke Gabbedy (Guglielmo)

Ollivier-Philippe Cunéo coaxed a period sounding performance from the orchestra, the strings occasionally emphasising that wiry sound that passes for authentic. Cunéo also adopts that peculiar practice of breathlessly playing the two opening chords of the overture (as evidenced in Arnold Östman's 1986 recording of the opera) and generally rushing things where a little restraint might have been better. The woodwind were often given a difficult time and the big moment when Fiordiligi finally succumbs (Mozart’s delectably sudden change from lurching chords to gorgeous runs on the strings) passed without the attention it deserves.

With chick costumes and attractive singers to wear them, this Così will certainly appeal to younger audiences. Sharman is obviously at his best when dealing amorous absurdities but the deeper musical and emotional content that is so unique in the Mozart/da Ponte operas are left buried.

Michael Magnusson

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):