Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

Arizona Opera Ends Season in Fine Style with Fille du Régiment

On April 10, 2015, Arizona Opera ended its season with La Fille du Régiment at Phoenix Symphony Hall. A passionate Marie, Susannah Biller was a veritable energizer bunny onstage. Her voice is bright and flexible with a good bloom on top and a tiny bit of steel in it. Having created an exciting character, she sang with agility as well as passion.

Il turco in Italia, Royal Opera

This second revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s 2005 production of Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia seems to have every going for it: excellent principals comprising experienced old-hands and exciting new voices, infinite gags and japes, and the visual éclat of Agostino Cavalca’s colour-bursting costumes and Christian Fenouillat’s sunny sets which evoke the style, glamour and ease of La Dolce Vita.

The Siege of Calais
——
The Wild Man of the West Indies

English Touring Opera’s 2015 Spring Tour is audacious and thought-provoking. Alongside La Bohème the company have programmed a revival of their acclaimed 2013 production of Donizetti’s The Siege of Calais (L’assedio di Calais) and the composer’s equally rare The Wild Man of the West Indies (Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo).

The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Mary Zimmerman’s still-fresh production is made fresher still by Shagimuratova’s glimmering voice, but the acting disappoints

Voices, voices in space, and spaces: Thoughts on 50 years of Meredith Monk

When WNYC’s John Schaefer introduced Meredith Monk’s beloved Panda Chant II, which concluded the four-and-a-half hour Meredith Monk & Friends celebration at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, he described it as “an expression of joy and musicality” before lamenting the fact that playing it on his radio show could never quite compete with a live performance.

St. John Passion by Soli Deo Gloria, Chicago

This year’s concert of the Chicago Bach Project, under the aegis of the Soli Deo Gloria Music Foundation, was a presentation of the St. John Passion (BWV 245) at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Erwin Schrott as Figaro [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera]
08 Jun 2010

Le Nozze di Figaro, Royal Opera House

Detailed and precise, but never fussy, David McVicar’s thought-provoking production of Le Nozze di Figaro is ‘busy’ from the opening rushing semi-quavers of the overture.

W. A. Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro

Figaro: Erwin Schrott; Susanna: Eri Nakamura; Count Almaviva: Mariusz Kwiecien; Countess Almaviva: Annette Dasch; Cherubino: Jurgita Adamonytė; Bartolo: Robert Lloyd; Marcellina: Marie McLaughlin; Don Basilio: Peter Hoare; Don Curzio: Christopher Gillett; Barbarina: Amanda Forsythe; Antonio: Nicholas Folwell. Conductor: Colin Davis. Director: David McVicar. Designer: Tanya McCallin. Lighting Designer: Paule Constable. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Friday 4th June, 2010.

Above: Erwin Schrott as Figaro

All photos by Clive Barda courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Under the stern gaze of butlers and house-keepers, footmen and maids dart efficiently about the stage, tidying, carrying, dusting; this is a well-run household where everyone knows their place and their job. Well, almost everyone … for while the household machinery runs smoothly in the background, McVicar foregrounds the potential misery and heartache which may result from cross-class interactions of an amorous nature between servants and their imperious masters.

Upon this production’s first appearance in 2006, much was made of McVicar’s decision to ‘update’ the action to the 1830s. But this minor historical shift is neither especially remarkable nor inappropriate, for the focus here is not political conflict but human passions. And, this vision surely penetrates to the heart of this opera: for all its French Revolutionary origins, it is at essence a tale of amorous confusions and betrayals … it is in Don Giovanni (where the class divides are just as obvious, and further highlighted by contrasting musical idioms) that we hear the revolutionary cries of “Viva la liberté!”, whereas Figaro explores human emotions — love, lust, envy, treachery — as encapsulated by the Count’s words, ‘Shall I live to see a servant of mine happy and enjoying pleasure that I desire in vain?’

NOZZE-100528_0118-NAKAMURA-.gifEri Nakamura as Susanna

The spacious stage, with widened proscenium arch, comfortably accommodates Tanya McCallin’s inventive sets, which slide ingeniously to emphasise the contrast between the luxurious grace of the courtly rooms and the shabby jumble of the servants’ quarters, while also revealing the co-dependence of the two worlds. In the Act 1 Trio, ‘Cosa sento!’, when the enraged Count discovers the unfortunate page, Cherubino, hiding in Susanna’s room, servants listen avidly outside the door, relishing the commotion within. As the Count rants, rages and plans revenge in ‘Hai già vinta la causa!’, butlers and housemaids silently go about their business, diplomatically deaf to their master’s indiscreet outpourings.

McVicar is alert to every potential for realism: there are some neat contemporary references — Count Almaviva inspects some new scientific machinery at the start of Act 3, for example — and there is not an anachronism or improbability in sight. With this particular Susanna a good foot shorter than the Countess, disguise and mistaken identity become more improbable, so McVicar stands his Susanna on a box, just one example of the understated dramatic integrity of the whole.

The transitions between locations are imperceptible and creative, none more so that between Acts 3 and 4, where the imposing interior smoothly and almost indiscernibly transforms to become a nocturnal garden, beautifully and evocatively lit by Paule Constable.

The performances of the fairly young cast of principals were similarly well-matched, marked by musical accuracy and dramatic credibility. Erwin Schrott as Figaro sang with naturalism and ease: his perturbed servant is not an over-confident, boastful buffoon, but rather a man of cool intelligence and wit, who really is in control of the commotion. Although he lacks some power in the lower range, Schrott’s performance is impressive and unceasingly entertaining. There is not a wasted moment or irrelevant gesture, as when he quick-wittedly improvises a limp when his lies about leaping from the Countess’s window are almost uncovered by the Count. When the hunting fanfares trill out in ‘Aprite un po’ quegli occhi’, Schrott waggles his cuckold’s horns, but while his horror at Susanna’s imagined infidelity seems genuine at this point, we are confident that he will manage events to his benefit; and his wry comic nuance in the ensuing denouement was superb.

NOZZE-100528_0094-ADAMONYTE.gifJurgita Adamonytė as Cherubino

In an unusually vicious interpretation, Mariusz Kwiecien was a portrait of pride and brutal petulance as Count Almaviva. This was really dramatic singing. Drawing upon a wide range of colours in his Act 3 aria, ‘Vedrò, mentr’io sospiro’, Kwiecien suggested not a petty aristrocrat’s frustration at not getting his own way, but genuine fury and ferocity. However, the surprising slap which he inflicted upon the Countess during their argument about Cherubino’s whereabouts seemed inappropriate — such nastiness and intimated cruelty is hard to reconcile with their apparently harmonious reunion at the close of the opera.

Eri Nakamura is still a Jette Parker Young Artist but she showed musical maturity, and stamina, as Susanna. Secure and poised throughout, she held her own among more her experienced colleagues. However, it was a pity that, when Da Ponte’s libretto contributes so much to the wit and irony of the opera, her Italian was almost unintelligible! Jurgita Adamonytė convincingly conveyed Cherubino’s restless energy and capacity for mischief. Her intonation was secure, her tone crisp and clear, and she shaped Mozart’s lyrical lines in ‘Voi che sapete’ with grace; but while she dashed gauchely about the stage, vocally perhaps she was a bit too elegant and controlled, not quite capturing Cherubino’s breathless excitement and urgency.

German soprano, Annette Dasch, was making her ROH debut as the Countess. Although she was a little nervous and unsteady at the start, she relaxed after a slightly strained ‘Porgi amor’, and blended sweetly with Nakamura in their Act 3 Canzonetta. However, ‘Dove sono’ was a little too pressing and tense for my liking; accompanied by wonderful woodwind playing, Dasch lacked richness at the top of her voice and in the climactic closing phrases pushed to forcefully to the top As, lacking somewhat the composure and restraint required to suggest the Countess’s deeply felt but poignant regret.

NOZZE-100528_0205-DASCH-AS-.gifAnnette Dasch as Countess Almaviva

Marie McLaughlin is an experienced Marcellina and she was clearly comfortable in the role, enjoying the on-stage business and singing with bright tone and precision — it was a pity that her Act 4 aria was cut. McLaughlin’s sense of timing was more than equalled by Robert Lloyd as Bartolo, and they made a wonderful comic pair, the latter despatching the prattling patter of ‘La vendetta’ with ease.

Peter Hoare was a suitably snide and sneering Basilio, although he might have made even more of his comic moments, such as the repetition of his line, ‘What I said about the page, it was just a suspicion …’ in ‘Cosa Sento’. Nicholas Folwell’s Antonio was convincingly furious at having his flowerbeds trampled by Cherubino, and certainly not keen on acquiring him as a son-in-law! American soprano, Amanda Forsythe, confidently delivered Barbarina’s Act 4 aria with polished style and lovely refinement, and Christopher Gillett was a very competent Don Curzio.

Just one weakness marred the otherwise superb singing: the cast, most especially during the ensembles, on occasion lagged behind the spirited pace set by Sir Colin Davis in the pit, clouding the orchestra’s sharp clarity and liveliness. The servants’ chorus which closes Act 1 was particularly marred in this way. Post-interval, after an announcement informed us that due to unforeseen circumstances Davis had had to leave the theatre, the problem continued under the baton of David Syrus, Head of Music for The Royal Opera House, who is scheduled to conduct later performances of the run. Although he did not always sustain the dramatic momentum in the final Act, with its extended sequence of arias and recitatives, Syrus built impressively towards the close in the final ensemble.

NOZZE-100528_0127--(C)CLIVE.gifPeter Hoare as Don Basilio, Eri Nakamura as Susanna and Mariusz Kwiecien as Count Almaviva

McVicar’s production will doubtless and deservedly become a Covent Garden staple. But, it needs a slightly more stellar cast if it is to really sparkle. On this occasion, as the servant’s curtsey which accompanied the closing bars implied, it was the production itself which was star of the 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):