Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Catherine Naglestad as Tosca and Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi [Photo by Photo Grand Angle Orange]
18 Jul 2010

Tosca at Orange

There was a time when the likes of Luc Bondy and Francesca Zambello staged operas for the Chorégies d’Orange in its famed Théâtre Antique.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Floria Tosca: Catherine Naglestad; Mario Cavaradossi: Roberto Alagna; Il Barone Scarpia: Falk Struckmann; Cesare Angelotti: Wojtek Smilek; Il Sagrestano: Michel Trempont; Sciarrone: Jean-Marie Delpas; Spoletta: Christophe Mortagne; Il Carcierere: Jean-Marie Frémeau. Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Choruses from Opéra-Théâtre d'Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse, Opéra de Toulon Provence-Méditerranée and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse. Maîtrise des Bouches-du-Rhône. Conductor: Mikko Franck. Stage director: Nadine Duffaut. Stage designer: Emmanuelle Favre. Costumes: Katia Duflot. Lighting Jacques Chatelet.

Above: Catherine Naglestad as Tosca and Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi

All photos by Photo Grand Angle Orange


No more. In recent years staging responsibilities have been given to the default directors at small opera houses in the south of France with passable to dismal results.

The Théâtre Antique is a magnificent theatrical vestige of France’s Roman past. These days it is home to this small opera festival — there are two performances each of two operas in late July and early August. The catch is that the stage is 150 feet wide and the amphitheater seats 9000 people. It is a small festival of big, very big operas.

However this summer both operas are relatively small — Puccini’s Tosca and Gounod’s Mireille. While Tosca is obvious repertory to attract an audience of 18,000 people, it is still an intimate opera even though its music is big and its story shocking. Mireille is delicate music to an innocent little love story by Provence’s poet Mistral.

Tosca_Orange_11.pngThe suspicion is that messieur Raymond Duffaut, general director of the Chorégies has lost his mind. Not just because Mireille cannot possibly attract an audience of 18,000 people (famous last words), but also because he entrusted Tosca to the least able of these local stage directors, one Nadine Duffaut (yes, his wife).

The best operas at Orange have been epics and spectacles, where armies clash and jealousies rage. The best operas have spectacular endings, as examples the shooting real flames of Norma’s funeral pyre or even the huge projected flames of Azucena’s funeral pyre, not to mention the transformation of the Turandot chorus into a dragon. The back wall of the Théâtre Antique’s rises 150 feet — one had high hopes for Tosca’s leap.

Mme. Duffaut chose the Mary Magdalene painted by Cavaradossi for the Attavanti chapel as her primary image. Magnified a thousand times into a huge set piece this biblical sinner oversaw all in some inexplicable irony. Though in the last few seconds the surface cracked and checkered (a black and white projection onto the painting) as Tosca walked through a slit in the bottom. So much for spectacle.

Tosca_Orange_15.pngMme. Duffaut attempted to use very nearly the entire width of the stage in her staging with the result that it took a lot of time for any of the opera’s protagonists to get from one chapel to another, from Scarpia’s desk to his chaise longue, etc. Conductor Mikko Franck did his best to accommodate these extended distances with tempi so slow that they were just plain deadly (in fact in section D alone paramedics had to remove three opera patrons on stretchers during the performance).

The Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France loved this Finnish maestro, apparent from the foot stomping in the pit for every arrival and departure of Mo. Franck. Let us attribute this love to the maestro’s encouragement that they play as loud as they possibly could — an unusual pleasure for a pit (or any) orchestra. But even the orchestra was overcome by the slowness, manifest by frequent premature entrances.

Mme. Duffaut updated the opera to the Fascist era, giving costumer Katia Duflot (ubiquitous in these parts) yet another opportunity to dress singers in over-designed costumes extolling le look rather than defining le caractère. Tosca entered in a white shin length afternoon dress splashed with huge purple flowers, and simply disappeared within it. In the second act she was in a huge red satin evening gown with an exaggerated train that stood on its own dwarfing its wearer and hindering her movement.


Needless to say Roberto Alagna held the stage as Cavaradossi as did Falk Struckmann as Scarpia. Alagna is a natural singer and a natural actor, Struckmann is a pro. Neither need nor probably want a stage director. Except that there are scenes between protagonists that have to be shaped. Mme. Duffaut’s abilities apparently do not extend to imposing direction on such artists.

On the other hand Catherine Naglestad, the Tosca, has had a brilliant career working with some of Germany’s most gifted directors. Perhaps she could have been coached into embodying a temperamental diva. Left on her own she could not master the quick, nervous, powerful moves that she needed to manipulate her grand red dress. Nor unfortunately does she possess an imposing vocal presence.

The Angelotti of Wojtek Smilek and Spoletta of Christophe Mortagne were well realized within these reduced circumstances. The roles of the Sacrestan and the Shepherd were embarrassments to the profession.

This Tosca fared equally poorly in the French press. Let us not forget that opera at Orange can be good, justifying the steep climb to your seat in brutal summer heat.

Michael Milenski

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):