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

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

Monteverdi, Masters and Poets - Imitation and Emulation

‘[T]hey moderated or increased their voices, loud or soft, heavy or light according to the demands of the piece they were singing; now slowing, breaking of sometimes with a gentle sigh, now singing long passages legato or detached, now groups, now leaps, now with long trills, now with short, or again, with sweet running passages sung softly, to which one sometimes heard an echo answer unexpectedly. They accompanied the music and the sentiment with appropriate facial expressions, glances and gestures, with no awkward movements of the mouth or hands or body which might not express the feelings of the song. They made the words clear in such a way that one could hear even the last syllable of every word, which was never interrupted or suppressed by passages or other embellishments.’

Visionary Wagner - The Flying Dutchman, Finnish National Opera

An exceptional Wagner Der fliegende Holländer, so challenging that, at first, it seems shocking. But Kasper Holten's new production, currently at the Finnish National Opera, is also exceptionally intelligent.

Don Quichotte at Chicago Lyric

A welcome addition to Lyric Opera of Chicago’s roster was its recent production of Jules Massenet’s Don Quichotte.

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

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):