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

San Jose’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.

Fine Traviata Completes SDO Season

On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.

The Exterminating Angel: compulsive repetitions and re-enactments

Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”

Dutch National Opera revives deliciously dark satire A Dog’s Heart

Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.

María José Moreno lights up the Israeli Opera with Lucia di Lammermoor

I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.

Cinderella Enchants Phoenix

At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.

LA Opera’s Young Artist Program Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.

Extravagant Line-up 2017-18 at Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden, Germany

The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.

Gerhaher and Bartoli take over Baden-Baden’s Festspielhaus

The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.

Mahler Symphony no 8 : Jurowski, LPO, Royal Festival Hall, London

Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.

Rameau's Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques: a charming French-UK collaboration at the RCM

Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.

St Matthew Passion: Armonico Consort and Ian Bostridge

Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.

Pop Art with Abdellah Lasri in Berliner Staatsoper’s marvelous La bohème

Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

Two rarities from the Early Opera Company at the Wigmore Hall

A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.

Enchanting Tales at L A Opera

On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.

Ermonela Jaho in a stunning Butterfly at Covent Garden

Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

La voix humaine: Opera Holland Park at the Royal Albert Hall

Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Photo by English Touring Opera
12 Oct 2010

Promised End — English Touring Opera

In the final scene of Shakespeare’s King Lear, faced with the dreadful sight of the distraught Lear cradling in his arms the body of his dead daughter Cordelia, the Earl of Kent asks: “Is this the promised end?”

Alexander Goehr: Promised End

Lear: Roderick Earle; Goneril: Jacqueline Varsey; Regan: Julia Sporsen; Cordelia: Lisa Markeby; Gloucester: Nigel Robson; Edgar: Adrian Dwyer; Edmund: Nicholas Garrett; Knight/Servant: Jeffrey Stewart; Servant/Captain: Adam Tunnicliffe. Director: James Conway. Conductor: Ryan Wigglesworth. Designer: Adam Wiltshire. Lighting: Guy Hoare. English Touring Opera. The Aurora Orchestra. Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Saturday 9th October 2010.

All photos courtesy of English Touring Opera

 

His words perhaps recall the aged Lear’s earlier hope that he might one day “Unburdened crawl towards death”. Or, as Edgar interprets, they may evoke the more terrifying image of the Day of Judgement. Whatever they infer, choosing Kent’s words as the title of an opera which — its sub-plots stripped away, its minor (and some major) characters shorn of significance — lasts less 90 minutes but which leaves the audience longing for the eponymous conclusion, is a potentially dangerous move.

It’s not that Alexander Goehr’s new opera has no musical or theatrical merits. Indeed, the first act moves briskly along and, for one unfamiliar with its poetical predecessor, raises a few interesting ideas. But, the second act rapidly loses focus; essentially this ‘personal take’ on Lear has little to say or reveal.

“It’s about old men who get it wrong when they have power and influence — and then get into a mess. That’s the reason I’m doing this opera. […] As an incipient old man myself, that’s what interest me about the story. I mean, I can do Romeo and Juliet now — I’m past that stage.’”

So Goehr declared in a recent interview in The Guardian, explaining his decision to tackle one of Shakespeare’s most complex, profound and disturbing plays, and one which defeated even Verdi and Britten, who abandoned long-held ambitions to compose an opera based on King Lear. Now aged 78, Goehr professes that the impetus to tackle Lear came when, suffering from depression upon retiring (reluctantly) from his Professorship at Cambridge University, he happened to have a dream in which the play was ‘staged as a Japanese Noh play’. The resulting opera mingles Noh stylizations with Elizabethan conceits but the sum of the parts lacks substance and coherence. One is reminded less of the successful cross-cultural integration of Noh practices with the medieval Mystery Plays in Britten’s church parables and rather more of the somewhat laboured device of the Male and Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia. Conway’s production — in which the chorus of principals stand (à la Brecht — another layer of cultural reference) white-faced and stock-still, motionlessly addressing the audience, ritually step through boxes of sand, and indulge in stylized dance movements (for example to accompany the blinding of Gloucester) — taps into the Noh clichés but offers little illumination.

Promised_End_03.gif

Indeed, the shadow of Britten hangs over this opera in more ways than one. The decision to use Shakespeare’s text verbatim recalls the approach of Britten and Pears when constructing the libretto of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In this case, the eminent scholar, the late Frank Kermode, fashioned a libretto which Goehr has arranged in ’24 preludes’. But, while reducing the work to a manageable length — excising several (essential?) aspects of the drama and focusing on the central exchange between Lear and Gloucester — this still leaves the problem of how to find an appropriate melodic idiom for Shakespeare’s poetry. Goehr’s rather spiritless arioso simply does not convey the rich depths and meanings embodied in the sounds and rhythms of the spoken play. Moreover, the composer’s re-ordering of various episodes destroys the narrative coherence and makes it near impossible for anyone lacking knowledge of the original play to follow the psychological development.

The singers and players of English Touring Opera do their best. Lisa Markeby, playing both Cordelia and the Fool — a now familiar theatrical device — is appealing, but she is not given the opportunity to develop and express the full extent of her inner goodness. And, while the expressive focus of the opera is supposedly the meeting of the two foolish old men, Lear and Gloucester, now chastened and wiser as they reflect on their short-comings, the musical fabric fails to convey their supposed transformation. Roderick Earle bellows and blusters as an aggressive Lear, his scenes with Nigel Robson (Gloucester) lacking genuine emotional depth and sincerity. As Edgar, Adrian Dwyer is convincing and impressive. Goneril (Jacqueline Varsey) and Regan (Julia Sporsen) are not musically differentiated and have little dramatic role to play.

Promised_End_04.gif

Ryan Wigglesworth draws clear lines and textures from his band, the Aurora Orchestra. Goehr does create some interesting colours, not least through his use of the chamber organ and guitar — which evoke fittingly Elizabethan timbres — but the composite impression is one of episodic, unrelated colourings designed to fill the gaps between scenes.

In his programme note, Goehr asks for the audience’s indulgence: “So it remains only for me to say, that you will not be home too late and ask that by your clapping you show some approval for what has been done here.” This seems to me to be a patronising appeal to an audience that may long for a less superficial musical response to a play that interrogates essential questions of human existence.

Promised End is at the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House, London on 11, 14, 16 October and then tours until 26 November. For touring details see www.englishtouringopera.org.uk.

Claire Seymour

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):