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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

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):