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

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sarah Tynan as Adina [Photo by Tristram Kenton / ENO]
09 Mar 2010

The Elixir of Love at ENO

As a medic with a keen knowledge of psychology, Jonathan Miller probably knows a thing or two about elixirs and placebos.

Gaetano Donizetti: The Elixir of Love

Nemorino: John Tessier; Adina: Sarah Tynan; Dulcamara: Andrew Short; Belcore: David Kempster; Gianetta: Julia Sporsén. Director: Jonathan Miller. Designer: Isabella Bywater. Conductor: Pablo Heras-Casado. English National Opera, London Coliseum. Friday 12th February 2010.

Above: Sarah Tynan as Adina

All photos by Tristram Kenton / ENO

 

On the evidence of this production, first aired by New York City Opera, he’s not too concerned about the ‘dark side’ of medical charlatanry; for here Miller invites us to enjoy a light-hearted evening of music and food, mischief and fun, at ‘Adina’s Diner’ — a popular stopping place way out in the America Midwest, beloved by homespun yokels and travelling tricksters alike. We lap up the aural and visual candyfloss and, after a charming evening, skip home, refreshed by the reassuring spirit of innocence and optimism which prevails.

Isabella Bywater’s set is a superbly naturalistic recreation of the era. The rolling yellow plains and flawless blue sky evoke the landscapes of Edmund Hopper, and Bywater’s bubblegum pink and lime green diner recreates Hopper’s ‘Nighthawk’, albeit with a more golden, ambient glow. The revolving set is ingenious, but the dusty exterior is more successful than the interior, the latter seeming cramped and overcrowded. Despite Miller’s detailed direction of the chorus, there was simply too little room, forcing many to remain seated — including, in the opening scene, Nemorino, who, set back and enclosed by the set, was swamped by the chorus and orchestra.

Elixir_ENO_02.pngJohn Tessier as Nemorino

Into this rural eatery waltzed the confident proprietor, Adina. Sarah Tynan, sporting a peroxide bob, was perky and coquettish rather than a vamp. Her voice was as agile as her wiggling hips, and bright and warm; and she offered a lively, engaging performance, perfectly conveying the mannerisms of a 1950s blond bombshell. However, there was no sense of ’depth’ beneath the flighty surface and Tynan offered little to mitigate her cruel treatment of Nemorino.

Indeed, there was a disappointing lack of chemistry between the Adina and Nemorino, the latter presented here as a gauche garage hand. Canadian tenor John Tessier was a naïve and trusting yokel, but while his clear, true rendering was well-received, his voice is fairly light-weight and lacks an Italianate warmth and colour that hints at passionate depths beneath. Tessier’s ‘miraculous’ transformation from garage dunce to matinee idol was not entirely credible and too often he sang to the audience, rather than to the other characters on stage. However, the production did create a dramatic context for ‘Una furtive lagrima’, which for once did not seem like a convenient ‘add-on’.

Elixir_ENO_03.pngAndrew Shore as Dulcamara and company

The real star of the show was the experienced Andrew Shore, as the oleaginous quack doctor, Dulcamara. He slid in, seated in an ostentatious open-top Cadillac cabriolet (its shine a little sullied after a journey across the dusty plains), looking sharp but shifty in white suit, shades and brogues, panama hat perched rakishly on ill-fitting wig. Shore’s swindler was confident, assured, and crafty. [The automatic dispenser for Coca-Cola — that ‘pure refreshment’ that ‘revives and sustains’ — was cleverly positioned ...] Indeed, for Shore’s sparkling salesman’s pitch the surtitles disappeared — one assumes this was an intentional acknowledgement of Shore’s prowess rather than a technical hitch — but every word of Kelley Rourke’s clever libretto was crystal clear. Shore presented Rourke’s wittily rhymed medicinal claims — “You reek of halitosis/ Then take a couple of doses” — with consummate mastery, although (if one was being harsh) one might accuse him of trying a little too hard at the risk of straining the voice. The subsequent wedding celebrations were pure MGM gold. Impersonating Elvis, Shore’s line ‘I’ve got a little ditty’, drew the largest laugh of the night; and when Adina joined him ‘on-stage’ in the diner, there was considerably more knowing interaction between them than was apparent in her exchanges with the younger heart-throb Nemorino. Adina’s Marilyn drawl might have been a bit too self-knowing, but Tynan, and Miller, pulled it off, just staying short of overkill.

As a gum-chewing GI, David Kempster’s Belcore swaggered and boasted his way, temporarily to Adina’s heart. Julia Sporsén’s Gianetta was sparkling and full of life.

Elixir_ENO_05.pngDavid Kempster as Belcore and company

Miller and Bywater had clearly, and effectively, thought hard about the realism of this production. But there was one incongruity: the inconsistency between the text and its delivery, with regard to accent. It was decided (so the programme told us) to use Americanisms (‘a knuckle sandwich’, ‘hello cupcake’), to pay homage to Porter and Sondheim (‘an elixir with a kick, sir’), and to attempt American accents throughout. The problem was that no one seemed to have told the chorus, and the principals frequently only remembered at the ends of phrases, which made Tessier’s native Canadian burr seem rather out of place.

Another problem was the over-enthusiasm of the conductor. Spaniard Pablo Heras-Casado, who enjoyed himself just a bit too much, encouraging the orchestra too excitedly and destroying the balance between stage and pit. Moreover, the tempi were often too slow: fine for the patter songs but fatal in the acts’ final choruses which should whip up a froth.

Elixir_ENO_04.pngSarah Tynan as Adina and Julia Sporsén as Gianetta

So, this was a charming, folksy show. Miller’s humour was of the gentle kind — Nemorino turning momentarily into a bass-baritone when swigging the elixir, the outside loo flushing incongruously as Gianetti announced Nemorino’s financial good fortune. Dulcamara’s slugging of his own elixir when he observed the ladies chasing after Nemorino drew an appreciative chuckle from the audience. However, despite its ‘silliness’, there are some shades of darkness in this work — innocence is threatened by deception, guileless by guilt, and love seems indissolubly linked to money; but such shadows were kept well under wraps in this affectionate, enjoyable show.

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):