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

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

Bel Canto Beauty at St George's Hanover Square: Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda

A merciless and neurotic ruler, whose right to govern is ambiguous and disputed. A dignified Queen whose star is setting, as her husband’s heart burns with new love and her lady-in-waiting betrays her. A courtier whose devotion to the Queen, his first love, is undimmed and destined to push both towards a tragic end. No, not Donizetti’s Anna Bolena but Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda, written three years later, in 1833, for Venice’s La Fenice.

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):