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

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17. Perfection, as one would expect from arguably the finest Rameau interpreters in the business, and that's saying a lot, given the exceptionally high quality of French baroque performance in the last 40 years.

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

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?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

 Yvonne Kenny as Blanche DuBois and Stuart Skelton as Mitchell [Photo by Jeff Busby courtesy of Opera Australia]
11 Dec 2009

A Streetcar Named Desire at Opera Australia

Musically, Australia looks to Britain and Europe, especially for its operatic diet and America’s considerable operatic output has been overlooked.

André Previn: A Streetcar Named Desire

Blanche DuBois: Yvonne Kenny; Stella Kowalski: Antoinette Halloran; Stanley Kowalski: Teddy Tahu Rhodes; Harold ‘Mitch’ Mitchell: Stuart Skelton; Eunice Hubble: Dominica Matthews; Steve Hubble: Andrew Brunsdon; A Young Collector: Stephen Smith; A Mexican Woman: Jacqueline Dark. Conductor: Tom Woods; Director: Bruce Beresford; Set & Costume Designer: John Stoddart. State Theatre, The Arts Centre, Melbourne. December 2, 5 & 12 2009.Blanche DuBois:

Above: Yvonne Kenny as Blanche DuBois and Stuart Skelton as Mitchell

All photos by Jeff Busby courtesy of Opera Australia

 

Despite the sensational impact Menotti’s The Consul had when it premiered in Australia in 1953 — making a star out of Marie Collier — it was revived professionally only once more in 1985. Even Menotti’s perennial Christmas favourite Amahl and the Night Visitors has had few professional productions. Consequently the 2007 production of André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire was a significant event.

Previn has composed vocal music and music theatre often during his long career but for his first, fully-fledged opera, he has approached the task from an area he knows better than most other opera composers. When the work premiered in 1998 commentators considered the music and approach, with its many jazz references, to be more akin to cinema in style and form. Listening to the way Previn’s score fits the stage action and libretto it is indeed very cinematic and works in the same way a skilled screen composer (which Previn is) underscores action, giving the visuals a musically dramatic undercurrent equal to the emotional content of the scene. Musically it is very approachable, with overtones of Copland, Barber, Menotti, Britten and Previn’s very knowledgeable synthesis of American jazz in its make up but never as derivative as some commentators would make it out to be. Very soon one becomes accustomed to the music and style and it appears that vocal lines are created out of the musical undercurrent rather accompanied by it. Not that Previn does not create arias per se. There are many solo moments or aria and arioso, the earliest being when Stella (Antoinette Halloran) describes to the astonished Blance (Yvonne Kenny) her unconditional love for the brutish Stanley (Teddy Tahu Rhodes). Cradled in music of great beauty and lyricism Previn creates a mood within the orchestra as an arching and aching commentary under Stella’s attempt to make Blanche understand her love. As important as the sung music are Previns’s preludes and interludes. The prelude includes jazzy chords that recur and represent, like a motive, Blance Du Bois doom. The interludes, like those in Menotti’s The Consul, hold or develop the action of a scene and seamlessly develop it into the next.

Tackling such a landmark drama as A Streetcar Named Desire was a brave and almost heroic undertaking but Previn’s confidence and skill have made it one of the better American operas of the last twenty years, if not one of the best since Samuel Barber’s Vanessa of half a century ago. Like Barber, Previn has the compositional nouse to make time stand still, even when the imminent tragedy is piling up. Blanche’s “I Can Smell the Sea Air” — in the play just another Blanche’s hopeless and self-deluding rambles — appears in the opera as moment of stillness and beauty (as well as a tragic indicator) and not surprisingly started to gather as much popularity as a stand-alone concert item as the more outgoing “I Want Magic”.

Antoinette Halloran as Stella Kowalski, Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Stanley Kowalski and Yvonne Kenny as Blanche DuBois

Blanche is opera’s tragic protagonist, just as she is in the play but, as with the play, her antagonist, Stanley Kowalski almost overtakes her. Teddy Tahu Rhodes has made something of a name for himself in the role both physically and vocally. He first undertook the role in Washington and later in the Viennese premiere in March 2007 and then in the Australian later that year. His well-known physical credentials are perfectly suited to the role as is his deep and well-focussed baritone. Here he lessens that focus giving it a blunt edge for Stanley’s frequent and violent outbursts. Philip Littell’s libretto follows the play text with often slavish faithfulness and Little retains enormous amounts of the original text in, what can sound when it sung rather than spoken, rather banal. In his earliest appearance, and already displaying his contempt for Blanche’s pretentious mannerism, Rhode’s voice sounds almost cavernous in darkness and depth. That their relationship will end in one of the most frightening assaults in theatrical literature seems almost pre-ordained from the moment Rhodes opens his mouth. In the scene leading to Blanche’s assault he goads and threatens her while Previn’s music, now keenly integrating the vocal and orchestral fabric into an explosive scene with the same cathartic power as the verismo operas of the early twentieth century. These final two scenes are a genuinely disturbing experience to watch. Even the though the opera has been served well by a recording taken from the premiere, it really needs to be re-recorded to preserve the boiling, aggressiveness of Rhodes’s interpretation.

Blanche is rightly the opera’s heroine and Yvonne Kenny achieves her best work in the many introspective moments. Only the most dramatic moments appear to tax her voice but her interpretation of “I Can Smell the Sea Air” is ravishing. Mad women and mad scenes are noting new to opera and the pathos of Blanche Du Bois’s final scene is as good as any of them. Caressing the final floating high notes of “I Can Smell the Sea Air” she is minutes later pinned to floor by the madhouse nurse and finally lead away in final scene as disturbing in its pathos as the brutality of the rape scene that precedes it.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Stanley Kowalski and Yvonne Kenny as Blanche DuBois

Stuart Skelton is another singer of international status. Fresh from a recent triumph in Sydney as Peter Grimes, he brought the same naivety to his interpretation of Mitch. The hopeless desire for and then cruel rejection of Blanche even harks back to the scenes between Grimes and Ellen Orford in Britten’s opera.

As Stella Antoinette Halloran is in the same vocal league as her internationally known colleagues. Her singing is constantly subtle and is beautifully supported soprano. Halloran features in a disc on the Australian label ABC Classics of Puccini arias and duets and which is worth seeking out, hers is a voice to listen out for.

The opera’s hothouse atmosphere is well captured by John Stoddart sets; seeming to be mouldering through years of damp and neglect although there is no suggestion of Blanche’s cramped and curtained sleeping quarters. The State Theatre stage is larger than its more famous Sydney counterpart and the revolving set sits within the larger area concentrating the attention to stage action. The director, Bruce Beresford, has, like Previn, had a long in motion pictures and, as a film director, understands the importance of a musical undercurrent. He achieves many detailed effects despite working on a large stage and even employs film projections in key moments to clever effect.

This current revival is a significant event in the company’s repertoire development and hopefully signals that the production will now remain Opera Australia’s permanent repertoire.

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):