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

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Stuart Skelton as Parsifal [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]
20 Feb 2011

Parsifal, ENO

This production retains a special place in my heart: its first outing in 1999 was my first Parsifal in the theatre. Saving up my student pennies, I made the journey not once but twice from Cambridge to London, was mightily impressed the first time and a little irritated the second.

Amfortas: Iain Paterson; Titurel: Andrew Greenan; Gurnemanz: Sir John Tomlinson; Klingsor: Tom Fox; Parsifal: Stuart Skelton; Kundry: Jane Dutton; First Knight: Adrian Dwyer; Second Knight: Robert Winslade Anderson; First Squire: Julia Sporsén; Second Squire: Stephanie Marshall; Third Squire: Christopher Turner; Fourth Squire: Michael Bracegirdle; Voice from Above: Amy Kerenza Sedgwick; First Group of Flowermaidens: Sarah-Jane Davies, Julia Sporsén, Helena Dix; Second Group of Flowermaidens: Meeta Ravel, Sarah Jane Brandon, Stephanie Marshall. Director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff; Associate Director: Dan Dooner; Designer: Raimund Bauer; Costumes: Andrea Schmidt-Futterer; Lighting: Duane Schuler; Choreography: Denni Sayers. Orchestra of the English National Opera; Chorus of the English National Opera and additional chorus (chorus master: Martin Merry); Mark Wigglesworth (conductor). Coliseum, London, Wednesday 16 February 2011.

Above: Stuart Skelton as Parsifal

All photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera

 

Even though I began to harbour doubts about some aspects of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production, above all its ending, it remains preferable to many I have seen in the meantime. Stefan Herheim’s astounding Bayreuth version stands in a class of its own. Leaving that aside, however, Lehnhoff is immeasurably superior, say, to the pitiful, incoherent offeringsfrom Klaus Michael Grüber for Covent Garden — why on earth did the Royal Opera revive a universally derided non-production? — or Bernd Eichinger’s confused effort for the Berlin State Opera, let alone glimpses of Tony Palmer’s cod-mediævalism for the Mariinsky. Lehnhoff’s conception, powerfully aided by Raimund Bauer’s stage designs, stands very much in the shadow of the Holocaust, taking as a further, generally productive cue the Waste Land’s ‘heap of broken images’. Apposite both to Wagner’s drama ‘in itself’ and to how we may now feel compelled to consider it, we encounter in the first act a community clearly in need of rejuvenation; by the time of the third act, much has turned to rubble and stone, it not being clear until the end whether there should remain any hope at all, even under Parsifal, of that rejuvenation. The second act seems less sure of itself, its abiding images being the bizarre costumes Andrea Schmidt-Futterer allots to Klingsor (weirdly space-age) and Kundry (a strange chrysalis, out of and into which she awkwardly squeezes herself). But compared to the horrors of Grüber’s Covent Garden production, we perhaps should not concern ourselves unduly with that. What the whole lacked, I thought, was more incisive direction on stage, doubtless a consequence of Lehnhoff’s absence through illness: there was more than the occasional hint of a routine ‘revival’, a great pity given the ideas presented.

The broken railway line present during the whole of the third act is a powerful ‘broken image’, presumably intended to refer to Auschwitz. But what is being said there? That the variety of revival offered by the community’s new leader leads to racial rather than Schopenhauerian annihilation? That would be wrong-headed in the extreme, but a point of view at least, yet it seems undercut by the joy with which Kundry — she does not die — and Parsifal begin their journey along the line. The implication seems to be that they are wandering off to initiate a sexual relationship: bewildering, and arguably offensive, in the production’s context. The production, understandably, appears to waver between a quasi-Adornian attempt to ‘rescue’ Wagner and a desire to condemn him. Part of the reason, I suspect, why this conundrum presents itself is the production’s absolute refusal to engage with the work’s complex relationship towards Christianity. (I should direct anyone interested in my thoughts on the latter to an article in The Wagner Journal, 3/3, pp.29-59.) Simply to ignore the issue seems to me an unduly easy way out. And yes, that includes the deflating absence of any substitute for the second-act Sign of the Cross; text and music cry out for something, whatever it might be.

Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting was for the most part something to savour. Parsifal is by any standards a tough proposition, but the structure was largely in place, most impressively of all in the first act, which opened with a beautifully slow yet sustained prelude. The third act occasionally dragged: not a matter of tempo as such, but of faltering line; however, I should not wish to exaggerate. The score’s dialectic between horizontal and vertical demands was more surely navigated than I have often heard. Moreover, the ENO orchestra gave perhaps the finest performance I have ever heard from it; I have certainly never heard it finer. Strings had weight, sweetness, and silkiness, as required, whilst the rounded tone of the brass, sepulchral and never brash, proved exemplary.

Parsifal_Stuart_Skelton_Jane_Dutton_3_credit_Richard_Hubert_Smith.pngStuart Skelton as Parsifal and Jane Dutton as Kundry

Allowances had to be made for some of the vocal portrayals — and for almost all of Richard Stokes’s English translation. The latter is doubtless an horrendously difficult task to undertake, but some of the inaccuracies — why change a gander to a ‘duckling’, making nonsense of the relationship to a goose? — and banalities could surely have been improved upon. Choral singing was generally very good. Jane Dutton’s Kundry was sadly below par; one could only regret the absence, owing to ‘artistic differences’, of the originally advertised Iréne Theorin. Sir John Tomlinson’s voice is becoming increasingly threadbare at the top, but there was no denying the overall majesty of his Gurnemanz, however impoverished the great narrations may have been by the act of translation. Iain Paterson had a slightly shaky start as Amfortas, but recovered well, soon erasing unfortunate memories of his bizarre miscasting by ENO as Don Giovanni; here, instead, we had a typically detailed response to text and music, and a credible dramatic assumption, for the most part finely acted on stage. Tom Fox and Andrew Greenan made their respective marks without blemish as Klingsor and Titurel, both rising vocally above the handicap of their strange costumes. Stuart Skelton displayed a fine Heldentenor in the title role, very much in the baritonal, ‘Bayreuth’ tradition. As with many of the best exponents of the role, he left one initially a little disappointed, an apparent disappointment rectified by the appreciation of dramatic strategy: the first act Parsifal should sound somewhat vacant, in order to allow for the extraordinary development the character undergoes. (Even ‘extraordinary’ is to put it mildly.) The voice lacks nothing in power; if anything, the thought occurred that it might have benefited from a larger space.

Parsifal_Iain_Patterson_Adrian_Dwyer_Robert_Winslade_Anderson_2_.pngIain Patterson as Amfortas, Adrian Dwyer as First Knight and Robert Winslade Anderson as Second Knight

Indeed, I still wonder whether a theatre other than the Bayreuth Festspielhaus is a suitable venue for staging Parsifal at all: not out of misplaced ‘Bayreuth Idealist’ piety, but rather because I think other, non-theatrical spaces, from Siena Cathedral to the Tate Modern Turbine Hall, might prove much more appropriate. A work that has so far transcended the narrow horizons of the Italianate opera house — or, in the case of the Coliseum case, the music hall! — jars somewhat in such a setting. Whether one considers that jarring productive may be a matter of taste, however, and the problem, such as it is, is not ENO’s alone; far from it.

Mark Berry

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):