Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Orlando Furioso by Gustave Doré [Source: Wikipedia]
27 Mar 2011

Orlando Furioso, London

Adapting an extended literary work for the stage remains a challenge today and was no less so in the baroque era. Ariosto’s enormously long poem Orlando Furioso was extremely popular and inevitably his highly coloured characters found their way onto the operatic stage.

Antonio Vivaldi: Orlando Furioso (concert performance)

Marie-Nicole Lemieux: Orlando; Veronica Cangemi: Angelica; Franziska Gottwald: Alcina; Philippe Jaroussky: Ruggiero; Daniela Pini: Medoro; Christian Senn: Astolfo; Kristina Hammarström: Bradamante. Ensemble Matheus. Jean-Christophe Spinosi, conductor.

Above: Orlando Furioso by Gustave Doré [Source: Wikipedia]

 

Vivaldi’s first encounter with Orlando was in 1713 when he mounted Ristori’s Orlando Furioso and his own Orlando Finto Pazzo in Venice; the Ristori was a success, his opera less so. In 1727 Vivaldi returned to the subject, this time setting the same libretto that Ristori had used. Not long afterwards, in the 1730’s, Handel would use the same episodes to created two of his greatest operas, Alcina and Orlando.

But whereas Handel created two operas, Vivaldi crammed both plots into a single breathless romp. Handel’s operas are works of great depth and sophistication, whereas Vivaldi’s aim seemed to be to entertain; the drama runs at high speed, the arias are short and lively, the plot mixes magic and humour with occasional shades of drama.

Having given us Handel’s Alcina in December, the Barbican’s Great Performers season on Saturday 26th March brought us Jean-Christophe Spinosi and his Ensemble Malthus in Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso. The performance originated at the Theatre des Champs Elysee, but as is the way of these things illness forced some cast changes so that Daniela Pini and Franziska Gottwald joined the cast at short notice. This meant that Pini and Gottwald sang from the score whereas the remainder of the cast were off the book.

By combining Alcina and Orlando, Vivaldi ended up with a large number of characters, 7 in all, even though Alcina’s sister is mentioned but never appears and the character of Dorinda (present in Handel’s Orlando) is entirely absent. Vivaldi asks a lot of his singers, his arias though generally short in length are very much in the style of his instrumental concerti. Each singer was presented with an opening aria which used a series of variations on the theme of bravura up-tempo virtuosity; each toe-tapping in its way, with brilliant string accompaniment, but fatally lacking in extremes of variety or emotion. It was only when we were two thirds of the way through act 1 that the tempo changed and Philippe Jaroussky’s Ruggiero entered with an aria of haunting lyrical beauty.

Act 1 involved a great deal of introduction and explanation. It was in Act 2 that the real drama started, when Victoria Cangemi’s beautifully lyrical, if scheming, Angelica united with Daniela Pini’s nicely hesitant Medoro. Having been pursued by Marie-Nicole Lemieux’s Orlando, Angelica has led Orlando on and tricked him. Needless to say Orlando goes mad.

Vivaldi’s way the drama here was less sure than Handel’s. When Angelica pretended to respond to Orlando’s attentions Vivaldi gave her an aria of great lyrical beauty, finely sung by Victoria Cangemi; but entirely lacking in an iota of irony or a feeling that Angelica doesn’t actually mean what she says. Marie-Nicole Lemieux was a one woman tour de force as the hero Orlando, a series of bravura arias tremendously sung led to Orlando’s mad scene which closed act 2.

Parallel to this Alcina, played with charm and amused detachment by Franziska Gottwald, was busy captivating Jaroussky’s lyrical and slightly wimp-ish Ruggiero, in turn pursued with amazonic charm by Kristina Hammarstrom’s Bradamante (Ruggiero’s beloved, disguised as a man).

The libretto left the singers little time to create a three dimensional character, they were only able to provide a sketch, usually accompanied by some brilliant singing. Gottwald was notable for the way she suggested Alcina’s charm and the loneliness behind, a woman able to get any man she wanted but unable to form a real relationship. It was her aria towards the end of act, movingly sung by Gottwald, where we first got some real depth of feeling.

In act 3, the two plots collided as Orlando in his madness destroyed the temple holding the key to Alcina’s power; (a strange confusion of operatic plots rather as if Lucia di Lammermoor suddenly appeared and killed Macbeth). Spinosi encouraged Lemieux to move from bravura to over the top in Orlando’s act 3 mad scenes, the style veering towards the 19th century mad scene and even, fatally, G&S’s Mad Margaret. This was an occasion when less might have been more.

Throughout proceedings Gottwald’s Alcina kept her poise and left us in an aura of sadness rather than heart rending grief. Interestingly Angelica was taken to task for the way she had toyed with Orlando’s affections and led him on; a moralising not often found in baroque opera.

The rather protracted tidying up of loose ends in act 3 made me rather admire the way Handel and his librettists often took the blue pencil to final acts and speeded things up; that certainly needed doing here.

Christian Senn was the only lower voice, another knight charmed by Alcina; he seemed at times the only voice of reason.

Though Vivaldi did use trumpets, horns and oboes in the orchestra, he did so extremely sparingly so that the predominant orchestral colour was the strings. Spinosi and his ensemble, quite a large group numbering 28 strings, did full justice to Vivaldi’s brilliant orchestra accompaniments and tuttis.

The opera was presented in what has become the standard for this style of concert performance, with singers at the side of the stage, making generally correct entrances and exits, all the women playing men were helpfully in trousers. It certainly helped the drama that most of them were singing off the book. But more importantly we had singing of such a high order that when Vivaldi did use the music to create drama, we felt the benefit of it. In terms of sheer vocal quality this was an evening hardly to be faulted and the enthusiasm of both singers and ensemble seemed infectious.

Vivaldi’s Orlando Furioso is a long opera; we had over 3 hours of music with a single 20 minute interval in the middle of act 2. As the evening started at 6.30 and finished at 10.10pm, I could not help thinking that Vivaldi’s act structure could have been respected and the piece performed with 2 intervals.

Vivaldi’s opera succeeds on its own terms, that is it entertains; in fact it does so royally. We might wish for Handel’s greater depth, but Vivaldi’s romp is fun especially when presented with such skill as it was here.

Robert Hugill

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):