Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



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.


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.


While this year’s Garsington Opera season is over, please follow 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):