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

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Vesselina Kasarova {Photo by Marco Borggreve/Sony BMG]
06 Dec 2010

Handel’s Alcina at Barbican Centre, London

The Barbican’s Great Performers season often acts as a receiving house for continental opera productions, thus giving us in London a chance to hear interesting performances without actually having to travel.

George Frederick Handel: Alcina (HWV 34)

Inga Kalna: Alcina, Vesselina Kasarova: Ruggerio, Romina Basso: Bradamante, Veronica Cangemi: Morgana, Benjamin Bruns: Oronte, Luca Tittoto: Melissa, Shintaro Nakajima: Oberto, Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble. Mark Minkowski, conductor. 4th December 2010, Barbican Hall, London.

Above: Vesselina Kasarova {Photo by Marco Borggreve/Sony BMG]

 

The drawback, of course, is that the works are presented in concert rather than staged. On Saturday 4th December, Mark Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble appeared on the final leg of a short tour performing Handel’s Alcina in concert. This tour followed performances at the Vienna State Opera, staged by Adrian Noble. Noble chose to set the opera in the context of the historical Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who lived some 40 years after the premiere of Handel’s opera, so perhaps seeing the work in concert wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

In fact, Minkowski and his cast gave us a highly dramatic concert reading, with one exception all the cast were off the book and made the correct entrances and exits. Not only that, but whilst sitting on stage at the side they continued to react to what was going on. The result was a vivid and highly involving presentation of Handel’s opera and, for me, an almost ideal way to experience opera seria without having a director trying to translate it for me into contemporary dramatic terms.

There had been notices of cast changes well before the date of the concert, with Romina Basso apparently taking over the role of Bradamante only for the concert performances. Basso did use a score, but for much of the time she barely looked at it and her performance was no less dramatic than the rest.

In the title role there was another, last minute, substitution; Latvian soprano Inga Kalna took over from an ailing Anja Harteros. Kalna had already replaced Harteros on an earlier leg of the tour and there was no sense that she was a stand in, she gave a beautifully rounded, fully dramatic account of this fascinating role.

The role of Alcina could easily have been another one of Handel’s bad girl sorceresses such as Medea in Teseo or Melissa in Amadigi di Gaula. But Handel seems to have fallen a little in love with his heroine and instead presents us with a tragic figure who is really in love and who loses her magic powers as a consequence.

Kalna had something of the rather old-fashioned grand manner on stage, perhaps no bad thing when it comes to establishing a character presence on the concert stage. Her voice is rich and her repertoire includes Verdi and Strauss. But she has a lovely focussed tone which meant that all of Handel’s passagework was taken neatly and expressively, her moments of dramatic fire were terrific. But the role is about much more than this and Kalna’s expressive spinning of a line meant that she captured exactly the feeling of melancholy which imbues much of Alcina’s music. So that ‘Ah, mio cor’ (her first aria in Act 2), had a brilliantly intense contrast between the lamenting of the opening section and the angry central section. Minkowski placed the single interval after this aria and it was a terrific way to close the first half.

But for me Kalna’s finest moment was the closing scene of Act 2, when Alcina discovers that she can no longer use her powers. A long recitative is followed by the aria ‘Ombre pallide’ in which Kalna spun lines of quiet intensity. Alcina isn’t actually the major role in the opera; Alcina gets 6 arias plus a trio whereas Ruggiero gets 8 arias plus a trio. But Handel’s sympathy for Alcina ensured that it is Alcina whom we focus on, and Kalna conveyed this with dignity and intensity.

The sign of a good performance of opera seria is not the technical ability to sing all the notes accurately, but the way the singers use the notes expressively. One of the big advantages of this performance was the way all the cast used Handel’s music to project character.

kalna_alcina_riga03.gifInga Kalna as Alcina (Riga) [Photo courtesy of the artist]

This was particularly true of Vesselina Kassarova who sang Ruggiero, Alcina’s love interest. Kassarova seemed to be on better form than I have heard recently, with a brilliant upper voice and lovely dark lower register. The drawback seemed to be that these two registers were not always neatly joined; there were occasional alarming gear shifts. But Kassarova knows how to use baroque music for expressive purposes, her notes really meant something. In the early part of the opera, where Ruggerio is under Alcina’s magic influence, her Ruggiero wasn’t a particularly nice person and we saw quite clearly how he was transformed when the magic was removed. Of course, ‘Sta nell’Ircana’ was a great tour de force, but Kassarova was as impressive in Ruggiero’s other arias. I have a confession though, by the end of the evening I was trying not to look at Kassarova as her excessive expressive mugging during her arias was off-putting.

Romina Basso as Bradamante was equally impressive. Whereas Kassarova was playing a man, Basso was playing a woman playing a man as Ruggiero’s fiancée Bradamante is disguised as her brother Ricciardo. Basso had a slightly lighter voice than Kassarova, providing a nice contrast, with a lovely neat way with Bradamante’s passagework. Her technical brilliance was shown off in Vorrei vendicarmi which Minkowski took at a terrific pace. The original singer of the role also specialised in singing male roles and this shows in the strong way Handel that presents her. Bradamante doesn’t get any of the opera’s big show pieces, but Handel gave her some fine music and Basso created a strong, fully rounded character.

Alcina’s sister Morgana is the soubrette role. For much of the opera she plays with love, discarding Oronte (Benjamin Bruns) when Ricciardo (Basso’s Bradamente in disguise) comes along; then at the end, returning to Oronte with a glorious outpouring of grief in ‘Credete al mio dolore’. Veronica Cangemi was a bit serious in the earlier parts of the opera, underplaying the soubrette; there was a danger of her being too like Alcina. There were times when her upper register seemed a little wayward, but Cangemi is a highly musical singer and her account of ‘Tornami a vagheggiar’, which closes Act 1, was simply brilliant.

Oronte isn’t a huge part, but it is an important one dramatically; in fact the role was written for the 21 year old John Beard who would go on to inspire some of the major tenor roles in Handel’s oratorios. In his first aria I thought that Benjamin Bruns, as Oronte, had a voice which was too big, rather too modern and forward placed for the role. But he settled in nicely and gave a beautifully shaded account of Oronte’s final aria, ‘Un momento di contento’.

The role of Oberto was a late addition to the opera. Handel’s source for the libretto (Broschi’s L’Isola di Alcina) didn’t have the role in at all. Oberto was specifically added for the boy soprano William Savage. Savage would carry on singing for Handel as an adult, but his baritone voice does not seem to have been as impressive as his treble one. Handel created 3 simple, direct arias for the character, all lightly accompanied. Usually the role is sung by a female soprano, but Minkowski used a boy treble, Shintaro Nakajima, from the Vienna Boys Choir. Nakajima was immensely impressive as Oberto, singing Handel’s music fluently and with an unaffected directness. He had a very self-possessed stage presence and was seriously in danger of stealing the show.

Ruggiero’s tutor, Melisso, is a role which Handel reduced when writing the opera, so that the character gets only 1 aria. Baritone Luca Tinttoto accounted himself well in the aria and made you wish he’d been given more to do.

When Handel wrote Teseo, based on a French tragedie lyrique there are indications that he intended to create a mixture of dance and singing in the manner of the French opera, but economics seems to have put paid to this. In Alcina he had Marie Salle and her dance troupe available, so that dance plays a big part in the opera, though is often cut in modern performance. Minkowski gave us all the dances, so that Act 2, after Alcina’s ‘Ombre pallide’ we get dances for ‘divers specters’. Then at the end of Act 3, there are dances for the men who had been turned into stones by Alcina. Here also, the soloists joined in with the singers of the chorus as would have happened in Handel’s day.

Les Musiciens du Louvre — Grenoble were present in strength, with 32 strings and triple woodwind. It was heartening to hear this great music played by stylishly such a large body of players. There were plenty of fine solo moments, including obbligato violin and cello

Minkowski has been conducting Handel with his ensemble for many years and I enjoy his way with the music. His performances seem to more direct, lacking the French accent of some of his colleagues. Speeds were sometimes brisk and the recitatives flowed nicely, but he never went beyond his singers technical abilities and the opera never felt rushed.

In an ideal world, we would have been able to experience Adrian Noble’s staging of the opera in the Barbican Theatre. But Minkowski and his ensemble gave such a fluently dramatic and involving account of Alcina that you hardly noticed the lack of a staging.

Robert Hugill

Handel’s Alcina is the first of a major series of baroque operas at the Barbican Centre, London. All feature specialist European baroque orchestras and major singers. Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso will appear on 26th March 2011 with Lemieux, Larmore, Jaroussky, Stotijn, Cangemi, Basso and Senn. (Ensemble Matheus/Spinosi). Handel’s Ariodante follows on 25th May with DiDonato, Gauvin, Phan, Lemieux, and others (Il complesso barocco/Curtis) For more details please see the Barbican website.

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):