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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Marcos Portugal. Anonymous miniature dating c.1790-1795 [Source: Marcos Portugal]
11 Oct 2010

The Other ‘Marriage of Figaro’

The opening night of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, in Rome in 1816, was violently disrupted by vociferous protests from supporters loyal to Paisiello, whose own comic interpretation of Beaumarchais’ politically-charged play had appeared in 1782.

Marcos Portugal: The Marriage of Figaro

Figaro: Nicholas Merryweather; Susanna: Emily Rowley Jones; Count Almaviva: John-Colyn Gyeantey; Countess Almaviva: Lisa Wilson; Cherubino: Joana Seara; Dr Bartolo: Mark Saberton; Marcellina: Cara Curron; Don Basilio: Robert Winslade Anderson; Antonio: Edmund Connolly; Cecchina: Caroline Kennedy. Conductor: Robin Newton. Director: Jeremy Gray. Bampton Classical Opera with the London Mozart Players. St John’s Smith Square. Thursday 7th October 2010.

Above: Marcos Portugal. Anonymous miniature dating c.1790-1795 [Source: Marcos Portugal]
All photos by Anthony Hall courtesy of Bampton Opera


Fortunately, Bampton Classical Opera’s presentation of a ‘rival’ The Marriage of Figaro, by the little-known Portuguese composer, Marcos Portugal (1762-1830), was not interrupted by raucous complaints by die-hard Mozartians. Given its UK première in the Deanery Gardens at Bampton in July this year, this is believed to be the first production of this witty and effervescent opera since its première during the Venetian Carnival season of 1800.

Gaetano Rossi’s libretto essentially preserves Da Ponte’s familiar plot and structure, a fact which is not surprising given that at this time it was common for libretti to circulate independently of their accompanying scores. Gilly French’s and Jeremy Gray’s translation was typically witty and droll, some self-conscious rhymes (fractious/anxious) and slick one-liners adding to the air of frivolity and recklessness.

_MG_1735.gifNicholas Merryweather as Figaro and Emily Rowley Jones as Susanna

The plot may be immediately recognisable but the characters wear different musical costumes. The young cast were uniformly accomplished and committed; theatrically convincing and consistent, they really entered the spirit of piece, indulging its light-weight humour but also intimating its darker currents. There was a spontaneity and freshness about the on-stage choreography: thus, the ‘parade’ of characters during the overture, which might have seemed contrived, in fact captured a naturalist ‘busyness’ and sense of domestic intrigue. We were given a series of miniature cameos — a sort of cinematic role call — immediately and economically capturing each character’s essential temperament: Figaro’s confident ingenuity, Susanna’s cleverness, Bartolo’s grumpiness and the Countess’s quiet gravity.

Performing his second Bampton Figaro (he appeared as Paisiello’s barber in 2005), Nicholas Merryweather stood out: clear, firm and relaxed of tone, his diction was superb (no mean feat in this venue) and he exhibited a musical and dramatic confidence and ease which surely indicate great successes to come. In his programme notes, David Cranmer explains that, even if Portugal had been familiar with Mozart’s score, it would not have served as a good musical model, for his concise arias — with their energetic accompaniments — would not have provided sufficient opportunity for the singers to show off their virtuosity. Portugal’s first Susanna was Teresa Strinasacchi, evidently a soprano of first-rate technique and expansive range; but Emily Rowley Jones had no difficulty dispatching the demands of Susanna’s sparkling coloratura. Her intonation was unfailing true and her tone engaging.

_MG_1818.gifJoana Seara as Cherubino

I first saw this production at Bampton Deanery Gardens, in July, a picturesque outdoor venue which was perfectly placed to capture the ambience of seductive conspiracy, and I was a little worried how it would transfer to the confined space at St John’s, with its theatrical restrictions and limitations. Interestingly, the result was in fact a tighter sense of theatrical timing and movement. Moreover, some of the characters seemed positively to benefit from the more intimate stage space — John-Colyn Gyeantey’s Count, in particular, presenting a much more focused reading of the role. The rather blundering buffoon-like figure from Bampton was here replaced by an angrier, more severe Count, of greater musical and dramatic stature. Previously, I had found his tone rather unyielding, but now he discovered a weight and compass which greatly enlarged the scope of the part and enhanced the dramatic tension.

The role of the Countess seems to have been constrained by the technical limitations of the first interpreter, Rosa Canzoni; and this is a shame as it would have been nice to have heard more of Lisa Wilson’s sweet, composed tone, which blended so beautifully with Rowley Jones in their Act 2 duet.

A gamine Joana Seara pouted and cringed as the frustrated, gauche Cherubino, but while her upper register dazzled, I sensed a slight hard-edge to her tone, particularly in Act 1. Robert Winslade Anderson bellowed warmly as the vivacious, mischievous music-master; Basilio’s drunken karaoke to the pleasures of women was riotously delivered, eliciting the snide put-down, ‘His music’s worse than Mozart …’ from a contemptuous Figaro. Mark Saberton’s Bartolo and Cara Curran’s Marcellina completed the gifted cast of principals; and Edmund Connolly (Antonio) and Caroline Kennedy (his daughter, Cecchina), delivered these minor roles in charming and accomplished fashion.

_MG_1859.gifJohn-Colyn Gyeantey as Count Almaviva

The sets were devised by Jeremy Gray, Mike Wareham and Anthony Hall, and the lighting design deserves especial mention, with its striking contrasts of bright complementary shades — deep blue suggesting the seductive light of the moon against a rich Seville orange evoking the balmy warmth of both the climate and burgeoning passions; emerald green intimating the cool composure of the Countess juxtaposed against deep purple suggestive of erotic ‘Turkish delights’.

The orchestral players were positioned behind the Moorish screens which effectively portrayed Almaviva’s Andalucian palace, but despite this placement, the ensemble between stage and ‘pit’ was surprisingly good; only occasionally did one or two of the singers slightly anticipate — which was surprising as Robin Newton, conducting the lucid, bright London Mozart Players, urged the action along at a brisk pace, whirling us through the first act and establishing an exciting dramatic momentum. Indeed effectively he revealed the dynamic quality of some of Portugal’s ensembles, particularly at the end of Act 1 and during the chaotic shenanigans of the Act 2 sextet.

Leaving the church, one patron was heard to remark, ‘I really hadn’t expected the music to be so good’. In fact, he should not have been surprised: Bampton Classical Opera are committed to reviving works of genuine musical and dramatic value. Their courageous repertoire is meticulously researched and selected, and thoughtfully and inventively staged.

_MG_1589.gifLisa Wilson as Countess Rosina

Bampton have give us Paisiello’s Barber and Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni (1997 and 2004). What’s to come? A neglected Così? Portugal’s Figaro is unlikely to replace Mozart’s barber in the opera-going public’s affection, but his joyful opera is definitely worth hearing. It may lack the intensity of Mozart’s complex dramatic ensembles but its chain of charming arias and duets reveals rich musical resources and engaging invention. It is not merely a ‘curiosity’ but a work of considerable operatic merit — and it’s a pity that not more of the British opera press were here to enjoy it.

Bampton Classical Opera perform Thomas Arne’s The Judgement of Paris and extracts from Alfred at Wotton House, Buckinghamshire and The Holywell Music Room in November 2010. Gluck’s Il parnasso confuso will receive its UK première at the Purcell Room, London in June 2011; and at the Buxton Festival 2011 the company will present Cimarosa’s L’Italiana in Londra.

Claire Seymour

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