10 Oct 2010
Technicolour Radamisto at ENO
Handel’s Radamisto came to the ENO at the Coliseum in glorious technicolour.
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.
Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.
If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”
Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?
Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.
On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.
Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.
Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.
Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.
The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.
Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s ﬁrst great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.
The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.
This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.
Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’
Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.
Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.
Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.
Handel’s Radamisto came to the ENO at the Coliseum in glorious technicolour.
Images of Asia proliferate polygamously — Mughal India, Tokugawa Japan, and Chinese restaurant chic, tumbled randomly together. The text, of course, mentions Armenia. Visual indigestion, if you’re culturally aware. But to Handel and his audiences, specifics didn’t matter. Radamisto is a morality tale which transcends time and place.
Tiridate (Ryan McKinny) lusts for Zenobia (Christine Rice) who’s happily married to Radamisto (Lawrence Zazza). To win her he’ll drop his wife Polissena (Sophie Bevan) and usurp Farasmane’s kingdom (Henry Waddington). But Zenobia’s having nothing of it. She’d rather die than be unfaithful. Subplots and complications (they’re all family, for example) are decorative embellishments. The basic message is surprisingly simple: love overcomes all.
This fundamental chastity pervades the whole opera. Structurally, it’s very tight. In neat succession, set piece arias follow one another, allowing each singer to display his or her vocal virtuosity.Simplicity of form, allowing inventive elaboration without blurring the basic line. Much like the set designs. Despite being floridly over the top, these designs are much more minimal than appear at first.
Christine Rice as Zenobia and Lawrence Zazzo as Radamisto
Lawrence Zazzo’s Radamisto is superb. His tessitura isn’t forced but flows well, carefully modulated and well-judged, important in a role which stresses integrity. The extended rhapsody on honour is particularly striking, decorations extending each word, yet flowing naturally, without affectation. You marvel at the inventiveness, but also meditate on meaning. Honour does matter, Radamisto keeps saying as he and Zenobia amply demonstrate. These aren’t just “words”, dwelling on them serves a moral as well as artistic purpose.
The contrast between Radamisto and Tiridate is enhanced counterbalancing Zazzo’s countertenor with Ryan McKinny’s bass-baritone. In baroque, low voices often signify villains, but McKinny doesn’t overdo the inherent power in his voice. Instead he relies on subtle expression, using agile legato. In any case, refinement enhances the role. Tiridate holds a sword poised to kill Radamisto, but the long, lyrical elaboration deflects the menace, Reality, in Handel, is deeper than it seems on the surface.
Christine Rice is exquisitely dignified and gracious. In Carmen, she seemed inhibited, and even as Ariadne in Birtwistle’s The Minotaur she didn’t access the kinkier aspects of the role. As Zenobia, however, she’s ideal. Her patrician reserve perfectly fits the role, so she can create Zenobia’s compelling beauty with her voice. Sophie Bevan’s Polissena and Henry Waddington’s Farasmane impressed too. Ailish Tynan’s Tigrane reached notes higher than might be expected.
Scene from Radamisto
So what was my biggest misgiving about this production? David Alden depicts Tigrane as a grotesque, a camp cross between Sidney Greenstreet and King Farouk, but for no conceivable purpose. Is he trying to inject comic humour? Perhaps it works in a grubby sort of way but it jars with the noble import of this opera. The whole point, for Handel, was to edify. The idea of morality trouncing tyranny was inherently racy in a time when absolute monarchy still held sway. Besides, Tigrane is arguably a hero since it’s he who selflessly resolves matters. This portrayal is misogynistic and homophobic, completely pointless. Admittedly it was part of the 2008 Santa Fe premiere but it’s still deeply offensive and should be dropped.
What Alden lacks in sensitivity, Laurence Cummings made up for with the orchestra, who played with brio under his direction.