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 Reviews

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

Puccini Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera House, London

Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..

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):