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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.
Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s ﬁfteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.
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.
New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.
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.
07 Jun 2010
Seeing Tosca at the Coliseum brings back happy memories, as it was a
performance of Tosca (in a revival of the Keith Warner production in the 1990s) which occasioned my very first trip to the ENO. That also happens to have been
the first time I ever saw Tosca.
Actually, that isn’t strictly true. The first time I came across Tosca was
five years earlier, in my early teens and long before I became really
interested in opera, when I was nonetheless gripped by the live international
TV broadcast from the authentic locations in Rome. That film’s star, Catherine
Malfitano, moved into opera direction herself six years ago, and it is she who
has been charged with ENO’s latest new staging.
The result is a competent, dramatically coherent and (how often these days
can one say this about a recent ENO staging of a repertoire standard?)
eminently revivable production. Above all, it stands out for the believability
of the characters — I can’t remember ever having seen such a natural,
genuine and un-stagey Act 1 love scene between Tosca and Cavaradossi, nor a
Scarpia who so successfully avoided villainous caricature.
The Act 1 set design gives a modern twist on a naturalistic setting, with a
slightly abstract, pixellated version of what is very definitely a depiction of
the actual interior of Sant’Andrea della Valle, particularly during the Te Deum
when a shift in the lighting results in the basilica’s characteristic shafts of
pale yellow light beaming down from the high windows. This coup-de-theatre by
lighting designer David Martin Jacques is one of many touches throughout the
opera which keep the production feeling true to its location, another being the
decision to leave both the Act 2 Cantata and the Shepherd Boy’s solo in the
The Act 2 staging is entirely straightforward, until the last few seconds
where a projection of an expanse of infinite star-filled space appears on the
back wall, a symbol of the simultaneous liberty and wilderness into which Tosca
moves following Scarpia’s murder. After that, Act 3 has a more abstract feel,
retaining the star-studded backdrop from the end of Act 2, with a striking
curved set which looked somewhat as though a ‘realistic’ recreation of the
uppermost reaches of the Castel Sant-Angelo had been tipped backwards through
ninety degrees. This for me was the one jarring note, principally because of
the considerable resultant visual resemblance to Act 2 of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s
Tristan und Isolde for Glyndebourne — I couldn’t help feeling that I
was watching the wrong opera, and that the music and visuals didn’t match. I
half-expected Tosca to make her final exit in the manner of Isolde in that
production, drifting off into space.
The title role was taken by the South African soprano Amanda Echalaz.
Although a substantial instrument — which I have previously showcased to
thrilling effect elsewhere, including in this very role with Opera Holland Park
— it rarely manages to dominate volume-wise above heavy Puccini
orchestration in a house the size of the Coliseum. Nonetheless it is a
beautifully-coloured, smooth and classy, and she brings the character to
vivacious and passionate life.
Her Cavaradossi was Julian Gavin — a phrase which gives me a certain
sense of deja vu, as I have now heard him in three different ENO productions of
the same opera. It is to his great credit that almost fourteen years after the
first time, he retains the vocal intensity and physical vigour of youth, but
now brings added value to the role with the more baritonal colours of his
increased vocal maturity. The spinto character of his upper voice made the big
moments thrilling, particularly ‘Vittoria!’, Cavaradossi’s political
ardour winning over his romantic ardour.
Anthony Michaels-Moore’s Scarpia was a good vocal match for Echalaz, perhaps
not quite as firmly in his element as in his recent memorable Rigoletto here
but a dangerous, vocally alluring snake in the grass. I suspect that like his
tenor colleague, Mr Michaels-Moore has sung multiple English versions of this
opera — one of the disadvantages of ENO’s use of surtitles is that it
highlights when the words sung do not match those which were supposed to be
sung, and there were a couple of such glitches.
The smaller roles were strongly assumed — Pauls Putninš was a
dramatically-compelling Angelotti despite a shortage of a vocal ‘edge’ to lend
urgency to his delivery, while ENO Young Singers Christopher Turner (Spoletta)
and James Gower (Sciarrone) were both eloquent and incisive.
On behalf of all singers-in-English, I grieve for ENO’s obsession with using
a different translation for every new staging. That sort of thing is inclined
to mess with singers’ minds. Considering that Puccini doesn’t tend to translate
well into English, the Amanda Holden translation used in David McVicar’s 2002
production was really quite respectable, bringing a natural rhythm to the text
within the tight constraints of the musical line. So why now revert to an
ancient and rather ungainly translation by the late Edmund Tracey? I hope other
English-language companies pick up on Holden’s translation so it doesn’t now
Under Ed Gardner, the orchestral sound was full of life and colour, with
special mention due to the vicious snarls of the trumpet in the torture scene.
The cello quartet just before ‘E lucevan le stelle’ was beautifully played
— when I saw the last production I vividly remember the passage being a
disaster, and it sounded so utterly different this time round that I had to
compare the orchestra lists in the two programmes. It would appear to have been
exactly the same cellists now as then, which underlines yet again the extent of
the good that Gardner’s directorship has done this band. Musically, this
performance is a triumph.
Ruth Elleson, May 2010