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

Prom 60: Bach and Bruckner

Bruckner, Bruckner, wherever one goes; From Salzburg to London, he is with us, he is with us indeed, and will be next week too. (I shall even be given the Third Symphony another try, on my birthday: the things I do for Daniel Barenboim…) Still, at least it seems to mean that fewer unnecessary Mahler-as-showpiece performances are being foisted upon us. Moreover, in this case, it was good, indeed great Bruckner, rather than one of the interminable number of ‘versions’ of interminable earlier works.

Prom 57: Semyon Bychkov conducts the BBCSO

Thomas Larcher’s Second Symphony (written 2015-16) here received its United Kingdom premiere, its first performance having been given by the Vienna Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov in June this year. A commission from the Austrian National Bank for its bicentenary, it is nevertheless not a celebratory work, instead commemorating those refugees who have met their deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, ‘expressing grief over those who have died and outrage at the misanthropy at home in Austria and elsewhere’.

40 minutes with Barbara Hannigan...in rehearsal

One of the initiatives for the community at the Lucerne Festival is the ‘40 min’ series. A free concert given before the evening’s main event that ranges from chamber music to orchestral rehearsals.

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rachelle Durkin as Countess Almaviva and Peter Coleman-Wright as Count Almaviva [Photo by Branco Gacia courtesy of Opera Australia]
29 Nov 2010

Le nozze di Figaro, Opera Australia

Neil Armfield’s insightful staging of Le nozze di Figaro is making a welcome return in the lead-up to his direction of the Ring Cycle for the Wagner bi-centenary 2013 (the first complete cycle staged in Melbourne in a century).

W. A. Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro

Count Almaviva: Peter Coleman-Wright; Countess Almaviva: Rachelle Durkin; Susanna: Tiffany Speight; Figaro: Teddy Tahu Rhodes; Cherubino: Sian Pendry; Marcellina: Elizabeth Campbell; Bartolo: Warwick Fyfe; Basilio/Curzio: Kanen Breen; Barbarina: Claire Lyon; Antonio: Clifford Plumpton; Bridesmaids: Katherine Wiles & Margaret Plummer; Director: Neil Armfield; Conductor: Marko Letonja Anthony Legge (November 23 & 27); Scenery & Costume Design: Dale Ferguson. State Theatre, The Arts Centre. November 17, 20, 23, 27, December 2, 9, 11 & 15, 2010.

Above: Rachelle Durkin as Countess Almaviva and Peter Coleman-Wright as Count Almaviva [Photo by Branco Gacia courtesy of Opera Australia]

 

Armfield’s view of late eighteenth century life in Spain is a dark one. The Almaviva household is held in the same disdain as the then monarch Carlos IV and his dysfunctional family. Goya inspires Dale Ferguson’s costumes; Countess Almaviva in particular, in oyster satin (and thanks to Rachelle Durkin’s supermodel physique and bearing) has the devastating allure of Goya’s beloved Duchess of Alba. Goya even makes an appearance in act three to ‘photograph’ Figaro’s nuptials and, just as he did in his portrait of the Royal Family, captures a household in sexual, social and political turmoil.

Fergusson’s sets feature deliberate anachronisms that, to my eyes, show the contemptible attitude of the Almaviva’s to their staff. A shabby, vinyl reclining armchair dominates act one for Cherubino then the Count to hide behind or in. It’s the sort of out-of-date furniture that would normally be dumped but here is given to the servants to furnish their quarters. For the wedding celebrations the Count provides a battered tea urn and cafeteria crockery!

I prefer a deeper voiced Figaro contrasting the lighter voiced Count as here. With that gruff edge to his voice Teddy Tahu Rhodes exemplifies the peasant against the more refined voice of Peter Coleman-Wright’s aristocrat. In “Se vuol ballare” he embellishes the repeated theme. The result is a little ungainly but in terms of characterisation the growl works splendidly. Even better in “Non più andrai” he directs the second verse to the Count, seated smugly in the recliner chair, and, towering over the trembling Count, warns him his days of philandering are over too and reminding us how revolutionary this opera (and the play it derives from) was feared to be. Armfield fills the opera with insights like these and the principal singers — especially Coleman-Wright, Rhodes, Durkin and Tiffany Speight — integrate them into their performances with easy assurance.

Tall and sleek Durkin’s arms glide naturally into gestures both graceful and, at appropriate times, erotic. When, in act two, the Count tries to force her away from the door to force open the closet where Cherubino hides, he at first violently lays his gloved hands on her only to let them roam over her breasts and body making the sexual connection still existing between the two — despite their current marital problems — alarmingly obvious. Durkin’s response to this rare moment of contact with her faithless husband, melting at his touch, is simultaneously elegant and erotic. Erotic obsession is the basis of this opera after all and this insight into that eroticism created a frisson. The Countess’s attraction to Cherubino was insightfully played up too; the Countess wilting to his act two serenade like Gomez used to when Morticia spoke French.

Speight’s voice grows in size and stature with each appearance. Speight also has charming way with and special claim on Mozartian maids. Sian Pendry bravely displays the rampaging teenage sexuality of Cherubino behaving at times like a spaniel in heat! She neatly negotiates the rapid pace set for “Non so piu” beautifully enunciating the words as do he rest of the cast.

The secondary characters weave through the story with only occasional success. Elizabeth Campbell’s Marcellina is another character caught in a precarious situation. Her frustrations run deeper than mere anxiety over her age. Her favour with Count Almaviva, depends on her winning her case against Figaro. In Campbell’s hands there is that sense Marcellina is greatly relieved when she finds Figaro is her son and she can escape to bourgeoisie security as Bartolo’s wife. When Armfield’s production was first staged Don Basilio’s and Marcellina’s arias were cut. They were restored for the revival in Sydney, although Marcellina’s is excised for this Melbourne season. The tenor Robert Tear specialises in singing Basilio and devotes an entire essay to him in his book Singer Beware offering an illuminating analysis into “the quality of thought which might invest a small part with a fresh interest and, at the same time, probably alter the usual balance of the opera. “If the aria, is cut,” he writes, “the character becomes extremely hard to play simply because the chance of explaining his character to the audience is taken away, all the earlier behaviour seeming merely eccentric or stupid.” Basilio is a man of great intelligence, according to Tear, “more intelligent than anyone else in the Almaviva household” the seemingly bizarre aria “In quelli anni cui dal poco” is making a point about this “musician/thinker’s position in a philistine aristocratic house of the period.” While the near-revolutionary sentiments of Figaro’s are extrovertly apparent in Armfield’s clever twist in “Non più andrai”, there could have been similar possibilities with Basilio’s aria explaining his philosophy and how it helped him survive the “fooleries of class and politics” surrounding him. Conductor Marko Letonja actually highlights the ascending horn passages at the end of Balisio’s aria so they ring out with a confidence worthy of Beethoven and suggest maybe the triumphant Basilio is another plebeian hero. Kanen Breen plays Basilio primarily for laughs and by the time the aria arrives the character has become a rococo incarnation of Kenneth Williams. It’s an assured performance however; the character slithers around with decreasing fear of his betters.

There is a touch of early music practice from the orchestra; fortepiano replacing the usual harpsichord and the strings adopting that occasionally ‘wiry’ sound associated with early music practice. Acts one and two work the best in this current revival, the sexual and social strain made delightfully relevant by director and cast.

Michael Magnusson

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):