Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Aleksandra Kurzak as Rosina [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
24 Jan 2011

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Covent Garden

In my July 2009 review of the first revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2005 production of Il barbiere di Siviglia I commented that the directors, aided by conductor, Antonio Pappano, had reinvigorated this operatic ‘old friend’, injecting freshness and spontaneity into familiar material.

Gioachino Rossini: Il barbiere di Siviglia

Rosina: Aleksandra Kurzak; Count Almaviva: John Osborn; Figaro: Levente Molnár; Doctor Bartolo: Bruno Praticò; Don Basilio: Ildar Abdrazakov; Berta: Jennifer Rhys-Davies; Fiorello: Daniel Grice. Directors: Moshe Leiser, Patrice Caurier. Conductor: Rory Macdonald. Set Designer: Christian Fenouillat. Costume designs: Agostino Cavalca. Lighting: Christophe Forey. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Tuesday 18th January 2011.

Above: Aleksandra Kurzak as Rosina

All photos by Mike Hoban courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

Eighteen months later, under the revival director, Justin Way, the singing is still of a consistently high quality, at times reaching giddy heights, the costumes are just as gaudily dazzling, and the setting zany, even giddily anarchic. But, like a magnum of vintage champagne, its glossy labels promising much but the bottle left uncorked just a bit too long, this first night performance was distinctly lacking in fizz, the whole experience dramatically rather flat. When one of the best of all buffa operas struggles to raise a laugh in its opening hour, you know that something is not quite right.

There were certainly no complaints about the assembled cast of principals. American tenor, John Osborn, was musically and dramatically at ease in the role of Count Almaviva, delivering his opening aria, ‘Ecco ridente’, nonchalantly balanced in the twilit branches beneath the window of his beloved’s boudoir. His voice is quite light, and lacks a truly resonant gleam, but Osborn’s tone is sweet and relaxed, his phrases musically shaped and his projection even. His gentle lyricism deftly conveyed the Count’s heartfelt ardour and the anguish of unrequited love; and he displayed a similarly tender tenore di grazia in his Act 2 ‘Cessa di piu resistere’. As the evening progressed Osborn settled comfortably into the comic capers, enjoying the obsequious fawning of music-maestro, Alonso, and making a convincing and likeable drunken rabble-rouser.

As the self-important factotum, Transylvanian baritone, Levente Molnár, exhibited a powerful vocal instrument and bracing stage presence in the role of Figaro. Emerging from among the ranks of a surprised stall’s audience, springing athletically onto the stage, he brought an extrovert swagger to the role of barber and man-about-town. The energy of his entry was sustained throughout, but I thought there was a bit too much bluster and bluff, and a tendency to shout, particularly at the start. However, he certainly had the measure of the tongue-twisting text in ‘Largo al factotum’.

Bruno Praticò, as Doctor Bartolo, delivered his patter in similarly impressive and slick style in his Act 1 aria, ‘A un dottor delta mia sorte’, and demonstrated a sure sense of comic timing. But, he was ‘out-done’ in the comedy stakes by the extraordinary performance of Russian bass, Ildar Abdrazakov, whose powerful boom was almost over-shadowed by his astonishing physical exploits, which suggested that this Basilio was not only warped by malice and envy but truly demented!

Among this strong cast, the star of the show was, however, Polish soprano, Aleksandra Kurzak. Only the previous day, Kurzak had signed an exclusive recording contract with Decca, and the studio must be delighted and excited to have ‘hooked’ a singer who is certainly a luminary in the making. Kurzak combines technical assurance with an innate sense of dramatic pacing. The pyrotechnics scarcely caused her to bat an eyelid: she made it sound entirely natural to leap between registers and ornament extravagantly — seldom can coloratura have seemed so ‘normal’ a means of communication. Her effortless delivery, swooning sweetness turning to steely feistiness in a flash, was utterly bewitching. And she knows how to play the audience, her petulant dart-throwing in the middle of a sparkling, nimble ‘Una voce poco fa’, prompted the first real laugh, as Rosina’s ‘goodness’ — ‘I’m obedient, gentle, and loving’ — was ironically belied by a sudden flash of adolescent rage.

BARBIERE-10013_0019-MOLNAR&.gifLevente Molnár as Figaro and John Osborn as Count Almaviva

The designs are inventive and Christian Fenouillat’s minimalist sets eye-catching: a crescent moon against a purple sky gleamingly illuminates a silhouetted tree beneath Rosina’s balcony; stripy pastel clashes and playful postmodern dots are eye-watering, and emphasise the surreal air of anarchy. This visual playfulness is aptly complemented by the costumes of Agostino Cavalca.

Rory Macdonald conducted the ROH orchestra in a precise but unexhilarating reading of the score, accurate and crisply articulated but lacking frisson or a sense of risk. The greatest sense of danger came in the Act 1 finale, when the wildly tilting stage threatened to tip and toss the chorus of plastic-gowned gendarmes — who struggled gamely to stay upright but gave little impression of knowing what they would do if they did regain the perpendicular — into a muddled mound. There was a sense of impending doom as stage and pit also went adrift. Plenty of chaos, but not much comedy.

BARBIERE-10013_0005-GRICE&O.gifDaniel Grice as Fiorello, John Osborn as Count Almaviva and The Royal Opera Chorus

During the first revival, American soprano, Joyce DiDonato, did indeed take a tumble, breaking her leg in the process, and was forced to deliver the remainder of the run wheel-chair bound. Perhaps it was the added sense of unpredictably that this lent to the proceedings that kept me on the edge of my seat last time around. The dress rehearsal for this revival did in fact suffer its own near-disaster, when the stage set and machinery refused to co-operate and the cast had to perform in front of the safety curtain, the chorus singing from the stalls. It seems that this revival needs a touch of the unexpected to add a little spontaneity and surprise.

Claire Seymour

Click here for Claire’s review of the first revival.

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):