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

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.

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Angela Gheorghiu as Adriana Lecouvreur [Photo by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera]
21 Nov 2010

Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera

Two months into the current season, after a string of so-so revivals and a curiosity which deserved to be box-office dynamite but wasn’t, the Royal Opera has finally got round to a star-studded new production.

Francesco Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur

Adriana Lecouvreur: Angela Gheorghiu, Ángeles Blancas Gulín; Maurizio: Jonas Kaufmann; The Prince of Bouillon: Maurizio Muraro: The Princess of Bouillon: Michaela Schuster, Olga Borodina; Michonnet: Alessandro Corbelli; L'Abbate di Chazeuil: Bonaventura Bottone; Poisson: Iain Paton; Quinault: David Soar; Madame Jouvenot: Janis Kelly; Madame Dangeville: Sarah Castle. Conductor: Mark Elder. Director: David McVicar. Set designs: Charles Edwards. Costume designs: Brigitte Reiffenstuel. Lighting design: Adam Silverman. Choreography: Andrew George.

Above: Angela Gheorghiu as Adriana Lecouvreur

All photos by Catherine Ashmore courtesy of The Royal Opera

 

Despite Adriana Lecouvreur being something of a rarity in the UK, having been absent from the stage of Covent Garden for more than a century, the prospect of Angela Gheorghiu taking on the title role for the first time was more than enough to justify the risk — though it is perhaps a sign of the times that it is a co-production with four other international houses, the largest number of collaborators I can ever recall seeing in an opera programme.

If I were producing an opera about theatre and actors, David McVicar is precisely who I would engage to direct it, given his knack for injecting opulent theatricality into the most naturalistic of dramatic situations. And if nobody had told me that this was one of his, it wouldn’t have been difficult to guess. The hallmarks were all there — the vast crowd of supernumeraries, the stage clutter, and Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s deconstructed-Baroque dance costumes to name but a few — but this time McVicar has gone one step, if not many steps further in the name of making a point about the nature of theatre and artifice.

ADRIANA-2442-0867-KAUFMANN-.gifJonas Kaufmann as Maurizio

It was heaven for a geek like me, thanks to the sheer number of references to other shows — maybe a natural progression from the score itself. Cilea was a contemporary of Puccini and Massenet, and most of the aural reminders are from this milieu, but Act 4 in particular evokes a wider range of influences. In McVicar’s staging, a balletomane friend of mine who attended the dress rehearsal picked up on direct references (costumes and choreographic devices) within the Act 3 ballet to Royal Ballet productions of La fille mal gardée, Invitus Invitam and Sylvia. The chorus crowded into their onstage audience-seating much as they did in McVicar’s Alcina for ENO in 1999; then, a marble bust of Handel dominated the stage; here the bust was Moliere’s. It was interesting that of all his own works, this was the one McVicar chose to reference; another opera about the blurred boundary between theatre and reality.

With Charles Edwards’s set dominated by a large box which for much of the opera served as a full-height, fully-formed stage-within-a-stage, the production seemed determined to underline that we were the audience, and what was happening before us was not reality. The mostly naturalistic scenery was garnished with little touches of artificiality; vividly ornate interiors, for example, were finished off not with heavy velvet draperies, but with curtains painted onto wooden flats. Even Act 2, whose stage directions contain no overt references to a theatrical setting, appeared to be taking place on a stage, with the men in particular giving a stylised feel to their entrances and exits. Only in Act 4 was this extra level of artifice dispensed with; though the spectre of the stage continued to loom large over Adriana, it was a bare shell, and suddenly (the ludicrous business of the poisoned violets notwithstanding) it was all a lot more immediate and credible.

So what of the much-hyped cast? Gheorghiu may not be an immediately obvious ‘humble handmaid of art’ but she was poised and charming, playing a very youthful version of this heroine who historically has been associated with the ageing diva. Her voice is very much on the small side given the scoring, and for the intimacy of the first and last acts (which frame Adriana’s two celebrated arias) it was often exquisite. But in the confrontation with the Princesse de Bouillon and again in her vengeful Phèdre monologue, Gheorghiu was a kitten when a tigress was needed. I can’t quite picture how she will hold her own when the role of the Princesse transfers to the mighty Olga Borodina later in the run.

Jonas Kaufmann always seemed on the edge of something spectacular, and the contained restraint with which he treats his large, dark-coloured voice would have been massively exciting had it been part of a broad palette. As it was, he seemed to be trying to demonstrate that a hot-blooded verismo hero can be sung with subtlety and intelligence, while also showing off some of his remarkable technical skill (particularly in his legato, and once, memorably, his impeccable ability to diminuendo on a top note). It was very, very impressive — but all too careful, too measured. It seemed a studied effort in avoiding stereotype (or perhaps he was reining himself in to avoid overpowering Gheorghiu) but I longed for him to let rip.

ADRIANA-2442-1841-SCHUSTER&.gif- Michaela Schuster as Princesse De Bouillon and Bonaventura Bottone as Abbé De Chazeuil

Michaela Schuster was a dramatically-committed if somewhat vocally undisciplined Princesse, though it was a misjudgement (probably the director’s) to have her exchange with Adriana in Act 3 played partly for laughs, which diminished the impact. Alone among the major principals, Alessandro Corbelli — as Adriana’s unrequited admirer, Michonnet — was alone in painting a full and touching character portrait.

Much of the interest, and there was plenty, came from the supporting characters. Janis Kelly (Mlle. Jouvenot) and Sarah Castle (Mlle. Dangeville) sparked off one another in Act 1 in an impeccably-judged battle of wills; Bonaventura Bottone (the Abbé de Chazueil) and Maurizio Muraro (the Prince de Bouillon) gave nicely-detailed character portraits in a production which made them quite stylised and more than a little camp.

Mark Elder’s conducting displayed many of the same characteristics as Kaufmann’s singing — lovely, delicate, but for this repertoire far too careful and finely-crafted. On opening night the Gheorghiu and Kaufmann fans were out in force, with every aria met with cheers. But for me, a bit less decorum and a lot more scenery-chewing, both on stage and in the pit, would have served the opera better, and improved a promising performance in a lovingly-crafted production immeasurably.

Ruth Elleson © 2010

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):