Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta Valéry [Photo by The Royal Opera/ Catherine Ashmore]
09 Jul 2010

La Traviata, Royal Opera

This was my first Verdi performance in the theatre for thirteen years or so I must have been the least jaded of critics for the opening night of the revival of Sir Richard Eyre’s La Traviata.

Giuseppe Verdi: La traviata

Violetta Valéry: Angela Gheorghiu; Alfredo Germont: James Valenti; Giorgio Germont: Željko Lučič; Baron Douphol: Eddie Wade; Doctor Grenvil: Richard Wiegold; Flora Bervoix: Kai Rüütel; Marquis d’Obigny: Changhan Lim; Gastone de Letorières: Ji-Min Park; Annina: Sarah Pring; Giuseppe — Neil Gillespie; Messenger: Charbel Mattar; Servant: Jonathan Coad; Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends of Violetta and Flora, Guests, Servants. Director: Sir Richard Eyre; Designs: Bob Crowley; Movement: Jane Gibson; Lighting: Jean Kalman. Royal Opera Chorus and extra chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Yves Abel (conductor).

Above: Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta Valéry

All photos by The Royal Opera/ Catherine Ashmore

 

Benjamin Britten was said to listen to the music of Brahms once a year, to remind him why he loathed it. (Oddly, however, there is a recording of the op.52 Liebeslieder Waltzes from Aldeburgh.) In a similar spirit, although on a considerably broader timescale, I considered that it would do me no harm to put my prejudices or judgements to the test.

There would be many worse ways of doing so than seeing Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta. I had not actually heard her in the flesh before and was a little surprised as to how small her voice is. She made it work though, so that it could be heard perfectly well even when singing pianissimo. Her coloratura was, so far as I discerned, flawless, no mean feat. I recall watching this production on the television as a schoolboy, the first run under Solti which really made Gheorghiu’s name. She obviously does not look — or sound — so young now, but this remains still a fine vocal performance. In terms of playing herself on stage she is also clearly without peer; Angela Gheorghiu is a role one is tempted to think she was born to play. Certainly one had the impression, rightly or wrongly, that her movements, her expressions, pretty much everything she is doing — all these are very much her own thing.

Gheorghiu_Valenti_Traviata_.gifJames Valenti as Alfredo Germont and Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta Valéry

Given the conservatism of Eyre’s production, and especially of Bob Crowley’s designs, that is not necessarily so bad thing. Zeffirelli with a slightly lower calorie count doubtless appeals to some even on this side of the Atlantic, but there is suspension of disbelief and then there is the size of Violetta’s bedroom in act three of this production. Otherwise, the costumes look beautiful and so forth, but it is really only the presence of the soprano that grants any sense of theatre at all: ironic, since that then reinforces the idea that opera should be about star singers and therefore about works like this, and a vicious, doubtless highly commercial circle ensues. I can only assume, moreover, that some deal had been struck with the Association of Consumptives, for the state of the audience made poor Violetta seem hale and healthy.

James Valenti looked good as Alfredo and sang ardently, but often wavered in intonation. There was strength in the singing of Željko Lučič as Germont père, though his stage presence was somewhat wooden (how much is the production at fault here?) and his style sounded just a touch incongruously Slavic. The choral singing was excellent, for which thanks must once again go to Renato Balsadonna and of course the Royal Opera Chorus itself. And the orchestra played beautifully, Yves Abel directing unobtrusively but not without character.

Valenti_Lucic_Traviata_ROH_.gifJames Valenti as Alfredo Germont and Željko Lučić as Giorgio Germont

There remains the work itself. I tried, but the esteem in which it and Verdi’s œuvre in general are held continues to baffle me. Puccini can be mawkish, Rossini can be shallow, but there is a degree of craftsmanship to be heard and admired there. Verdi seems to combine the worst aspects of both, standing perhaps slightly above Donizetti, but that is all. The orchestration is often rudimentary — though, as I said, the orchestra made the most of what it had. Harmony is uninteresting and the accompaniments — the word for once is apt — are often so derisory. And then there is the ‘tart with a heart, transfigured’ tale: does it go beyond the level of a women’s magazine story? I fail to see how — and it now seems utterly dated, not least in its attitude towards gender. Just when one thinks there might be some psychological insight, the music of the pizza parlour returns. The ‘tunes’, memorable because one hears them so often, are rarely integrated into the musical texture, such as it is, let alone into the drama, such as it is. Given the lack of musical interest, surely a more adventurous production might alleviate the ennui. Regietheater seems a necessity here. Were this a neglected work, one could understand someone thinking it worth a try, but a staple of the repertoire? Some people might, for a variety of reasons, dislike Wagner; but being something other than Wagner is not in itself a guarantee of anything. As Pierre Boulez once put it, Verdi is ‘picture-postcard music’. He said that he would prefer to see a whole landscape; the same goes for me.

Mark Berry

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):