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 Performances

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Jennifer Rowley as Maria di Rohan [Photo by Gabe Palacio]
01 Aug 2010

Maria di Rohan at Caramoor

Maria di Rohan was Donizetti’s penultimate opera, composed in Italian for Vienna in 1843, with revisions to appeal to the taste of Paris and Milan following.

Gaetano Donizetti: Maria di Rohan

Maria di Rohan: Jennifer Rowley; Chalais: Luciano Botelho; Chevreuse: Scott Bearden; Armando di Gondi: Vanessa Cariddi. Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Will Crutchfield. At the Caramoor Festival, Katonah, NY. July 24

Above: Jennifer Rowley as Maria di Rohan [Photo by Gabe Palacio]

 

Donizetti completed one more French grand opera, Dom Sébastien, before syphilitic madness ended one of the busiest of all composing careers at the age of 48. Maria was a success but not an enduring hit—the opera suffers from plot confusion, too many offstage events and far too many incriminating letters and devious proclamations (I lost count). Composed as a soprano vehicle, it was long kept alive by Titta Ruffo, who enjoyed the emotional range of the baritone’s part. Maria has plenty of Donizetti’s gracious melodies and the more forceful integration of musical number and dramatic form that make his later works so fascinating, so clearly foreshadowing his young friend Verdi, who learned a great deal from them, but its elaborate intrigues do not draw us in.

In history, Marie de Rohan was the notorious Duchesse de Chevreuse, an indefatigable troublemaker at the court of Louis XIII. In the opera, however, she is an anguished heroine, torn between love and duty and … more love. It’s not her fault that every man in the cast, including the one played by a woman, is crazy about her and that she can only be married to one of them at a time. (She could, of course, be the lover of more than one, and in real life, she was—but stage morals had to be stricter than life: “Una la volta, per carità!”) “You will live in infamy,” snarls her vengeful husband (that baritone), having just disposed of her lover (the tenor), as the final curtain falls. And so she did. Her reputation lingered like the scandals of bygone movie stars: everyone remembered that woman, but—what exactly did she do?

In an earlier day, Donizetti would have ended the piece with a strident cabaletta for the prima donna protesting her unjust fate (as he had ended Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia and Roberto Devereux), and he did indeed write such a piece—but a new, tighter dramatic spirit was in the air, and he cut the number out. (It exists, though, and was performed at Caramoor in a concert of omitted music from other editions of the score before the main event. This is the sort of addendum that makes a Will Crutchfield concert opera such a delight for the bel canto enthusiast.) The opera now ends with that baritone snarl and an orchestral crash, leaving us (perhaps) stunned by Maria’s wordless anguish—the way Verdi and Puccini, afterwards, would stun audiences at the final curtain with a single cry. This is abrupt and thrilling—but I’d have liked to hear that cabaletta. Donizetti perceived that music-drama was changing, but Maria di Rohan is not Traviata or Tosca—its stately sort of drama seems to demand that full final statement.

Not that the prima donna’s role seemed abbreviated—she must lie to her lover, lie to her husband, plead (offstage) to saturnine Cardinal Richelieu for the lives of both, agonize over her reputation and her bad decisions, sing duets and suffer remorse, all in flowing despair or glittering excitement. Maria is a hefty soprano workout, and the only other woman in the cast is the trouser role of Gondi, who makes scandalous insinuations about Maria after she rejects him—and Gondi is soon disposed of. Basically, Maria, her husband Chevreuse, and her confused truelove, Chalais, are the only characters—aside from the cardinal, the king, the queen and Chalais’s dying mother, who remain offstage. The chorus part is brief. This is a chamber drama with grand opera forces.

One of the draws of the Caramoor performance was an exciting young soprano from the Crutchfield stable, but she withdrew due to illness three days before the performance. Maestro Crutchfield—like anyone else in the one-performance concert opera business—keeps a clutch of possible replacements on hand anticipating just this sort of fiasco, and his Caramoor Bel Canto Young Artists again proved its usefulness when Jennifer Rowley took on the arduous title role at short notice.

Rowley has a beautiful voice of considerable size, many attractive colors and remarkable evenness over a couple of octaves up to a spectacular D-flat. Her vibrato seems more suited to Germanic than bel canto roles (she sang Konstanze in Newark), but it disappears when long Caballé-style legatos are called for. Her trill is imprecise but not unpleasing, her ornaments stylish, and she was off-book three days after learning she would be going on. She earned a standing ovation and got it.

Luciano Botelho, a Brazilian tenor, sang her lover, Chalais. His voice is sweet and attractive if a little light for the demands of so intense a part—he is more a Nemorino or Ramiro (in Cenerentola) than a Chalais. He seemed at times to be gasping between lines of his opening aria, but his command of line gave great pleasure, and in his passionate final scenes he showed more strength.

Scott Bearden sang the Duc de Chevreuse, the sort of baritone who risks his life to save his tenor best friend—only to discover the fellow is his wife’s lover. He acted this well, remembering to limp when he’d been wounded in an offstage duel, and sang it in a curious way—for his opening aria went rather higher than baritones usually go (higher by some steps than the Ricordi score of the opera, published twenty years after the premier, demands), and though he managed this tessitura admirably, the quality of these notes had neither tenor excitement nor baritone heft. Was this an alternate version of the autograph? (Crutchfield had undoubtedly examined all discoverable versions of the score—he and Philip Gossett discussed their choices at a lecture in the afternoon.) If so, what sort of voice does Bearden have for the rest of the repertory—a low tenor or a high baritone? In later scenes, his voice seemed to possess more juice at the normal baritone range, and when he finally lost his noble temper—another of those letters!—he growled with far more comfort.

Vanessa Cariddi took the trouser role of Maria’s accuser, Gondi, with the right travesty swagger and a pleasing style. The smaller male roles were all handled rewardingly.

Crutchfield’s conducting of these bel canto operas is always subservient to the ease of the singers, sometimes to the detriment of theatricality. With a prima donna understudy, no doubt he was right to do this, but the dramatic arc of the piece as presented lacked excitement. It was pleasant to encounter this tuneful rarity, but nothing about the evening of fine singing proclaimed the opera an overlooked masterpiece.

John Yohalem

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):