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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Paula Sides as Emilia in <em>Flavio</em> [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of the English Touring Opera]
03 Nov 2009

Flavio and Alcina by ETO

In celebration of their 25th birthday and the 250th anniversary of the death of Handel, English Touring Opera has devised Handelfest, an extravaganza of five operas (Flavio, Teseo, Tolomeo, Alcina and Ariodante) and a wide variety of masterclasses and workshops taking in several of the company’s usual touring venues.

G. F. Handel: Flavio; Alcina

Click here for cast information

Above: Paula Sides as Emilia in Flavio

Photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of the English Touring Opera

 

Before setting off from London, however, ETO has chosen the Royal College of Music’s Britten Theatre — which, as the operatic home of the London Handel Festival, is the capital’s premier venue for Handel opera — to launch this ambitious project.

With four of the productions being revivals of recent stagings performed in the course of ETO’s ordinary tours, the Handelfest’s one original staging is Flavio, a piece which has never quite managed to find a foothold in the repertoire perhaps on account of its opera semiseria status which makes it something of a curiosity in Handel’s canon. The combination of serious drama and broad comedy, which is how it is often played here, doesn’t always sit easily; when our heroine’s lover, Guido, kills his prospective father-in-law, Lotario, in a duel, it’s difficult not to remember that the challenge came about as a result of his own father’s preposterous overreaction to a slap in the face.

Flavio himself is actually a relatively small role, though the machinations of the plot are precipitated by the eponymous monarch’s desire to overcome such minor annoyances as fathers and existing lovers and have his wicked way with a certain young lady of the court. Sung by Clint van der Linde in a flexible and penetrating countertenor, this was one of two characters in the opera which were given a light or comic aspect throughout. The pomp and circumstance surrounding Flavio’s position here manifest themselves in a series of self-consciously theatrical gestures, beginning with the red carpet that unfurls itself behind him as a train when he makes his first appearance, while his personal demeanour is debonair and more than slightly camp.

This and the comic bluster of tenor Joseph Cornwell’s Ugone (he of the aforementioned slapped face) were in vivid contrast to what is at heart a dead straight production. In costumes of Handel’s own period against a very simple midnight-blue set, the serious centre of the piece is represented by soprano Paula Sides as Emilia. A little acidity in the top notes notwithstanding, her soprano is characterful with a slightly covered and smoky timbre and she has real stage presence. As Guido, James Laing’s countertenor is not a robust or powerful sound, but it is clear and even and his delivery of the words eloquent, particularly in his confrontation with Lotario — the pivotal scene in which the opera’s serious and frivolous sides collide. Vocally, he finally allowed himself to shine in his slow aria (‘Amor, nel mio penar’) — and here the visual picture was at its most stark, with Guido alone and spotlit against the dark blue background, in contrast to the assortment of props and stage clutter that tended to accompany the more comic characters.

The dramatic middle ground is provided by the secondary lovers, Vitige and Teodata. A plum role for a juvenile female alto (even playing a member of her own sex — so rare in Handel!) it is Teodata who Flavio decides to win at all costs. Carolyn Dobbin captures her uncomplicated sexiness beautifully, with a relaxed and attractive presence and excellent diction. As the jealous Vitige, the Norwegian mezzo Angelica Voje had a voice which readily evoked that of a hot-blooded youth — light and flexible but still mettlesome.

The baritone Andrew Slater, though a little short of depth in his lower register, presented a credible account of the unfortunate Lotario — passed over for promotion in favour of Ugone, and slain by Guido.

Throughout the Handelfest several of the artists are performing and covering multiple roles, and the conductor of Flavio goes one step further — he is the countertenor Jonathan Peter Kenny, who is appearing as Polinesso in Ariodante. His conducting was sensitive to the singers, never overwhelming the lighter voices, and providing a base upon which the fuller lyric voices could bloom.

Two days later came a revival of Conway’s 2005 staging of Alcina. As in its original run, this production alters the shape of the work quite considerably due to the practical necessity of fitting it into a three-hour slot; there is no chorus (the soloists form an ensemble where musically necessary) and the treble/soprano role of Oberto is dispensed with altogether, an omission which is arguably authentic on the grounds that it was a late addition to the opera. Even so, that’s one high voice lost to the opera’s colour palette, and another is sidelined — Morgana’s opening aria is also consigned to the cutting-room floor, and delaying the only interval until the middle of Act 2 takes the emphasis away from her usually show-stopping Act 1 finale, ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’. The cumulative effect is a leaching of lightness from the piece.

Celeste Lazarenko, Nathan Vale and Natasha Jouhl from Alcina

It is possible that this was conceived deliberately in conjunction with the stage concept. Alcina dwells in a mouldering classical palace, its textiles threadbare, its chandelier crumpled on the floor and its splendid-looking harpsichord flooded with a pool of water. It is a stifling world. And Celeste Lazarenko’s Morgana was subtler than the usual sparkling soubrette: shy and nicely vulnerable, and she has plenty of warmth at the core of her elegantly poised light-lyric soprano.

That is not to say that the performance was short on lustre. Soprano Natasha Jouhl’s account of the title role was exotic, glamorous and fulsomely sung (and not in any way fazed by the shadow of the exceptional Amanda Echalaz, who sang it in the 2005 run). The other lustrous performance, albeit in a more conservative capacity, came from the Bradamante of Carolyn Dobbin, the one cast member common to both Alcina and Flavio, this time in a much more familiar Handelian archetype: the wronged woman in male disguise chasing her faithless beloved. This piece of cross-dressing, one of those things one is generally supposed to have read the synopsis in order to work out, is neatly explained by a staged scene during the overture.

Wendy Dawn Thompson cut a dashing figure as a hot-blooded and easily-distracted young man, but vocally was a frustrating Ruggiero, her pale tone failing to match the weight of the other voices and (especially) failing to engage with the virile masculinity of the orchestral and vocal writing in ‘sta nell'Ircana’ (‘Trapped by a hunter’). It was always a lightish voice, but at the moment seems hollow and dry, as if it’s going through a transition. I wonder if she might be looking at experimenting with some soprano repertoire?

Under conductor Robert Howarth, the orchestral palette was vivid and the playing brisk (the tempo of Oronte’s first aria especially so, tautly delivered by Nathan Vale) if not always refined.

The tour, with its versatile ensemble shared variously between the five operas, continues to Malvern, Exeter, Bath, Snape and Cambridge.

Ruth Elleson © 2009

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):