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

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Kaufmann, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Janáček, The Makropulos Case, Bavarian State Opera

Opera houses’ neglect of Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life. From the House of the Dead might do likewise for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s claims and conventions.

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christopher Ainslie as Artaxerxes [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House]
03 Nov 2009

Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes — Baroque Hyperbole

Thomas Arne's masterpiece, Artaxerxes, was a huge hit after its 1762 debut. Yet the work is now a rarity. This spectacular performance at the Linbury Studio Theatre, will certainly raise its public profile.

Thomas Arne: Artaxerxes

Christopher Ainslie: Artaxerxes; Elizabeth Watts: Mandane; Andrew Staples: Artabanes; Caitlin Hulcup: Arbaces; Rebecca Bottone; Semira: Steven Ebel; Rimenes: Anthony Kurt-Gabel; Adrien Mastrosimone, Edward Mitton, Sebastien Rose: servants and guards. Ian Page, conductor, Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company. Martin Duncan: Director. Johan Engels: Design. Nicholas Michaletos: Lighting. Movement: Michael Poppe. Additional music by Ian Page and Duncan Druce. Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London.

Above: Christopher Ainslie as Artaxerxes [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House]

 

Baroque is hyperbole, celebrating exuberance. Artaxerxes, set in ancient Persia, gave Arne an opportunity to create an “oriental” fantasy that would shock and awe. This production, by the Royal Opera House at the Linbury Studio Theatre certainly was spectacular in the true, over-the-top baroque manner, enhanced by modern technology.

Artaxerxes starts in silence. The Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company sits on stage in a brightly lit white pit. They’re wearing white too, which dazzles in the darkly shrouded stage. Gradually from the shadows emerges a truly magnificent golden throne, not like any story-book European king’s throne but an intricate golden web, 5 meters high. It references the Pharaohs —Tutankhamen meets the Peacock Throne of Persia..

The costumes (by Johan Engels) are amazing. They look vaguely 18th century yet are made of Japanese brocade and silk, lime green, neon pink, electric blue, colours that rarely exist in nature, with samurai-like shoulderpads and helmets. European, but with a distinctly alien flamboyance. This is the true magpie spirit of the baroque, an age when Europe discovered that worlds existed beyond anything they’d imagined. It didn’t matter if the influences were Japan or Persia, as long as they were exotic.

The servants who also act as guards, are mysterious, some wearing samurai helmets, but often simply swathed in black, like ninjas. This could be a reference to bunraku, the Japanese theatre tradition where puppets “act”, manipulated by black-clad puppeteers, meant to be semi-invisible. It could be a comment on how formal and stylized life in Court circles might have been. When the singers collapse emotionally, they fall down, held up by the “ninjas” who then become symbols of dark, inexpressible feelings.

The costumes may be hyper-real and the set minimalist, but that reflects the plot. It’s so convoluted it’s not easy to follow even if you’ve read up on it. Artaxerxes’s father Xerxes is assassinated by Artabanes, father of Arbaces, Artaxerxes’s best friend. Both young men are in love with each others sisters. Father frames son for the murder and condemns him to death. But the son is so loyal to the new king, that he kills the rebel General. In remorse, Artabanes confesses and Artaxerxes exiles his regicide future farher in law, restoring the son to honour and marrying the daughter.

Musically, Artaxerxes is surprisingly simple, with a small chamber orchestra, instruments doubled for volume. The continuos are harpsichord and cello. Some of the arias are familiar even though the opera itself is rarely heard. There are good moments for vocal pyrotechnics. Words are held for 10 or 12 measures amply decorated. Nonetheless, it’s not specially inventive as music.Artaxerxes will be much better known thanks to this production, but might not have quite the same effect in concert performance.

Very good singing all round. Christopher Ainslie’s Artaxerxes wasn’t so extreme as some countertenors can be, so he didn’t shake the balance of the ensemble but convinced as an intuitive young man who doesn’t do ruthless. Caitlin Hulcup’s Arbaces was so convincing that you had to remind yourself she was a mezzo. Elizabeth Watts’s Mandane, and Andrew Staples’s Artabanes were solid. Steven Ebel’s Rimenes was striking, his stage presence mature beyond his actual age.

Rebecca Bottone’s Semira was outstanding. Tiny as she is, she sings and acts with such intensity that it seems to shake her frame. It’s Semira who challenges everyone, and it is she who doesn’t accept that Arbaces is a killer. Left to his own devices the poor fellow is a bit of a wimp, despite being sweet. Bottone’s passionate portrayal was so strong that she was worth watching even when she wasn’t singing.

This was a new performing edition by Ian Page, who conducted and wrote additional music for the recitatives. Duncan Druce write the delightful finale, where all the cast sing before the golden throne. The original recitatives and finale were lost in a fire that burned down a theatre not far from Covent Garden in 1808, so it’s good that it should be restored and heard again at the Royal Opera House, not far from where Arne lived 250 years ago.

Anne Ozorio

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):