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

Aïda at Aspen

Most opera professionals, including the individuals who do the casting for major houses, despair of finding performers who can match historical standards of singing in operas such as Aïda. Yet a concert performance in Aspen gives a glimmer of hope. It was led by four younger singers who may be part of the future of Verdi singing in America and the world.

Prom 53: Shostakovich — Orango

One might have been forgiven for thinking that both biology and chronology had gone askew at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday evening.

Written on Skin at Lincoln Center

Three years ago I made what may have been my single worst decision in a half century of attending opera. I wasn’t paying close attention when some conference organizers in Aix-en-Provence offered me two tickets to the premiere of a new opera. I opted instead for what seemed like a sure thing: William Christie conducting some Charpentier.

La Púrpura de la Rosa

Advertised in the program as the first opera written in the New World, La Púrpura de la Rosa (PR) was premiered in 1701 in Lima (Peru), but more than the historical feat, true or not, accounts for the piece’s interest.

Pesaro’s Rossini Festival 2015

The 36th Rossini Opera Festival in Rossini’s Pesaro! La gazza ladra (1817), La gazzetta (1816) and L'inganno felice (1812) — the little opera that made Rossini famous.

Santa Fe: Placid Princess of Judea

Unlike the brush fire in a distant neighborhood of the John Crosby Theatre, Santa Fe Opera’s Salome stubbornly failed to ignite.

Airy and Bucolic Glimmerglass Flute

As part of a concerted effort to incorporate local color and resonance into its annual festival, Glimmerglass has re-imagined The Magic Flute in a transformative woodland setting.

Glimmerglass Conquers Cato

Bravura singing and vibrant instrumental playing were on ample display in Glimmerglass Festival’s riveting Cato in Utica.

Energetic Glimmerglass Candide

Bernstein’s Candide seems to have more performance versions than Tales of Hoffmann.

Die Eroberung von Mexico in Salzburg

That’s The Conquest of Mexico, an historical music drama composed in 1991 by German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952). But wait. Wolfgang Rihm construed a few sentences of Artaud’s La Conquête du Mexique (1932) mixed up with bits of Aztec chant and bits of poem(s) by Mexico’s Octavio Paz (d. 1998) to make a libretto.

Scottish Sensation at Glimmerglass

Glimmerglass is celebrating its 40th Festival season with a stylish new production of Verdi’s Macbeth.

Norma in Salzburg

This Salzburg Norma is not new news. This superb production was first seen at the Salzburg Festival’s springtime Whitsun Festival in 2013 with this same cast. It will now travel to a few major European cities.

The power of music: a young cast in a semi-stage account of Monteverdi’s first opera

John Eliot Gardiner conducted a much anticipated performance of Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo at the BBC Proms on 4 August 2015, with his own Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists.

Cold Mountain Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

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):