Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



Elisabeth Meister as Constanza [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera]
02 Nov 2010

Haydn: L’isola disabitata, London

Haydn’s L’isola disabitata is ideally suited to the modern taste for chamber opera. This is Haydn for those who think they don’t like his operas or even baroque form.

Franz Joseph Hadyn: L’isola disabitata

Constanza: Elisabeth Meister; Gernando: Steven Ebel; Silvia: Anna Devin; Enrico: Daniel Grice. Conductor: Volker Krafft. Director: Rodula Gaitanou. Designer: Jamie Vartan. Movement Director: Mandy Demetrious. Fight Director: Philip d’Orleans. Southbank Sinfonia. Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, 28th October 2010.

Above: Elisabeth Meister as Constanza

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera


Written in 1799, just before the three best known operas, L’isola disabitata is enjoying a major revival all of its own, thanks to the 2007 edition used at the Young Artists production in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House, London. It’s short, snappy and there are no high male voices.

ISOLA-00098-DEVIN-AS-SILVIA.gifAnna Devin as Silvia

Its beauty lies in its Spartan simplicity. This is a deserted island, after all. As with so much pre 19th century music, elaboration masks strong basic themes. L’isola disabitata is remarkably clear sighted. It’s about keeping faith, despite adversity.

Constanza (Elisabeth Meister) is a woman who has been on an isolated island for 13 years. She thinks she’s been deserted by her husband Genandro (Steven Ebel). The name “Constanza” means “constancy”, but Constanza is no passive saint like Penelope in Greek myth who kept faith with Odysseus when he wandered. Constanza gets angry, so mad that she almost becomes mad with bitterness. She passes the years by incising an inscription deeper and deeper into the surface of a rock. It’s a powerfully potent curse. Her love has turned to unrelenting hate.

When Constanza was abandoned, she held her infant sister in her arms. Silvia (Anna Devlin) is a feral child, who has grown up in isolation, knowing nothing of “civilized” society. She’s had no role model other than Constanza, so she’s been taught to fear men. While Constanza turns inward, Silvia enjoys the island, living with nature (symbolized in this production by a toy animal which also indicates her innocence).

Mysteriously, Gernando (Steven Ebel), her husband returns to the island. He hadn’t deserted Constanza of his own free will, but had been kidnapped by marauding soldiers. Recognizing the surroundings, he sets out to search for her and save her. Eventually they are reunited. Constanza destroys the curse, realizing it was wrong. Faith triumphs, against all odds.

ISOLA---00549---GRICE-(C)PE.gifDaniel Grice as Enrico

Silvia who has been taught to hate men, encounters Gernando’s companion, Enrico (Daniel Grice). At first she fears him, but they fall in love. Silvia and Enrico form a standard love interest sub plot, which enlivens the otherwise grim tale of Constanza’s suffering. But Haydn’s also commenting on the idea of society in Arcadian surroundings. He’s very much in tune with the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Although L’isola disabitata predicates on marital fidelity, there are deeper, less explicit political implications.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that this opera should appeal to modern audiences. Although Haydn worked for Prince Esterházy, he wasn’t subservient, as his Symphony no 45, “The Farewell” indicates. The American Revolution showed how potent Rousseau’s political concepts could be, the French Revolution signaled the end of Absolute Monarchy. Musically, too, Haydn understood the Zeitgeist. Classical poise tempered baroque opulence. The Sturm und Drang movement, which so influenced Haydn was a precursor of what we now called Romanticism, which ushered in further revolutions in the arts and society.

Although L’isola disabitata is set on an island, the island is in fact no more than a structural concept indicating a situation cut off from the reality of normal society. Haydn uses a contemporary text, by Pietro Metastasio, which refers to barren rocks and smoke — metaphors of oppression, and of Constanza’s moral confusion. Hence the layer of smoke that filled the Linbury Studio Theatre for this production by the Royal Opera House Young Artists programme, enveloping set and singers in the mist. Suddenly there’s a sound of running water. Until the conductor (Volker Krafft) climbs out of the pit, you’re not sure whether the first part of the opera is over or not. Just as Constanza’s disoriented, so are we.

A friend observed that the set “looks like a bomb site”. She’s right, for Constanza must have felt that she’d been hit by disaster. The designs (Jamie Vartan) reflect Constanza’s emotional landscape. She’s desolate, ruined, shattered. She’s lost faith because she invested in the trappings of marriage, rather than love.

ISOLA-00736-EBEL&MEISTER-(C.gifElisabeth Meister as Constanza and Gernando Steven Ebel as Gernando

The spartan designs in this production also reflect Haydn’s music. L’isola disabitata uses only four voices, each distinctly defined and characterized. Until they’re united at the end, they sing alone, reflecting the characters’ inability to link up. The orchestra’s small — nineteen strings, with only two horns, two oboes, bassoon and flute. Minimalist by 19th century standards.

Musically, it’s also “modern”, in the sense that the voice parts are direct and communicate without excess adornment. The orchestral writing follows the words intimately. Sometimes one instrument shadows a voice, delicately picking up details. It’s word painting, almost as sensitive as Lieder would become.

Elisabeth Meister and Steven Ebel excel. Both have been prominent in the Jette Parker Young Artists scheme for some time, and have been heard many times in smaller roles in the main House. Meister memorably stepped in at short notice to sing the Fox in The Cunning Little Vixen. She sang with Ebel in Ebel’s The Truth about Love at the Linbury last year. He also sang Rimenes in Arne’s Atarxerxes. All these have been reviewed in Opera Today — please follow the links.

Daniel Grice’s Enrico was also good — I’d like to hear more of him. Anna Devin’s singing was rather obscured because she had to jump about so much. It’s in keeping with the idea of Silvia as a wild child unfettered by society, so director Rodula Gaitanou and movement director Mandy Demetriou are making a valid point, though overdone.

But the point of Young Artists presentations is learning through experience. There’s more to performance than technical prowess. Life skills count too. Please read “Polishing gemstones” where Simona Mihai and Kai Rüütel speak on the benefits of the Programme, one of the most highly regarded in Europe. The scheme also trains people in all aspects of opera, such as the conductor Volker Krafft, the director, designer, lighting and fighting. It’s tough being a creative artist especially in this financial climate. But if this excellent performance of Haydn L’isola disabitata is anything to go by, the Young Artists have proved themselves.

Anne Ozorio

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):