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

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

Dulwich Opera’s Carmen

Dulwich Opera Company’s Carmen was a convincingly successful show.  This was mainly due to succinct musical direction and rigorous dramatic direction.  It also meant that the proximity of the action was a fascinating treat, and by the artists being young, and easy on the eye.

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):