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

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Toby Spence and Iain Paterson [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera]
29 Sep 2010

Faust by ENO

Perhaps because the rather stolidly Victorian character of both its music and its morality, Gounod’s Faust has been out of fashion in the UK in recent decades, and owes a debt to David McVicar and his darkly Gothic production for the Royal Opera in 2004 (now, at last, available on DVD) for the restoration of its footing in the standard repertoire.

Charles Gounod: Faust

Toby Spence, Melody Moore, Iain Paterson, Benedict Nelson, Anna Grevelius, Pamela Helen Stephen. Conductor: Edward Gardner; Director: Des McAnuff; Set Designer: Robert Brill; Costume Designer: Paul Tazewell; Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford; Choreographer: Kelly Devine; Video Designer: Dustin O'NeillEnglish National Opera, London Coliseum, September 2010.

Above: Toby Spence and Iain Paterson

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of English National Opera

 

ENO has entrusted its new production to Des McAnuff, best-known in London for the musical Jersey Boys which is currently enjoying a long run at the Prince Edward Theatre. The only toe he has thus far dipped in the operatic water was a production of Wozzeck in San Diego last year — not a piece that would come automatically to mind for a novice opera director. An eclectic history, promising more than some of the guest directors engaged by ENO in the recent past. McAnuff fixes the starting point of the opera in a WW2 atomic bomb laboratory. It is easy to believe how an ageing scientist would be left feeling unfulfilled after devoting his life and career to an inherently cold-blooded and inhuman vocation.

Faust’s reversion to youth appears to take him back to the early days of WW1 — though a few obviously intentional anachronisms make the period somewhat indistinct — and initially it is a romanticised vision of jolly carousing soldiers with their girls in dirndl skirts and flouncy blouses. The love scene is idealised even further, with intense coloured lighting, and flowers appearing to spring up at will on the projected backdrop. From that point forwards the scales start to fall from Faust’s eyes and time seems to be sped up; the colour is blanched from the scene, Marguerite seems to age several years in the few months that elapse between Acts 3 and 4, and even more between then and the final scene. The perky soldiers of the Act 2 tavern scene are almost unrecognisable when they return from duty, old and bent and going crazy with shell-shock.

Faust_ENO_03.gifMelody Moore and Iain Paterson

In the title role, Toby Spence was a revelation. His attractive stage presence, clarity of delivery and impeccable diction have never been in question, but Faust is a fuller lyric role than Spence has been used to, and I feared his voice may simply be swamped by the orchestra or vanish into the further reaches of the Coliseum’s vast auditorium. But in the event, the fullness of his sound at the very beginning had me worried that he might be over-singing, and I was relieved when the sound seemed to settle down, easily big enough for the occasion but retaining his trademark bright, youthful sound, right up to a splendidly confident high C in ‘Salut, demeure’. It is not the most flexible or nuanced sound, nor does it sound French — I’m not sure it’s possible to when singing in English translation — but it was confident, romantic and hugely enjoyable.

Iain Paterson was a congenial Mephistopheles, more gentleman than devil I felt, and he’s got the stage presence for the role. Although his lowest notes lack power (he’s a bass-baritone rather than a bass) he turned in an exceptionally stylish vocal performance.

Faust_ENO_01.gifMelody Moore and Toby Spence

The American soprano Melody Moore made a disappointing first impression as Marguerite (rendered in the surtitles as Margarita, though the principals seemed to be approximating the French pronunciation); there is something invulnerable and unyielding about her vocal quality which makes her difficult to engage with, and she made hard work of the Jewel Song. She did come into her own in the final scene, where the same qualities that had earlier been frustrating made for an effectively steadfast ‘Anges purs’.

Benedict Nelson’s Valentin was secure and simply effective in ‘Avant de quitter ces lieux’, and Anna Grevelius’s charmingly androgynous Siebel was beautifully-sung.

Faust_ENO_04.gifIain Paterson and Pamela Helen Stephen

Ed Gardner struck the right balance with the score, neither too heavy-handed in the rhythmic numbers nor too over-indulgent in the lyrical ones. Only ‘Le veau d’or’ didn’t quite have the drive to take flight.

McAnuff’s production worked for me for the most part, though it was disappointing that he opted to cut the Walpurgisnacht ballet altogether — all that remained of the scene was an episode in which Mephistopheles shows Faust a group of tortured souls writhing round a table. If going down the historically-informed opera ballet route doesn’t appeal (and frankly, why would it?) surely the ballet is the greatest opportunity for a director and his choreographer to add to the audience’s understanding, or to crystallize their production concept in the form of a vignette?

At the end, with Marguerite redeemed and Faust dragged down by Mephistopheles through a Don Giovanni-style trapdoor, we see the elderly Faust appearing in his laboratory, collapsing after apparently having drained the cup of poison from the start of the opera. Was his whole adventure into youth and corruption, then, just the hallucination of a poisoned and dying man? The elixir of youth to which Mephistopheles transforms Faust’s deadly draught is poison of one sort or another, whether its effect be physical or moral, and either way, Faust ends up back where he started.

Ruth Elleson © 2010

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):