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

Götterdämmerung in San Francisco

The truly tragic moments of this long history rich in humanity behind us we embark on the sordid tale of the Lord of the Gibichungs’s marriage to Brünnhilde and the cowardly murder of Siegfried, to arrive at some sort of conclusion where Brünnhilde sacrifices herself to somehow empower women. Or something.

Siegfried in San Francisco

We discover the child of incestuous love, we ponder a god’s confusion, we anticipate an awakening. Most of all we marvel at genius of the composer and admire the canny story telling of the Zambello production.

Boris Godunov in San Francisco

Yes, just when you thought Wotan was the only big guy in town San Francisco Symphony (just across a small street from San Francisco Opera), offered three staged performances of the Mussorgsky masterpiece Boris Godunov in direct competition with San Francisco Opera’s three Ring des Nibelungen cycles.

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Gritton [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]
03 Dec 2010

Die Entführung aus den Serail, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

With its tricky ‘orientalist’ connotations, Singspiel-originating spoken dialogue, not to mention the problem of finding five outstanding singers who can cope with the considerable demands of the solo roles (and the commercial challenge presented by the need to pay a chorus who sing barely a few bars of music), Mozart’s Die Entführung aus den Serail does not receive as many stagings as it deserves.

W. A. Mozart: Die Entführung aus den Serail

Belmonte: Frédéric Antoun; Pedrillo: Tilman Lichdi; Constanze: Susan Gritton; Blonde: Malin Christensson; Osmin: Alastair Miles. Narrator: Simon Butteriss. The Joyful Company of Singers. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor: Bernard Labadie. Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Wednesday, 24 November 2010.

Above: Susan Gritton [Photo courtesy of Askonas Holt]

 

In 1781, having finally shaken off his over-bearing father, Mozart found himself in Vienna, a city which had previously welcomed and feted him as a prodigious child performer but which had little knowledge of his early operatic successes; or, indeed, awareness of his operatic ambitions. When Gottleib Stephanie the Younger, a successful actor and dramatist who had recently taken charge of the National Singspiel in Vienna, happened to give the young composer a libretto to consider, Mozart’s interest was immediately stimulated, and he wrote enthusiastically to his father of about his new ‘Turkish’ project. The subject matter was ‘convenient’ for the intended occasion of the premiere was the state visit in September by Grand Duke Paul Petrovich of Russia and his wife, in order to devise a clandestine agreement that would allow Austria and Russia to begin dividing up the Ottoman Empire.

Although, in the event, Mozart’s opera was not completed in time for the diplomatic visit, its colonial, propagandistic overtones can sit uneasily with modern audiences. Add to this the idiosyncrasies of the singspiel genre, and it is perhaps not surprising that performances of this opera are relatively rare. However, it contains many delights, and this concert performance of a new translation and narration, commissioned from Simon Butteriss by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, tackled the potential problems bravely, and with striking wit and panache.

This may be opera seria, but Butteriss has adopted an altogether more ambiguous mode; his translation and narration are wry, self-referential, and self-knowing. This might have proved tiresome, but in the fairly intimate setting of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, among a musically knowledgeable audience, he struck just the right note.

Much of the credit for the success of this performance must go to conductor Bernard Labadie, who moved the action swiftly on, whipping up a dramatic momentum and comic immediacy from his performers. The overture was pacy, perhaps overly so, but Labadie managed the extraordinary integration of the overture and opening scene with aplomb, controlling the transition between the multi-section, multi-tempi overture and the first aria most skilfully and establishing a dramatic vitality which was sustained throughout the performance. Without undue exaggeration, Labadie drew striking contrasts from his orchestra: a piquant piccolo and oboe complemented the interesting, nuanced timbres of the trumpets and horns, and enthusiastic string playing provided a springy foundation for woodwind colourings. Moreover, Labadie maintained a good balance between instrumentalists and singers, particularly in the concertante-style numbers. In particular, in ‘Martern aller Arten’ — which is practically a sinfonia concertante for voice and instruments — Susan Gritton’s voice swelled magnificently, but the soloist remained only one of several solo instruments.

The young French-Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun displayed a beautifully smooth line, as the fervent Belmonte, and would undoubtedly have won the heart of Constanze with ease. After some initial wobbles of intonation, he settled effortlessly into the suavity of the role, his ardent tone adding weight and variety of colour. Dramatically relaxed throughout, Antoun’s aria, ‘Ich baue ganz auf deine Stärke’, was particularly impressive.

As Pedrillo, Tilman Lichdi demonstrated a sharp sense of wit (the risk of overkill was just about kept at bay), but his important serenade, ‘In Mohrenland gefangen war’, presented a welcome contrast and was expertly controlled and shaped.

Alastair Miles was a last-minute substitute for Timothy Mirfin in the role of Osmin, and this may explain his occasional air of overly serious concentration. While he used his face expressively, his need to read from the score did rather detach him from the relaxed immediacy of Lichdi’s and Antoun’s confident partnership. Miles gave a solid performance, and articulated the text well, but found the lower regions of the role quite challenging.

Susan Gritton, as Constanze, demonstrated the stunningly beautiful lyricism for which she is renowned and negotiated the intricacies with ease, although she didn’t always pay sufficient attention to the openings and endings of phrases. Faced with the comic capers of Pedrillo, Blonde and Osmin, Gritton effectively established the dignity of the role. She clutched a score, her thumb marking the page, throughout, although it remained closed; as Gritton has previously recorded this work it made one wonder why this was necessary as it was a little distracting. Moreover, her diction was rather careless. Denigrated as “hack work” by Mozart scholars such as William Mann, and disparaged by Edward Dent as the “very worst [libretto Mozart] ever set to music”, the text here was sung in German with English subtitles. Even if we allow that the verse may be execrable, it still would have been nice to have consistently heard the German enunciated clearly and crisply.

Malin Christensson had a battle to complement Gritton’s vocal weight, particularly in the ensembles where the latter projected powerfully and with poise; but as Blonde, Christensson gave a convincing, committed reading of the strong-minded servant and sang sweetly, with vivacious animation.

The Joyful Company of Singers waited patiently for their brief chorus at the end of Act 1; in the event, they were rather subdued, lacking the necessary lightness and energy — although this may have been a result of their positioning, at the rear of the stage, which made it difficult to project over the vibrant orchestral fanfares.

Butterriss’ obvious enthusiasm for this opera was contagious; his urbane narration, slickly sliding between comedy and seriousness, banished any sense of the potential discomforts or difficulties of the singspiel genre, and drew committed performances from his colleagues. Overall this was an enchanting evening, one which made one long for a full staging of this opera.

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):