Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Hanan Alattar as Leïla [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera]
09 Jun 2010

Pearl Fishers, ENO

The opening tableau of Penny Woolcock’s new production depicts deep waters with rays of sun hitting the surface; in the murky blue depths, three harnessed acrobats glide down to the sea bed and back up again.

Georges Bizet: Pearl Fishers

Zurga: Quinn Kelsey; Nadir: Alfie Boe; Leïla: Hanan Alattar; Nourabad: Freddie Tong. Orchestra and chorus of the English National Opera. Conductor: Rory Macdonald. Director: Penny Woolcock. Set designer: Dick Bird. Costume designer: Kevin Pollard. Lighting designer: Jennifer Schriever. Choreographer: Andrew Dawson. English National Opera, London Coliseum, June 2010

Above: Hanan Alattar as Leïla

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera

 

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed a new Tosca which looked suspiciously like Tristan und Isolde — now, we have a new Pearl Fishers which, if I hadn’t been able to hear the music as the curtain went up, I would have taken to be the opening of Das Rheingold. The series of major triads towards the end of Bizet’s prelude has never before struck me as sounding like Wagner, and I dare say it never will again — but its presence, coupled with the stage picture, makes for a disorientating few seconds of opera.

It is a stunning piece of visual theatre, making effective use of the vast dimensions of the Coliseum’s proscenium arch to emphasise the insignificance of humankind in comparison with the might of the sea. The precariousness of the pearl-fishing community’s existence is further underlined by designer Dick Bird’s Act 1 set — a shanty town on stilts, with little rickety wooden huts piled on top of one another up the hillside (small wonder that the announcement of a rapidly spreading fire causes such instant panic) — and by the fiercely billowing ocean waves which surround Leïla’s Act 2 sanctuary.

Woolcock’s production attempts to strip away most of the kitsch traditionally seen in 19th-century operas by European composers about the exotic East. Instead she gives us a hyper-realistic contemporary setting, in which shacks have rudimentary TV aerials rigged up on the roof, the locals wear an eclectic mix of Western and traditional Ceylonese clothing, and Western tourists with cameras are occasionally seen weaving through the dense crowd of locals. She doesn’t go quite so far as to replicate the litter-strewn shallows depicted in one of the photographs in the programme, but one suspects it is probably a good job this staging does not contain an olfactory element (it would surely be far less fragrant than Philip Prowse’s old production, last revived in 2000, with its heady scent of incense)!

The Act 1 set does, at least, look breathtakingly pretty when night falls and lights twinkle from the hillside huts, but the designs do create a few dramatic problems — the huts in the foreground are arrayed stage left and right, separated by a water-channel centre stage, so when Nadir and Zurga sing their duet from opposite sides of the divide, they are barely close enough to one another to be credible in greeting each other as old friends (what was that I said earlier about resemblance to Wagner?). And in Act 2, if Nadir has supposedly braved hell and high water to reach Leïla in her refuge, it’s amazing how Nourabad manages to get the whole chorus up there from another direction in five seconds flat.

Boe_Alattar.pngAlfie Boe as Nadir and Hanan Alattar as Leïla

The visual inspiration vanishes after Act 2, unfortunately, with Zurga’s aria and scene with Leïla set in front of what looks very much like a Bedouin tent, and the flames of the final inferno are a mere glow in the early morning sky, or at least they were from where I was sitting.

Though the staging grew steadily weaker throughout the opera, the musical quality went the other way. I was disappointed during Act 1 that tenor Alfie Boe, a popular star destined to ensure buoyant ticket sales, didn’t have the facility for a soft, floated ‘Je crois entendre encore’ in the mould of Vanzo or Kraus or even some of his own quite recent predecessors at the Coliseum. Bizet is the king of the high, piano tenor trick (think of the end of the Flower Song in Carmen) and when sung as written it is simply magical. This wasn’t. Similarly, the Leila, Hanan Alattar, started off the evening with a bright but frustratingly unyielding tone which bulldozed any notion that this young priestess might have been employed for her ability to seduce the gods into granting safety and protection to the pearl fishers.

One cast member was consistent — the Zurga, Hawaiian baritone Quinn Kelsey. He has a pleasant, even tone with complete security throughout the role’s considerable vocal range, coupled with a mature and centred stage persona. He is not one of nature’s great movers, but I barely minded as he was so expressive in his Act 3 aria. Perhaps even more importantly, he seemed to bring the best out in Alattar, whose previously monochromatic soprano finally began to show variation in colour and tone, and whose top turned out to be really very beautiful.

Tong_Kelsey.pngQuinn Kelsey as Zurga and Freddie Tong as Nourabad

The chorus sang powerfully and with impressive diction (though I sometimes wished I hadn’t been able to hear quite so much of Martin Fitzpatrick’s translation) and Rory Macdonald’s handling of the score was thrusting and powerfully driven during the big chorus scenes, if a little short on delicacy for intimate moments such as Leïla’s aria.

If not a complete triumph, owing to musical frustrations in the opera’s early scenes and scenic frustrations in its later ones, this new production is more than worth seeing for the high points alone.

Ruth Elleson, June 2010

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):