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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

The Merry Widow at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its latest production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is presenting Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) featuring Renée Fleming /Nicole Cabell as the widow Hanna Glawari and Thomas Hampson as Count Danilo Danilovich.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Liudmyla Monastyrska as Aida [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
15 Mar 2011

Aida, London

Strict courtly hierarchies and the repressed formality of ritual juxtaposed with violent sexual jealousy and lurid erotic excess … a stage-world more suited to the Straussian insalubrity of Salomé than to the epic grandeur of Verdi’s Aida, perhaps?

Giuseppi Verdi: Aida

Aida: Liudmyla Monastyrska; Radamès: Roberto Alagna; Amneris: Olga Borodina; Ramfis: Vitalij Kowaljow: Amonasro: Michael Volle; King of Egypt: Brindley Sherratt; Messenger: Steven Bell; High Priestess: Madeleine Pierard. Conductor: Fabio Luisi. Director: David McVicar. Associate Director: Leah Hausman. Set Designer: Jean-Marc Puissant. Costume Designer: Moritz Junge. Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Friday, 11th March 2011.

Above: Liudmyla Monastyrska as Aida

All photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

David McVicar’s production, first seen in 2010 and here given its first revival, never wavers in its presentation of grotesque barbarism and sexual abandon — blood-thirsty gladiators run amok among nubile, naked maidens etc. — and while such goings-on may not be to everyone’s taste (indeed, some might argue that ‘taste’ doesn’t feature strongly in the proceedings), McVicar certainly injects freshness into Verdi’s old warhorse, thankfully avoiding the kitsch of cod-Egyptiana.

The first challenge for the audience is a visual one: for Jean-Marc Puissant's sets reject the beauty and exoticism of ancient Egypt in favour of dull modern industrialism: a huge wall of scaffolding, harshly illuminated by diagonal strip lights, dominates the stage. Not an elephant or sphinx in sight; but also little visual beauty to complement the tenderness of the delicate lines that open Verdi’s magical prelude. We are among a barbaric, theocratic society, one driven by human sacrifice: salacious human slaughter blesses Radamès’ departure for war, and the victims’ bloodied bodies are hoisted to form a canopy of carcasses to celebrate his return. Clearly McVicar wants to emphasise the soullessness of this brutal, compassionless community. But, at times he struggles to sustain consistency; for example, the eclectic, international selection of primitive tribal dress worn by the cast seems to have little to do with the gloomy dystopian landscape.

In the absence of a coherent mise-en-scène, it’s left to the singers themselves to provide dramatic logic and focus; and here the problems start, for the cast, while rich in musical talents, display a dearth of interest in communicating narrative or engaging emotionally with each other, preferring the stand-and-deliver approach, bellowing into the auditorium apparently impervious to the manic action occurring behind them.

There are two casts for this revival. Only one member of the original cast, Micaela Carosi, was expected to reprise her role, as the eponymous princess in the ‘Cast A’ performances; however, due to pregnancy (the official line goes …) she withdrew and was replaced at short notice by the Ukrainian soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska. Making her house debut — she is to return in May as Lady Macbeth in Phyllida Lloyd’s production — Monastyrska revealed a powerful, opulent voice, firm and controlled in the lower register (in ‘Presago il core’, for example), and full in tone right to the top; in her great Nile scene aria, ‘O patria mia’, she floated the fiendish final phrases with ease, her breath control superb. At times, she made effective use of a dusky, exotic colouring, but it’s a shame that it was impossible to distinguish a single word of the text, and she didn’t quite have the confidence to risk the true pianissimos that the score demands.

AIDA-BC201103080125a-ALAGNA.gifRoberto Alagna as Radames and Priestesses

Roberto Alagna has an uneven history in the role of Radamès (audience displeasure with his ‘Celeste Aida’ led to his infamous walk-out at La Scala in 2006), and some have judged his voice too small for the part. However, here he showed that he now has the required vocal power; brimming with confidence, he never once lessened the ardour. Indeed, this was a puffed-up, machismo reading of Radamès, and again there was little in the way of what one might call acting. He opted out of the morendo on the high B at the close of ‘Celeste Aida’, choosing instead the less risky alternative of repeating the final phrase slightly less loudly. A lack of nuance diminished the poignancy of the final duet (and the bare stage suggested that McVicar had run out of ideas by the later acts), but overall there was plenty of heroic strength and earnestness, which seemed to satisfy the crowd.

As Amneris, Russian mezzo soprano Olga Borodina was similarly impressive in vocal stature, and she achieved a true Verdian colour and warmth. She shared the theatrical weaknesses of the other principals, but her stunning, burnished tone was apt compensation. Dramatic credibility was restored by Michael Volle, a resonant and commanding Amonasro whose Act 3 duet with Aida was a rare and moving moment of engagement, interaction and insight; here, Volle truly communicated the father’s appreciation and regret that his own public actions and concerns will cause his daughter to suffer such deep private pain. In the smaller roles, Vitalij Kowaljow was underwhelming as Ramfis — perhaps his voice was muffled by his ridiculously over-sized headdress? — but Brindley Sherratt, an imperious King of Egypt, was in fine voice.

AIDA-BC201103080230-BORODIN.gifOlga Borodina as Amneris and The Royal Opera Chorus

Apart from one or two places where singers and orchestra momentary came adrift, Fabio Luisi did an excellent job in the pit, whipping up the players in the climactic moments, and demonstrating a strong sense of the shape and pace of the whole.

Overall, despite its musical strengths and potentially intriguing concept, this production remains unsatisfying. Part of the problem is that McVicar is absorbed primarily by the ‘love triangle’ but does not connect the protagonists’ experience with the wider context. In contrast to the dynamic dramatic swiftness of Verdi’s other political intrigues, Aida is unwieldy and often downright static. One can’t get away from the fact that Verdi’s opera is a big, bold beast; the challenge is to both juxtapose and integrate the moments of private intimacy with the grand ceremony and pageantry of public triumphal processions and dances. McVicar gives us only one half of the show; Radamès’ commanding entry at the commencement of the Grand March, stage-enveloping train majestically trailing in his wake, is a rare and arresting moment of grandeur. More usually, the crowd scenes are under-directed — why have extra chorus members if you don’t know what to do with them, or simply aren’t interested? And there’s just too much standing about and arm waving: ironically, in striving for the shock of the new, McVicar has lapsed into the clichés of old.

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):