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

Cooperstown and the Hood

Glimmerglass Festival continues its string of world premiere youth operas with a wholly enchanting production of Ben Moore and Kelly Rourke’s Robin Hood.

Glimmerglass Oklahoma: Yeow!

Director Molly Smith knew just how to best succeed at staging the evergreen classic Oklahoma! for Glimmerglass Festival.

La pietra del paragone in Pesaro

Impeccable casting — see photos. Three new generation Italian buffos brought startling new life to Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 2002 production of Rossini’s first major comedy (La Scala, 1812).

An Invitation to Travel: Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau at the Proms

German soprano Christiane Karg invited us to accompany her on a journey during this lunchtime chamber music Prom at Cadogan Hall as she followed the voyages of French composers in Europe and beyond, and their return home.

Schoenberg's Gurrelieder at the Proms - Sir Simon Rattle

Prom 46: Schoenberg's Gurrelieder with Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon O'Neill, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Karen Cargill, Peter Hoare, Christopher Purves and Thomas Quasthoff. And three wonderful choirs - the CBSO Chorus, the London Symphony Chorus and Orfeó Català from Barcelona, with Chorus Master Simon Halsey, Rattle's close associate for 35 years.

Le Siège de Corinthe in Pesaro

That of Rossini (in French) and that of Lord Byron (in English, Russian, Italian and Spanish), the battles of both Negroponte (1470) and of Missolonghi (1826) re-enacted amidst massive piles of plastic water bottles (thousands of them) that collapsed onto the heroine at Mahomet II's destruction of Corinth.

Dunedin Consort perform Bach's St John Passion at the Proms

John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's 2012 recording of Bach's St John Passion was ground-breaking for it putting the passion into the context of a reconstruction of the original Lutheran Vespers service.

Collision: Spectra Ensemble at the Arcola Theatre

‘Asteroid flyby in October: A drill for the end of the world?’ So shouted a headline in USA Today earlier this month, as journalist Doyle Rice asked, ‘Are we ready for an asteroid impact?’ in his report that in October NASA will conduct a drill to see how well its planetary defence system would work if an actual asteroid were heading straight for Earth.

Joshua Bell offers Hispanic headiness at the Proms

At the start of the 20th century, French composers seemed to be conducting a cultural love affair with Spain, an affair initiated by the Universal Exposition of 1889 where the twenty-five-year old Debussy and the fourteen-year-old Ravel had the opportunity to hear new sounds from East Asia, such as the Javanese gamelan, alongside gypsy flamenco from Granada.

John Joubert's Jane Eyre

Librettists have long mined the literature shelves for narratives that are ripe for musico-dramatic embodiment. On the whole, it’s the short stories and poems - The Turn of the Screw, Eugene Onegin or Death in Venice, for example - that best lend themselves to operatic adaptation.

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

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):