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

The Threepenny Opera, London

‘Mack does bad things.’ The tabloid headline that convinces Rory Kinnear’s surly, sharp-suited Macheath that it might be time to take a short holiday epitomizes the cold, understated menace of Rufus Norris’s production of Simon Stephens’ new adaptation of The Threepenny Opera at the Olivier Theatre.

La bohème, LA Opera

On May 25, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of the Herbert Ross production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, La bohème. Stage director, Peter Kazaras, made use of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s wide stage by setting some scenes usually seen inside the garret on the surrounding roof instead.

Amazons Enchant San Francisco

On May 21, 2016, Ars Minerva presented The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles (Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate), an opera consisting of a prologue and three acts by seventeenth century Venetian composer Carlo Pallavicino.

Mathis der Maler, Dresden

While Pegida anti-refugee demonstrations have been taking place for a while now in Dresden, there was something noble about the Semperoper with its banners declaring all are welcome, listing Othello, the Turk, and the hedon Papageno as examples.

The Makropulos Case, Munich

Opera houses’ neglect of Leoš Janáček remains one of the most baffling of the many baffling aspects of the ‘repertoire’. At least three of the composer’s operas would be perfect introductions to the art form: Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, or The Cunning Little Vixen would surely hook most for life.

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Munich

Die Meistersinger at the theatre in which it was premiered, on Wagner’s birthday: an inviting prospect by any standards, still more so given the director, conductor, and cast, still more so given the opportunity to see three different productions within little more than a couple of months).

Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne

Director Annabel Arden believes that Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia is ‘all about playfulness, theatricality, light and movement’. It’s certainly ‘about’ those things and they are, as Arden suggests, ‘based in the music’.

Oedipe at Covent Garden

George Enescu’s Oedipe was premiered in Paris 1936 but it has taken 80 years for the opera to reach the stage of Covent Garden. This production by Àlex Ollé (a member of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco, which arrives in London via La Monnaie where it was presented in 2011, was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera, Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago staged Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette as the last opera in its current subscription season.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, RAO

‘The plot is perhaps the least moral in all opera; wrong triumphs in the name of love and we are not expected to mind.’

Madame Butterfly , ENO

Anthony Minghella’s production of Madame Butterfly for ENO is wearing well. First seen in 2005, it is now being aired for the sixth time and is still, as I observed in 2013, ‘a breath-taking visual banquet’.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

London Festival of Baroque Music 2016: Words with Purcell

As poetry is the harmony of words, so music is that of notes; and as poetry is a rise above prose and oratory, so is music the exaltation of poetry.

The Dark Mirror: Zender’s Winterreise

From experiments with musique concrète in the 1940s, to the Minimalists’ explorations into tape-loop effects in the 1960s, via the appearance of hip-hop in the 1970s and its subsequent influence on electronic dance music in the 1980s, to digital production methods today, ‘sampling’ techniques have been employed by musicians working in genres as diverse as jazz fusion, psychedelic rock and classical music.

Great Scott Wows San Diego

On May 7, 2016, San Diego Opera presented the West Coast premiere of Great Scott, an opera by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. McNally’s original libretto pokes fun at everything from football to bel canto period opera. It includes snippets of nineteenth century tunes as well as Heggie's own bel canto writing.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Manitoba Opera: Of Mice and Men

Opera as an art form has never shied away from the grittier shadows of life. Nor has Manitoba Opera, with its recent past productions dealing with torture, incest, murder and desperate political prisoners still so tragically relevant today.

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

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):