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 Wows Audience at Santa Fe World Premiere

On August 1, 2015, Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Cold Mountain, a brand new opera composed by Pulizer Prize and Grammy winner Jennifer Higdon.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Giselle Allen as Tosca and Jesus Leon as Cavaradossi [Photo courtesy of NI Opera]
08 Apr 2011

Tosca, NI Opera

“Show goes on despite fresh bomb scare”. Not exactly the sort of headline a new opera company might have dreamt of for its inaugural production.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Floria Tosca: Giselle Allen (31st March/2nd April) Lee Bisset (1st April matinee performance); Mario Cavaradossi: Jesus Leon; Scarpia: Paul Carey Jones; Sacristan: Brendan Collins; Angelotti: John Molloy; Spoletta: Andrew Rees. Director: Oliver Mears. Conductor: Nicholas Chalmers. Designer: Simon Holdsworth. Lighting Designer: Kevin Treacy.

Above: Giselle Allen as Tosca and Jesus Leon as Cavaradossi

Photos courtesy of NI Opera

 

It’s what happened to Northern Ireland Opera, however, on day two of its Tosca staging, when a device planted by dissident terrorists (the second in five days) forced the rapid abandonment of St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry, the Act One venue in this site-specific staging. The show did indeed go on: Act One as a concert performance, Acts Two and Three in the city’s Guildhall and St Columb’s Hall, as scheduled. “We were prepared and decided we were going to go ahead with it anyway”, commented conductor Nicholas Chalmers stoically. “We will not be beaten”.

Artistically the production was a triumph. Its keynote was the studious avoidance of all the blowsiness and bombast which can reduce Tosca to the “shabby little shocker” of operatic legend. Oliver Mears’s staging had shock without shabbiness: in calm, clinical fashion he cut to the political quick of the drama, the raw ingredients of political struggle, state oppression, torture, murder, suicide and religion starkly anatomised in a city where for the thirty years of “The Troubles” (Northern Ireland’s vicious sectarian conflict) they were the lingua franca of everyday existence. A Tosca with contemporary relevance? Just a little…

Oliver_Mears_head_shot.gifOliver Mears

Act Two’s extended confrontation between Tosca and police chief Scarpia was in this respect seminal. Belfast-born Giselle Allen, in her first Tosca, delivered an already sharply modulated and nuanced reading of the part, unleashing fulsome waves of tone in the most straitened outbursts, retaining poise and focus in quieter, self-confessional passages. No surprise to learn that she is already an acclaimed Jenůfa. The Scarpia, Paul Carey Jones, was a study in restrained menace, cold, icy, vocally unhistrionic — and pretty scarifying. Mears utilised the given space (the sober wood-panelling and civic symbols of Derry City Council’s building) superbly: the attempted rape happened within touching distance of the front-row spectators, blood spurted graphically in front of their noses from the stabbing, and audience members filed past the still visible body of the butchered Scarpia, prostrate on a committee table at floor level, to get their interval refreshment. “Strong stuff”, a man next to me commented, adding a pointed reference to a notorious police interrogation centre in Northern Ireland. I said nothing.

Tosca_pic-1.gifGiselle Allen as Tosca and Paul Carey Jones as Scarpia

Earlier Mears had used a completely different logistical lay-out for Act One in St Columb’s Cathedral, the orchestra deployed in a side chapel and behind the altar, the aisle a conduit for the arrival of the dramatis personae and the excellent choir of local schoolchildren who intoned the “Te Deum” lustily, encouraged by the vividly comic and firmly voiced Sacristan of Cork baritone Brendan Collins. Mexican tenor Jesús León, slightly stiffer and less stage-confident than his Tosca, had handsome features and a pleasingly sappy upper voice going for him. His Cavaradossi was brooding, perhaps a touch too interiorised for effective projection. He rose to Act Three’s “E lucevan le stelle” (in English), sung in a cramped, grubbily-tiled police execution chamber where Mears had earlier staged a shockingly literal dumb-show shooting over Puccini’s lengthy orchestral introduction. I wondered what my interval interlocutor might be thinking.

The production as a whole was the very opposite of opera as commodification: there was no desire evident to cushion the rawness of the narrative content, no truck with the idea of opera as plush, comfortable middle-class entertainment. This was Tosca as riveting political drama, visceral without being in any way artificially pumped-up or gimmicky. It made the work seem like a truly great opera, rather than one which is merely massively popular. The audience stood as one at the end, noisily acclaiming what was undoubtedly a momentous evening for Northern Ireland Opera, in a part of the United Kingdom which has been on short (often non-existent) rations operatically throughout its ninety-year history. The new company’s first full (2011-12) season is awaited with the keenest interest.

Terry Blain

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):