Recently in Performances
I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.
“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”
A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.
Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.
At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.
Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.
Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure,
this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish
hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably
Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left
much to be desired.
It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.
Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.
With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).
“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang
bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars
lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano
Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera
Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night
of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.
Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.
Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.
Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and
figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera
between August 19–26.
On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.
Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.
On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.
On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.
We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value
a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.
Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.
20 May 2010
La Fille du régiment, Royal Opera
Expectations were running high for the opening night of Elaine Kidd’s
revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s mad-cap romp,
La Fille du regiment — almost as high as Tonio’s infamous
First staged to glorious reviews in 2007, in fact this co-production
with the Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, New York, has seldom
been ‘out-of-production’ during the last two years; but Covent
Garden has reassembled almost all the members of the original stellar cast,
re-uniting French soprano, Natalie Dessay, as the gamine, gambolling Marie,
with Juan Diego Flórez’ charming, heart-winning Tonio.
Even by the standards of 1840s opéra comique, the libretto is
wildly implausible. But Pelly relishes the improbabilities and excesses,
envisaging Donizetti’s trifle as a Gilbert & Sullivanesque caper; his
staging abounds with visual gags which inject much energy humour into the text,
which is itself enlivened by some smart one-liners (‘It’s raining
soldiers’) and a co-mingling of English and French which neatly
complements the franglais accents on stage. Certainly, the manic
visual stimuli — lines of dancing long-johns, balletic dusting routines,
a coup de théâtre tank - deftly keep at bay any potential dramatic
languors; but, while satire is undoubtedly a vital element of the
genre there is perhaps a danger that Pelly’s farce indulges in just a
touch too much self-ridicule — surely Donizetti is sincere in his
flippancy and frivolity?
As the regiment’s adopted daughter/skivvy, Natalie Dessay is certainly
committed: from her first entrance — stumbling beneath a toppling mound
of regimental laundry — she flounces and flops, stamps and strops, wildly
throwing herself around the stage in a ceaseless comic routine à la
Chaplin. Not afraid to squawk and screech, she savours the dialogue,
spitting out Gallic ‘Merde!’s a-plenty, and confirms her reputation
as one of the finest actors currently on the operatic stage. This is fast
becoming a signature role — and indeed it is hard to imagine this
production without Dessay — but there some alarming signs of
dramatic and vocal wear-and-tear. Her comic timing may be exemplary, with
coloratura pinging perfectly to a twang of the braces; and the top Ds and Es
may ring true and clear even as she is tossed and twirled by her military
‘daddies’; but the price to pay for such a breath-taking
performance may literally be the taking of Dessay’s breath. On more than
one occasion she seemed exhausted by her own exuberance and, worryingly, in
quieter moments her voice became rather pale, on occasion fading completely.
Punching out the regimental song as she darted up and down the map-inscribed
mountains of Chantal Thomas’s Act 1 set, Dessay effectively captured the
drive and ambition of the military milieu, but if familiarity breeds excess and
exaggeration, there is a danger that her performance could become a caricature
If Dessay never quite attained a true bel canto lyricism, Juan Diego
Flórez’ light, high tenor is perfect for this part. Nonchalant leaps to
the 9 successive high Cs in ‘Ah, mes amis’ were more than matched,
even outshone, by a moving, tender declaration of love in his Act 2 aria,
‘Pour me rapprocher de Marie’. Although the voice is a little
unyielding, the homogenous, even beauty of tone is astonishing, and it was hard
to believe that the sweet, tenderness of the daringly hushed closing phrase
could fail to touch the heart of the daughter-denying Marquise de
Dawn French as La Duchesse De Crackentorp and Ann Murray as La Marquise De Berkenfeld
For all Pelly’s attention to dramatic detail, there was however a
disappointing absence of genuine ‘chemistry’ between the star pair.
Fortunately, Ann Murray’s self-important Marquise and Alessandro
Corbelli’s soft-hearted Sulpice more than made up for this lack of erotic
spark, with masterly embodiments of haughty elegance and paternal indulgence
respectively. Her voice may lack some of its former sheen, but Murray knows how
to command a stage and her entrance aria, 'Pour une femme de mon nom', was
instantly engaging and convincing. Amusingly accompanying Dessay at the piano
during the singing-lesson scene, she more than matched the master Corbelli for
Queen of TV comedy, Dawn French, in the speaking role of the Duchess de
Crackentorp, reprised her Vicar of Dibley trademarks, eliciting laughs by the
mere raising of the eyebrow and stopping just a whisker short of overkill.
Donald Maxwell as Hortensius completed the ‘dream cast’. They were
complemented by a superb male chorus, although their female counterparts,
admittedly less busy, were not quite up to the rest of the regiment’s
Alessandro Corbelli as Sulpice Pingot
Bruno Campanella conducted a rather scruffy performance from the Royal Opera
House orchestra: although the pit-stage balance was excellent, the tempi were a
bit ragged, and cast and band were occasionally out-of-step. However, things
tightened up in the second Act, and a stunning solo ’cello introduced
Dessay’s ‘C’en est donc fait’.
Florez’ light elegance shows no signs of waning, but Dessay can surely
not reprise this role indefinitely. Although her Marie is at times less
hyperactive tomboy and more hysterical Lucia, this is not a show to miss. Grab
a ticket — even if you have to mount a military campaign to hunt one