Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Amanda Echalaz as Tosca [Photo by Robert Workman courtesy of English National Opera]
07 Jun 2010

Tosca, ENO

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.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Tosca: Amanda Echalaz; Cavaradossi: Julian Gavin; Scarpia: Anthony Michaels-Moore; Angelotti: Pauls Putninš; Sacristan: Jonathan Veira; Spoletta: Christopher Turner; Sciarrone: James Gower. Conductor: Edward Gardner; Director: Catherine Malfitano; Set Designer: Frank Philipp Schlössmann; Costume Designer: Gideon Davey; Lighting Designer David Martin Jacques

Above: Amanda Echalaz as Tosca [Photo by Robert Workman courtesy of English National Opera]

 

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 original Italian.

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 disappear forever.

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

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):