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

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

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):