Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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

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):