Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Natalie Dessay as Lucia [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]
15 Mar 2011

Lucia, New York

It costs a lot to look cheap. And it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of the Metropolitan Opera’s current revival of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, it takes a lot of talent to produce underwhelming opera.

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Lucia: Natalie Dessay; Edgardo: Joseph Calleja; Enrico: Ludovic Tézier. Raimondo: Kwangchul Youn. Conductor: Patrick Summers. Production: Mary Zimmerman. Set Designer: Daniel Ostling. Costume Designer: Mara Blumenfeld. Lighting Designer: T. J. Gerckens. Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig.

Above: Natalie Dessay as Lucia [Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera]

 

Despite what anyone says regarding soprano Natalie Dessay’s vocal technique or her attendance record at the Met, she is undoubtedly an exciting performer to watch. Joseph Calleja and Ludovic Tézier both bring ample good looks and stage worthiness to the table in addition to fine musicianship and distinctive voices. Director Mary Zimmerman, a 1998 recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” grant, took the theatre world by storm with her 2002 adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. So, why is this Lucia so bland?

LUCIA_Calleja_and_Dessay_29.gifJoseph Calleja as Edgardo and Natalie Dessay as Lucia

From the moment the curtain raises, it appears that the devil is in the details. The overture is a semi-staged affair with depressingly literal lighting effects and, when the action begins, the extremely tight false proscenium looks more like a diorama from the Museum of Natural History than a set from one of the world’s leading opera houses. During the interlude after the first scene, snow falls for no apparent reason other than to justify the large muff that Lucia wields later.

But these are relatively small concerns compared to the generic performances that Zimmerman elicits from her starry cast. Dessay, a stage animal par excellence, even seemed tentative in the first and second acts. Perhaps this was partially due to the limitations placed upon Lucia’s psychological development by making the ghost literally appear during “Regnava nel silenzio.” If Lucia is not unhinged by grief at the beginning, her affection for Edgardo falls short of passion, and the situation with her brother is only vaguely threatening in the second act, then there is little justification for her later actions.

Furthermore, in this production, Lucia appears with her bridegroom at the beginning of Act III, Scene ii and they exit the stage only moments before Raimondo enters and tells the wedding guests what has transpired in the bridal chamber. This robs the audience of seeing Lucia’s shocking transformation from obedient bride and sister into a madwoman. Even worse, the timing is completely off — the horror of the moment stems as much from the realization that the party has gone on for hours as Arturo’s body grew cold as in Lucia’s act itself. There were several such lapses in the storytelling and Zimmerman seems to have stayed too close to the original novel and done the opera a disservice by not treating it as the ripping tale it is.

LUCIA_Dessay_and_Tezier_333.gifLudovic Tézier as Enrico and Natalie Dessay as Lucia

Within the murky and misguided production, the singers did their level best. Dessay rallied for her mad scene which transfixed the audience. Ludovic Tézier looked and sounded the part of Lucia’s brother Enrico, burdened as he was with a costume that made him Severus Snape’s doppelgänger. And while tenor Joseph Calleja was impassioned as Edgardo, unfortunately the tension between the two characters during the Wolf’s Crag scene was nonexistent due to some serious park and bark staging in front of a silly-looking scrim with a mouse hole. Kwangchul Youn was absolute luxury casting in the role of Raimondo and Matthew Plenk handled his duties as Arturo so well that it seemed a real pity to see him go so quickly.

The chorus was well-rehearsed musically but did little to convey the social turmoil that provides the impetus for the action and ultimately serves as a Greek chorus during the opera’s greatest moments of catharsis. Conductor Patrick Summers lead the reliably excellent orchestra with suavity and confidence.

With all the elements in place behind this production — including great source material, a fantastic cast, and the technical and artistic resources of the Metropolitan Opera — the results felt like a waste, much like the blighted life of the opera’s heroine.

Alison Moritz

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):