Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne
27 Apr 2010

Towards the light: Juilliard students present Poulenc’s Dialogues

It started with a bang and ended with a whimper. Juilliard’s production of Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmélites opened on Wednesday, April 21 and the performance started out strong.

Francis Poulenc: Dialogues des Carmélites

Tharanga Goonetilleke (Blanche de la Force); Paul Appleby (Chevalier de la Force); Lacey Jo Benter (Madame de Croissy); Emalie Savoy (Madame Lidoine); Renée Tatum (Mother Marie of the Incarnation); Haeran Hong (Sister Constance); Timothy Beenken (Marquis de la Force); Carla Jablonski (Mother Jeanne); Naomi O'Connell (Sister Mathilde); Javier Ernesto Bernardo (The Chaplain); Daniel Curran (First Commissary); Drew Santini (First Officer); Adam Richardson (M. Javelinot); Adrian Rosas (Second Commissary); Andreas Aroditis (Jailer); Timothy McDevitt (Thierry). Juilliard Opera and the Juilliard Orchestra. Conductor Anne Manson. Director Fabrizio Melano.

 

A dramatic swath of red fabric dominated the stage in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre and the Juilliard orchestra, lead by Anne Manson, launched bravely into the action.

In the first scenes, set in the home of the Marquis de la Force in the midst of Revolutionary Paris, tenor Paul Appleby sang with great dramatic and musical impetus as the Chevalier de la Force. He sounded at ease singing in French and was among only a small number of the cast able to carry off Poulenc’s syllabic vocal setting with both fluid phrasing and a clear line reading of the text. As his father the Marquis, Timothy Beenken looked and sounded out of place. A truly terrible wig did him no favors and, as can only be expected in a student production, he simply seemed too green for the role. This was also the case with Tharanga Goonetilleke as his daughter Blanche.

In an opera full of compelling characters, Blanche is the most crucial because, by inhabiting both the outside world and the sanctuary of the convent, she becomes the lynchpin of the action and the audience’s proxy. (Furthermore, as Poulenc was famously called a half monk, half delinquent by the Paris press, she also serves as a surrogate for the composer himself.) Her intense fears and ultimate moral and existential dilemma should evoke empathy, not sympathy. Rather than seeming troubled or conflicted, Ms. Goonetilleke seemed mercurial or even coquettish. Blanche need not be likeable, but her moods must follow the psychology of Poulenc’s vivid orchestration. From her awkwardly timed entrance, it was clear that Ms. Goonetilleke, while a competent and attractive performer and singer, needs more time to develop the sensitivity required for this role.

Poulenc’s opera is filled with moments of dramatic prescience that parallel a building musical foreboding. To create a compelling momentum in this opera of short scenes and tableaux, it is necessary for these moments to be connected in a sort of symbolic storyline that is as crucial as the actual plot. For example, in the interview between Blanche and the Old Prioress, it must be made clear that Madame de Croissy has taken the young girl’s measure not because the older woman is prophetic, but rather because she identifies with Blanche and shares her fears. As the Prioress, Lacey Jo Benter sang and acted well but the impact of her death was lessened by the pallid approach to her first scene with Blanche.

All of the singers, not just Ms. Benter, suffered from director Fabrizio Melano’s choice to connect the various scenes and interludes by stringing them together without blackouts. At best this was awkward for the singers left onstage, but it occasionally had confusing consequences, especially in the instances where two scenes set months or years apart became effectively elided. Furthermore, because the lights remained on in between scenes, the audience sat and watched as Ms. Benter walked onstage and climbed into bed immediately before the death scene in which the Prioress asks if she might finally be well enough to sit in a chair, bedridden as she is with her fatal illness. Her death, which should be excruciating to watch, was therefore a little bizarre.

Such inconsistencies aside, many elements of Melano’s direction served the drama well. The red curtain was particularly inspired as it subtly evoked not only the typical theatrical curtain, but also a patriotic flag and even the guillotine itself. The beam of light used to delineate the convent from the outside world was visually arresting, and the intense glare from the stage right entrance produced silhouettes on the convent wall – clear physical projections of the worldly illusions mentioned in the libretto.

Among the rest of the student cast, Renée Tatum and Haeran Hong made strong impressions as Mother Marie and Soeur Constance, respectively. Tatum imbued her role as the Assistant Prioress with the required gravitas and she used all of Poulenc’s generous musical substance as inspiration for her subtle acting. Not only did Ms. Hong perform with the same musical style and charm she exhibited during the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition finals, but she also portrayed a fully realized character from the moment she entered as the young novice. She exceeded expectations of any student and could easily perform the role in a professional production. Both her voice and her face have an angelic beauty and she appeared both brave and vulnerable in the opera’s crushing final moments, when Constance is left alone as a single voice at the end of the Salve Regina only to be joined by Blanche at the last second.

In the end, it speaks to the level of the students at Juilliard that the school is able to present such a complex, demanding opera. But it is an even greater testament to the quality of Poulenc’s opera that only rare performers can truly do it justice.

Alison Moritz

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):