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

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?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Nicholas Coppolo and Hanan Alattar [Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Gotham Chamber Opera]
22 Jan 2010

Il Mondo della Luna (The World on the Moon)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, around 1777, the Empress Maria Theresa used to visit Prince Esterhazy’s summer palace at Esterhàza, where there was an opera house fully equipped with stage machinery, leading singers, an orchestra, and a guy named Joseph Haydn to compose on cue.

Franz Joseph Haydn: Il Mondo della Luna (The World on the Moon)

Clarice: Hanan Alattar; Flaminia: Albina Shagimuratova; Lisetta: Rachel Calloway; Ecclitico: Nicholas Coppolo; Cecco: Matthew Tuell; Ernesto: Timothy Kuhn; Buonafede: Marco Nisticò. Gotham Chamber Opera at the Rose Center Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, conducted by Neal Goren. Performance of January 20.

Above: Nicholas Coppolo and Hanan Alattar [Photo by Richard Termine courtesy of Gotham Chamber Opera]

 

Haydn is often considered the father of the symphony, the string quartet and the piano sonata, but he is seldom mentioned in an operatic context. That’s not because he wasn’t any good at it — he was often very good. But he was seldom consistently good at opera, and he never found — or sought, maybe — the sort of mature libretto that would display his talents as Lorenzo da Ponte displayed those of Mozart, Salieri and Martin y Soler. Haydn’s operas seem a series of amiable misfires with charming moments — but I’ve only attended seven of them, and none were his grand operas, Armida and Orlando Paladino, which may play differently.

As the operatic world scours forgotten and therefore fresh scores, Haydn, a familiar name, is bound to seem appealing even without Maria Theresa’s imprimatur (“Whenever I want to hear good opera, I go to Esterhàza,” she said, probably as much to goad the management of her court theater back in Vienna as to compliment her host). Haydn’s style is familiar to us, all modern opera singers being trained to perform Mozart, and the forces required are seldom large.

Carlo_Goldoni.gifCarlo Goldoni, librettist

Il Mondo della Luna, using a popular libretto by Goldoni that was set by everyone from Galuppi to Paisiello, is a typical buffo tale of a rich old fool, Buonafede (“good faith”), opposed to the marriage of his two daughters and their maid to the three impecunious men they love, with the sly twist that the old coot has a hobby: astronomy. One of the boyfriends, Ecclitico (“ecliptic”), is a charlatan astrologer who pretends to transport the old boy to the moon. Buonafede, presented to the lunar emperor, is dazzled by Lunatic mores and court etiquette (Maria Theresa probably loved this part), but he regrets his womenfolk are missing the fun. Quicker than you can say, “May the farce be with you,” they arrive! — beamed by transporter, one presumes. The emperor marries the venal maid, Lisetta, and his chamberlain and master of ceremonies wed the two daughters. Wedding hymns are sung in the Lunatic tongue. Buonafede is puzzled that the girls already speak it so well, and though furious when he learns he has been bamboozled, accepts the fait accompli. In the full libretto, he reflects philosophically that you really need to travel to get the right perspective on life back home — but the moral was one of Gotham Chamber Opera’s omissions.

Gotham has created one of the more dazzling entertainments of the New York season by presenting this nonsense in the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, replete with instrument panels, space suits (the elegant and witty costumes are by Anka Lupes), globular space helmets, acrobatic “moon nymphs” and above it all, on the 180-degree dome, shooting stars, exploding galaxies, shots of earth and the moon, and the wildest light show since psychedelia fell from fashion. Viewers of a certain age (mine) may recall The Saint in its heyday, but the music was better at the planetarium and the show a lot shorter. The whole run has sold out, and it’s hard to imagine anyone attending who would not gladly go again.

The one exception I would take is, in fact, to the evening’s brevity. Over-anxious not to bore, music director Neal Goren and director Diane Paulus may have left too much out. Over half the opera was omitted — on the grounds, Goren says, that the cuts were less than top-drawer Haydn. That may be true, and no one wants more secco recitative “dialogue” than we absolutely need, but confining most of the singers to one aria apiece means the characters are one-dimensional, silhouettes of slight interest or humanity. You cannot tell the sisters apart, for one thing — from the synopsis in the program, I’m not sure which one marries which lover — and you do not know or care if their feelings are sincere. In a farce, someone ought to want something sincerely or the crazy shenanigans aren’t as funny; there’s no contrast. You need Kitty Carlisle as a backdrop for the Marx Brothers.

In Il Mondo della Luna, Gotham goes for constant entertainment rather than letting the drama merely rest, at any point, upon the skills of the singers, the beauty of the often wonderful music. This is a current trend, and those of us who like singing may find that, fun as it is, it can go too far in an MTV direction. On the plus side, it sure was fun.

It would be difficult to single out any performer among the seven flawless players of this ensemble cast. Marco Nisticò seemed to be enjoying himself as the bubbling blowhard Buonafede, and he had the most to do, swinging hips as he ornamented his arias. Nicholas Coppolo gets special notice for being so slimy a phony as Ecclitico and then leaping seamlessly into the role of ardent lover to sing a rapturous duet with his Clarice (Hanan Alattar — or was it Flaminia, Albina Shagimuratova? Well, each one had an aria, and both were excellent). Rachel Calloway, as pert Lisetta, demonstrated the swagger of a chambermaid is exactly the right style for an empress. Timothy Kuhn sang an alluring love song to himself — director Paulus’s idea, not Haydn’s, but charming in context, and Matthew Tuell triumphed as the spunky valet who ascends to the lunatic throne. This was far and away the best all-around cast I have encountered in a Gotham production, each of them worthy at the very least of another aria or one of the omitted da capos. They were also all Lucy-ready farceurs — though a very little “disco” dancing in eighteenth-century costume goes a long way, and after an hour of it one wondered if director Paulus had run out of ideas or was simply bored by the characters. The Gotham orchestra played music that was always pleasant and sometimes heavenly.

Impossible to discuss the event and not mention Philip Bussmann, credited with Video and Production Design, who made a charming evening a spectacular one. And the Gotham team for dreaming this up, and the Museum of Natural History for recognizing a major opportunity when it came their way.

John Yohalem

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):