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

Nino Surguladze as Dorabella [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House]
02 Feb 2010

Così fan tutte, Covent Garden

First seen in 1995, and here receiving its seventh revival, Jonathan Miller’s Così fan tutte has lost none of its power to unsettle and discomfort.

W. A. Mozart: Così fan tutte

Alfonso: William Shimell; Despina: Helene Schneiderman; Dorabella: Nino Surguladze; Fiordiligi: Sally Matthews; Ferrando: Charles Castronovo; Guglielmo: Troy Cook. Royal Opera. Director: Jonathan Miller. Revival Director: Daniel Dooner. Conductor: Julia Jones. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Friday 29th January, 2010.

Above: Nino Surguladze as Dorabella

All photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of Royal Opera House

 

This is not a buffa trifle, which sends the audience home feeling amused and rather smug; indeed, discussing Charles Lamb’s description of the work as an ‘artificial comedy’, in the programme Miller himself notes that “within such as idiom the awkward improbabilities of the plot can be seen as a device that helps to make the opera more, rather than less, serious”.

Certainly, the visual impression created by the stark, but elegant, modern sets — scattered with a few throwaway allusions to the grand classical tragedies of Gluck — is one of coldness and aloofness. The ladies’ house is mid-refurbishment, and in such minimalist surroundings, with little to distract the eye or nourish the soul, it’s no wonder that the cast are enwrapped in solitude, absorbed by their mirrors, magazines and iPods. Having updated the original production, Miller cleverly uses such props to lighten the cynicism: Despina types the marriage contract on a laptop, and the ubiquitous mobile ’phones crop up in almost every scene — the sisters snap away with their cameras, Alfonso ‘calls a friend’ to summon a military drum roll, and a sweeping flourish on the continuo neatly serves as a tinkling ring tone.

Shimell_Cosi_ROH.gifWilliam Shimell as Alfonso

The uniformly accomplished cast certainly had the measure of the concept, and the acting was superb throughout. Relaxing into her glamorous boots, Nino Surguladze enjoyed flirting and flouncing as a coquettish Dorabella; 'È amore un ladroncello' proved that she was equally secure at both ends of her register, and displayed her warm, supple tone. Sally Matthews offered a controlled, detailed performance as Fiordiligi, alert to the subtle nuances, intensely introspective and self-restrained. Indeed, in her effort to totally embody the staid stoic, Matthews tried a little too hard, and her voice was at times rather too inflexible; she certainly had the technical arsenal to cope with the outlandish angular leaps of ‘Come scoglio’, and the high B at the end of 'Per pietà' was spot on; her unravelling in Act 2 was conveyed by a rich array of different vocal colours, and she displayed an impressively resonant lower register; but, overall her voice lacked a certain warmth, and her arias failed to move this listener. Maybe this was apt for Miller’s conception, but it felt a bit too flinty and dry for me — we marvelled at the technical prowess, laughed at her pride, pitied her fall, but did not genuinely feel for her in her disillusionment.

The boys enjoyed their outlandish disguises — flowing locks, bandannas, black leather and shades — indulging in much horseplay, posturing and melodrama. As a heavy metal aficionado, Gulglielmo (Troy Cook) was suitably cock-sure, and petulant in his comeuppance, angrily muttering uncharitable thoughts during the Ab canon at the wedding. Charles Castronovo has a light but emotive voice, perfect for the soulful hippie, Ferrando; he was on outstanding form all evening. His cavatina, ‘Tradito, schernito dal perfido cor’ was ravishing. And, in his duet with Matthews, ‘Per gli amplessi’, both characters were not only effortlessly seductive, but rightly and totally absorbed by the beauty of their own singing and by their romantic vision of Love.

Cast_Cosi_ROH.gif(Left to Right) Charles Castronovo as Ferrando, Sally Matthews as Fiordiligi, Helene Schneiderman as Despina, Nino Surguladze as Dorabella and Troy Cook as Guglielmo

Don Alfonso (William Shimell) was appropriately cool and debonair, elegantly reclining to observe the shenanigans with amused distaste, but sometimes too detached to be convincing as the arch manipulator. From the opening trio, he seemed underpowered vocally although he did warm up as proceedings progressed, playing a more decisive role in ‘Soave sia il vento’; and, in fact, the lack of lustre to his tone, and the frequent absence of vibrato, did lend him a sad, resigned air, as he subtly guided his dupes from the sidelines.

Helene Schneiderman was a natural as Despina, an amoral good-time girl who really couldn’t see what the fuss was all about, and who encouraged us to see the idiocy of her mistresses’ self-delusions. Both of her two short arias were proficiently despatched, but it was in the recitatives that she shone, as a sharp PA, soothing the over-anxious ladies with cups of Starbucks and Prozac, rattling off the witty barbs and lampooning their pretensions.

Scene_Cosi_ROH.gifA scene from Così fan tutte

Making her debut at the ROH Julia Jones created a light-hearted, flippant musical fabric, expertly teasing out the woodwind solos which play such a subtle role in the drama. Balance and unity between stage and pit was superb, although I would have liked a swifter pace at times.

It may be an opera of ‘pairs’ but ultimately Miller’s ‘couples’ are isolated individuals, alone with only their self-regard for companionship. Mozart’s music may evoke the supreme beauty of love, and suggest the sincerity of their affections, but the musical and dramatic irony is piquant. Miller’s vision punctures the profundity of their self-deceiving ardour, and his symbolism is apt: as the intense self-absorption of Fiordiligi, as she gazes adoringly into the mirror, suggests, the only thing these solipsists truly love is themselves.

Da Ponte’s libretto has been condemned as absurd, cynically immoral and tritely trivial — Miller’s reading is all these things … and utterly convincing! The great Charles Rosen complained that Così was not ‘true to life’ but merely faithful to an eighteenth-century view of human nature, but I would suggest that Miller proves him wrong. The opera is to some extent a ‘closed system’; but this is not to say that it is not relevant to the outside world, or a reflection of our own. While the mobile ’phone gags may be less fresh than they were fifteen years ago, Miller’s updating, with its unconsoling conclusion, succeeds in convincing us that not only are ‘they all the same’, but so are we.

Claire Seymour

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):