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

Don Giovanni, Bavarian State Opera

All told, this was probably the best Don Giovanni I have seen and heard. Judging opera performances - perhaps we should not be ‘judging’ at all, but let us leave that on one side - is a difficult task: there are so many variables, at least as many as in a play and a concert combined, but then there is the issue of that ‘combination’ too.

A dance to life in Munich’s Indes galantes

Can one justly “review” a streamed performance? Probably not. But however different or diminished such a performance, one can—and must—bear witness to such an event when it represents a landmark in the evolution of an art form.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

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):