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

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Color and Drama in Two Choral Requiems from Post-Napoleonic France

The Requiem text has brought out the best in many composers. Requiem settings by Mozart, Verdi, and Fauré are among the most beloved works among singers and listeners alike, and there are equally wondrous settings by Berlioz and Duruflé, as well as composers from before 1750, notably Jean Gilles.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Olga Guryakova as Oxana [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera]
08 Dec 2009

Tchaikovsky’s Sure-Footed ‘Slippers’

Spearheaded by a stunning design concept for The Tsarina’s Slippers, London’s Covent Garden served up as delectable a production as could be desired, and introduced its lucky patrons to a jewel of an under-performed comic opera in the bargain.

Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: The Tsarina's Slippers

Oxana: Olga Guryakova, Viktoria Yastrebova; Vakula: Vsevolod Grivnov; Solokha: Larissa Diadkova; Chub: Vladimir Matorin; The Devil: Maxim Mikhailov; Schoolmaster: Viacheslav Voynarovskiy; Pan Golova: Alexander Vassiliev; Panas: John Upperton; His Highness: Sergei Leiferkus; Master of Ceremonies: Jeremy White; Wood Goblin: Changhan Lim. Dancers of The Royal Ballet. The Royal Opera. Conductor: Alexander Polianichko. Director: Francesca Zambello. Set Designer: Mikhail Mokrov. Costume designs: Tatiana Noginova. Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher. Choreography: Alastair Marriott.

Above: Olga Guryakova as Oxana

All photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Tchaikovsky’s seldom seen opus is not, to be sure, in the same league as his Onegin, Queen of Spades or even Mazeppa. But Slippers is nevertheless chockful of the musical ingredients that inform the composer’s weightier works, and the master’s melodic gifts were often in evidence. Most of us (this listener included) were afforded that rare experience of discovering a work that was totally new to us, even if the musical vocabulary was well grounded in our ears. Each character was afforded at least one major set-piece, and if we were often at odds over the “do-we-clap-or-shouldn’t-we?-dilemma,” that only added to the evening’s spontaneity.

The riotously colorful production design appeared as though the creators had taken the most magnificent Palekh lacquer boxes, the airiest of Arthur Rackham drawings, and the wittiest work of Maurice Sendak — put them all in a bag and shook them up — and then let them tumble onto the stage of the Royal Opera. Seldom has a stage picture(s) been so effective in furthering the effectiveness of a comic opera.

Mikhailov_Diadkova_Tsarina.gifMaxim Mikhailov as the Devil and Larissa Diadkova as Solokha

Set designer Mikhail Mokrov devised a spectacularly busy show curtain that delighted the eye and established the tone of the proceedings. One remarkably apt effect followed another: a beautifully judged deep blue town drop with the requisite devil painted on the church steeple in a field of orange; meticulously detailed rustic interiors; a host of wagon insets that were as functional as they were cheeky; a haunting moon drop; a joyous Maypole (or whatever-the-heck a Maypole is called in winter!); and tongue-in-cheek flying effects as the characters take wing on their broomsticks.

Too, there was never a false moment in the atmospheric specials and area illumination of Rick Fisher’s splendid lighting design. Tatiana Noginova took full advantage of the vivid possibilities of folk costuming to fashion dazzling attire that was at once eccentric, eye-catching, complementary to the scenery, and complimentary to the performers. Ms. Noginova not only charmed us with faux animal/devil costumes, but also impressed us with the easy elegance of the dancers’ attire for the more formal ballet segments.

Having recently read some article or another expounding on the loss of national personality in Russian voices, that writer obviously never hear this bunch of soloists. For here was a whole cast (not all Russian) who had “the sound.” You know, the kind of edgy, full-throated sound with generous vibrato that the likes of Vishnevskaya once commanded.

In the key role of Oxana (she who asks for her lover to bring her the titular footwear), Olga Guryakova had a lot going for her. A little too much, perhaps at first. In the first act, Ms. Guryakova seemed a bit too loud and full-throated for the music at hand. Her first aria and scene inside the house cried out for limpid, plangent singing above the staff, and while she certainly had all the notes and sang musically, I couldn’t help but wonder what Renee might have made of those hauntingly lovely phrases. But then, whoa, wait a minute! The demands on our heroine ratcheted up in Act Two, and let me tell you, that pretty-as-a-dainty-princess Olga rode the orchestra with ease, and with clarion high notes. Thrilling stuff that. My previous experience with her gifts was in the title role of Rusalka in Brussels last season and I remember thinking then, too, that while she is very talented and stage savvy, I wish she could caress the melancholy phrases as effectively as she commands the stentorian passages.

Cossack dancers

It is perhaps unfair to muse too hard or long on Vsevold Grivnov’s take on Vakula since he was announced as “feeling a cold coming on.” He is a charming bear of a personality that really emanates a happiness to be on stage, and much of his singing gave pleasure. He seemed to be holding back on this occasion, as his pleasing tenor lacked the same vocal presence as his soprano’s. He sings big roles in major houses, manages to pace himself to spout some buzzy top notes when required, and performs with conviction and stylistic acumen. I would certainly love to hear Mr. Grivnov another time when he is operating at full steam.

The formidable Larissa Diadkova is flat out giving the star performance of the show as the witch Solokha. Hers is a rock solid technique with a thorough understanding of communication of vocal line and text, delivered with a killer smile and a set of pipes that can pin you to your seat. Ms. Diadkova is peerless in this repertoire, and she seems to be having the time of her life. So are we. Veteran Sergei Leiferkus may not have the mellifluous spin in his baritone of yore, but he sang with unparalleled elegance and poise. A sprightly Maxim Mikhailov worked the stage delightedly and offered a cleanly sung, cliche-free Devil.

Viacheslav Voynarovskiy and Alexander Vassiliev did all that was required as the Schoolmaster and Pan Golova, respectively, not least of which was walking around “trapped” in sacks to avoid discovery after their lusting visits to Solokha. Vladimir Matorin (Chub) was certainly extremely tall and extremely loud. This is a big voice and a big boy, but I had the feeling that Matorin was content to let his stature and volume do the job of creating a character, of which there is more to be mined with a more thoughtful reading. John Upperton was a secure Panas and Jette Parker Young Artist Changhan Lim showed real promise with a lovely rendition of the Wood Goblin.

Last but surely not least, Gary Avis, Mara Galeazzi and the other dancers of the Royal Ballet contributed mightily to the evening’s magic with highly assured performances of Alastair Marriott’s memorable choreography. In fact, so fine, so clean was the execution of the substantial dance segments, that it had the unfortunate effect of throwing into high relief the fact that the stage direction was. . .well. . .a bit clunky.

I have enjoyed Francesca Zambella’s work on a number of occasions. . .with musical drama. The talented Ms. Zambella seems less attuned to lighter works (at least based on this show and the rather tepid The Little Mermaid.) The cast is certainly gamely giving their all. However, enthusiastic mincing and prancing; unabashed mugging and playing to the balcony; and random semaphoring are not a substitute for comic interaction grounded in honesty and natural by-play. The specificity and focus of the director’s dramatic work were too often absent here.

Conductor Alexander Polianichko offered quite a substantive reading that seemed infused with the correct style and which ultimately blossomed into spirited music-making. For the first third of the evening, however, the pit seemed a bit off form, indeed curiously muted, with a couple of fluffs in exposed solo work that are surprising from a band that is usually spot on. Happily, midway through Act One the group caught fire and kept up a polished rendition to the end. I have to say, it was curious to have reprised the final chorus accompaniment as instrumental curtain call music! A first for me in the opera house. . .

Minor carping aside, the Royal Opera took a gamble that the public would welcome a work that was virtually unknown, and welcome it they did. As the giant golden shoe rolled on at show’s end and served as a lovers’ carriage, I was quite ready to watch it all over and be enchanted again. It is to be hoped that this winning production might have a long life, for the piece deserves a wider hearing. In the end then, the Slippers fit, the audience cheered, and if we came out (just a bit) humming the scenery, it was a grand occasion, fit for a Tsarina.

James Sohre

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):