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

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

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.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera
08 Jul 2010

Out in a blaze of glory — Garsington, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Garsington Opera is moving to Wormsley Park. in 2011, but it marked its last production at Garsington Manor with a glorious coda, that augurs well for the future. As a friend remarked “We'll be talking about this for years to come”.

Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 64

Tytania: Rebecca Bottone; Oberon: James Laing; Lysander: Andrew Staples; Demetrius: George von Bergen; Hermia: Anna Stéphany; Helena: Katherine Manley; Bottom: Neal Davies; Quince: Jonathan Best; Flute: Pascal Charbonneau; Snug: Sion Goronwy; Snout: Mark Wilde; Starveling: Robert Gildon; Theseus: Conal Coad; Hippolyta: Patricia Orr; Puck: Richard Durden; Cobweb: Christopher O’Brien; Peaseblossom: James Dugan; Mustard Seed: Leopold Benedict; Moth: Cameron Clark; Fairies: Trinity Boys Choir. Garsington Opera Orchestra, Steuart Bedford, conductor. Director: Daniel Slater. Designer: Francis O’Connor. Lighting Designer: Brian Poet. Choreographer: Leah Hausman. Garsington Opera, Oxfordshire, England. 30 June 2010.

 

Garsington is unique because its famous gardens are incorporated into the action on stage:Landscape as drama! It’s an ideal setting for Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which unfolds deep in woodland. As twilight slowly descends in real-time Garsington, night closes in on the opera. Reality gives way to dream, mortals to fairies.

For this last production in its 21 year history, Garsington Opera brought in conductor Steuart Bedford, who worked with Benjamin Britten himself. Very idiomatic playing from the orchestra, Bedford coaxing sinuous glissandi from the strings, moody murmurings from the winds and brass. In this transformed, magical world, everything is slightly, but deliberately, out of kilter. At Garsington, the effect is enhanced because you’re never quite sure what you’re hearing. The birdsong is natural, as there are trees all round. Trombones and trumpets materialize in the parterre garden, so they are “heard from afar”, like fairy horns.

Rebecca Bottone’s Tytania is heard before she enters. She has an extremely distinctive voice, which is immediately recognizable, and carries well. Here, it was used for maximum impact.

Fairies aren’t necessarily passive innocents, but are creatures of the night in every sense. Tytania is feisty, she stands up to Oberon’s demands, and is by far the stronger of the pair.
Tytania is wild and free, so the edge in Bottone’s voice strengthened the role. True character singers are rare, especially in female voice.

Bottone is a treasure.She emanates energy. Last year she was a magnificent Semira in Thomas Arne’s Artaxerxes, a little dynamo running about the Linbury at ROH, yet still managing the impossibly long, florid lines. (Read more HERE). She also created The Maid in Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face, who upstages the Duchess in more ways than one. (Read about that HERE) Bottone is luxury casting, because there are very few in her specialist fach.

Pairings through this play and opera keep changing, too, which is why Neal Davies’s Bottom is Bottone’s match. He’s another character singer, also very experienced, which makes a huge difference. Bottom is a yokel, so there’s no need for the male equivalent of coloratura perfection. Instead, though, Bottom’s quirky personality has to be expressed in other ways. Davies doesn’t do obvious humour like funny accents or buffoonery. His Bottom is quicker off the mark than he lets on, but that, too, is an aspect of Bottom’s personality. He’s the humble working man who dreams up plays for Dukes, after all. Is Shakespeare having a joke on us all?

Bottone and Davies shine above all else, but there other good vignettes. Pascal Charbonneau turned the unrewarding part of Flute into a tour de force. This Flute “is” sexually ambiguous, frustrated, resentful and yet a diva-in-the-making. In Britten’s time no-one would have dared do such a provocative portrayal, but it’s entirely right in context. Sion Goronwy’s Snug had panache, confirming his extensive experience.

Garsington_dream01.gif

The staging was more of a problem. Boys dressed in 40’s military costumes much too large for them? Adults having sex in school uniforms ? Toys being locked away? Filthy mattresses, seedy decrepitude ? Maybe this is a dig on Britten’s sexuality, but it’s out of order and not supported either by the opera or what is known of the facts. Thankfully, it was obliterated by another big star in this production - the lighting !

Like magic, the lights wiped away the tawdry squalor. The Duke’s palace appeared, transparent glass chairs lit with twinkling silver lights. Then, when couple are reunited, and order restored, night returns, and the fairies spread their magic again, this time on us, the audience.

Thousands of golden fairy lights suddenly lit up at once, transforming the darkness closing in. Festoons of lights, twined round the topiary trees and box hedges in the parterre garden, garlanding the trees beyond. A moment to remember forever. Garsington goes out in a blaze of glory. Next year, it moves to an even bigger landscape, at Wormsley Park.

A word about the lighting design which at Garsington this year excelled all expectations. Bruno Poet, who designed the lighting for this A Midsummer Night’s Dream deserves special praise. This was very imaginative work, which larger opera companies would envy.

Poet and his team spent hours carefully working out circuitry and placements. Designing in this in a conventional setting would be hard enough, but in an open air setting, artificial lighting must cope with natural light, which lasts to 10pm at this time of year. Then there’s the added problem of Health and Safety. In ordinary theatres, the audience doesn’t walk round the wiring. In Garsington, the gardens are a feature the audience comes to see. Poet and his team managed to conceal the wiring so well that it didn’t intrude.

Garsington_dream05.gif

While this year’s Garsington Opera season is over, please follow http://www.garsingtonopera.org/ for information about 2011 at Wormsley Park Garsington Opera is a specialist niche company, supported entirely by sponsorship and private patronage.

Anne Ozorio

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):