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

The Mikado
06 Mar 2011

Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikado

The front leg of the grand piano may rest at a rather precarious angle, and the out-sized martini glass lean a trifle askew, but Jonathan Miller’s 1986 production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado wears its twenty-five years lightly — as do Stefanos Lazaridis’ eye-wateringly white, gleaming sets.

Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikado

Ko-ko: Richard Suart; Nanki-Poo: Alfie Boe; Yum-Yum: Sophie Bevan; Pooh-Bah: Donald Maxwell; Katisha: Anne Marie Owens; The Mikado: Richard Angas; Pish-Tush: William Allenby; Peep-Bo: Fiona Canfield; Pitti-Sing: Claudia Huckle. Conductor: Peter Robinson. Director: Jonathan Miller. Associate Director: Elaine Tyler-Hall. Set Designer: Stefanos Lazaridis. Lighting Designer: Davy Cunningham. Choreographer: Anthony van Laast. Revival Choreographer: Stephen Speed. Dialogue Coach: Selina Cadell. English National Opera, Saturday 26th February 2011.

 

Miller’s long-runners have been ubiquitous on London’s operatic stages of late — Così and Don Pasquale at Covent Garden, and (in combination with a new L’elisir d’amore), La Boheme, Rigoletto and now The Mikado at the Coliseum. And, the director’s enthusiasm for revisiting and refreshing past projects seems undiminished: having involved himself with this latest revival, he appeared on the opening night to oversee the topsy-turvy affairs.

A superb cast rose to the occasion. As a no-nonsense Yum-Yum, Sophie Bevan delivered ‘The Sun Whose Rays’ which brightness and buoyancy — a moment of ‘normalcy’ among the mayhem. Alfie Boe — kitted out with kiss-curl and blaring blazer — is a Tigger-ish Nanki-Poo, all enthusiasm and bounce; perhaps a little uncertain of his dramatic direction initially, Boe’s wide-eyed innocence came through more effectively in Act 2. His warm, flexible tenor conveyed both youth and sincerity, and matched Bevan’s timbre and colour most pleasingly.

Alongside the drolleries of the young lovers’ courtship, Donald Maxwell’s Pooh-Bah was hilariously haughty; he possesses a powerful baritone, but his strong speaking voice boomed with equal sonority, his Scottish brogue bellowing to the far reaches of the auditorium. Richard Angas, a veteran Mikado of Japan, returned to the role once more; Angas was vocally secure and presented a well-studied portrait of indifferent imperiousness, his understated authority possessing just the right hint of menace.

Anne Marie Owens’ Katisha, glamorously be-jewelled, was perhaps not sufficiently harridan-esque. She effectively brought out the pathos of the role, but was rather too good at arousing our pity. And, she struggled at times to project successfully. Claudia Huckle was more at home in the role of Pitti-Sing: her contralto is clear and bright, and she acted the dialogue entertainingly. Frances Canfield, as Peep-Bo, made the third of a fine trio in ‘Three Little Maids’, although the absence of choreography here (when elsewhere all was manic movement and fizz) was rather a weakness.

The dialogue coach, Selina Cadell, has clearly worked hard to implant the rules of cut-glass R.P. among the cast and chorus, and the distorted vowels certainly come from the back of the throat. There’s always the danger of over-kill, but here and through other conceits Miller captures the essential ‘artifice’ of the work. Nowhere is this made more wryly apparent than with the extravagant preparations for Ko-Ko’s entry, which is anticipated by the kowtowing court with trumpet voluntaries, elaborate genuflections and splashes of rose-petal confetti, only for the high-and-mighty-one to fail to appear … and so, eyes are rolled, grins are fixed, petals are hastily gathered up and the entire sequence is repeated. The zany choreography and props — sashaying headless servants and a fat-suit for The Mikado — together with the over-bright, gleaming lighting, add a frisson of surrealism and risk. Such details scratch at the façade of the dazzling white-and-cream hotel lobby, and perhaps hint at the latent instability of the edifice: Titipu may not ready to topple yet, but there’s the danger of least a wobble or two.

In the pit, Peter Robinson kept things ticking along with precise and well-judged comic timing; if anything the orchestra was a little ‘restrained’, but perhaps this was to allow the text to shine, and Robinson was certainly sensitive to the singers in this regard.

The entire cast, including the shimmying maids and the bopping bell-hops, were clearly having a marvellous party. The engine driving the show is, however, the Lord High Executioner himself, Richard Suart, whose unprincipled, unscrupulous Ko-Ko is effortlessly slick. Emphasising the Executioner’s self-interest and opportunism, Suart’s Ko-Ko is deliciously cynical. Surprisingly he manages to balance slapstick and hamming with innuendo and suggestion. Casting an eye at both the political leader columns and the celebrity gossip pages, his ‘little list’ of those ‘for the chop’ has naturally been updated, and this time around deluded Arab dictators, mincing coalition politicians, philandering footballers, affianced royals and, inevitably, Silvio Berlusconi, all found themselves in the firing line. Suart’s comic timing is superb; he pauses to relish the sharper moments, before rushing on to the next joke, keeping the audience hooked, ever-ready for the next bombshell. His mimicry is spot on, encompassing models as divergent as Olivier’s Richard III, Frankie Howerd and Gordon Brown.

The perfect visual and dramatic embodiment of G.K. Chesterton’s observation that, in fact, none of the jokes in the play fit the Japanese but ‘all the jokes in the play fit the English’, Miller’s 1930’s hotel-foyer staging seemed inspired at its first appearance, has proved itself both reliable and perpetually inventive, and is fast assuming the epithet ‘classic’. At the end of this run, no doubt the costumes will be carefully wrapped in tissue paper, as I don’t expect that this is the last we’ve seen of this production. In contrast to the ‘victims’ on Ko-ko’s list, it really would be missed.

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):