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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

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):