Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Halévy’s Magnificent La reine de Chypre (1841) Gets Its Long-Awaited World Premiere Recording

Halévy’s La reine de Chypre (The Queen of Cyprus) is the 17th opera to be released in the impressively prolific “French Opera” series of recordings produced by the Center for French Romantic Music, a scholarly organization located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice. (Other recent offerings have included Saint-Saëns’s richly characterized Proserpine, Benjamin Godard’s fascinating Dante--which contains scenes set in Heaven and Hell--and Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs, an opéra-comique that had a particularly long life in the international operatic repertoire.)

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

Bampton Classical Opera to perform Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors

Gian Carlo Menotti’s much-loved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors was commissioned in America by the National Broadcasting Company and was broadcast in 1951 - the first-ever opera composed specifically for television. Menotti said that it “is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood”.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

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):