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

Poliuto, Glyndebourne

Donizetti’s Poliuto at Glyndebourne could well become one of of the great Glyndebourne classics.

Carmen by ENO

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances

Pacific Opera Project Presents Ariadne auf Naxos

Pacific Opera Project, a small Los Angeles company, presented a production of Richard Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos at the Ebell Club with an excellent group of young singers at the beginning of what should be good careers.

Varispeed pushes the possibilities of opera forward with Robert Ashley’s Crash

Six people, dressed in ordinary clothing, sitting in a row at desks adorned only with microphones and glasses of water, and talking for ninety minutes: is it opera?

Rising Stars in Concert, Lyric Opera of Chicago

The spring concert of Rising Stars in Concert, sponsored by and featuring current members of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago, showcased a number of talents that will no doubt continue to grace the stages of the world’s operatic theaters.

The Singers Sparkle in New York Opera Exchange’s Carmen

New York Opera Exchange’s production of Carmen from May 8th to 10th highlighted that which opera devotees have been saying for years: Opera, far from being dead, is vibrant and evolving.

‘Where’er You Walk’: Handel’s Favourite Tenor

I have sometimes lamented the preference of Ian Page’s Classical Opera for concert performances and recordings over staged productions, albeit that their renditions of eighteenth-century operas and vocal works are unfailingly stylish, illuminating and supported by worthy research.

The Pirates of Penzance, ENO

Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh’s 1999 film starring Timothy Spall and Jim Broadbent, dramatized the fraught working relationship of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; it won four Oscar nominations (garnering two Academy Awards, for costume and make-up) and is a wonderful exploration of the creative process of bringing a theatrical work to life.

Manitoba Opera: Turandot

There’s little doubt that Puccini’s Turandot is a flawed, illogical fairytale. Yet it continues to resonate today with its undying “love shall conquer all” ethos, where even the most heinous crimes may be forgiven by that which makes the world go ‘round.

Mariachi Opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina Comes to San Diego

On April 25, 2015, San Diego Opera presented it’s second Mariachi opera: El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished) by Jose “Pepe” Martinez, Leonard Foglia and Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán.

Antonio Pappano: Royal Opera House Orchestral Concerts

Ambition achieved! Antonio Pappano brought the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House out of the pit and onto the stage, the centre of attention in their own right.

Bedřich Smetana: Dalibor, Barbican Hall

Jiří Bělohlávek’s annual Czech opera series at the Barbican, London, with the BBC SO continued with Bedřich Smetana’s Dalibor.

Orlando Explores Art Without Boundaries

R.B. Schlather’s production of Handel’s Orlando asks the enigmatic question: Where do the boundaries of performance art begin, and where do they end?

The Virtues of Things

A good number of recent shorter operas, particularly those performed in this country, made a stronger impression with their libretti than their scores.

Król Roger, Royal Opera

It has taken almost 89 years for Karol Szymanowski’s Król Roger to reach the stage of Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera Celebrates 50 Years of Great Singing

San Diego Opera, the company that General Manager Ian Campbell had scheduled for demolition, proved that it is alive and singing as beautifully as ever. Its 2015 season was cut back slightly and management has become a bit leaner, but the company celebrated its fiftieth season in fine style with a concert that included many of the greatest arias ever written.

Hercules vs Vampires: Film Becomes Opera!

In the early sixties, Italian film director Mario Bava was making pictures with male body builders whose well oiled physiques appeared spectacular on the screen.

J. C. Bach: Adriano in Siria

At this start of the year, Classical Opera embarked upon an ambitious project. MOZART 250 will see the company devote part of its programme each season during the next 27 years to exploring the music by Mozart and his contemporaries which was being written and performed exactly 250 years previously.

Bethan Langford, Wigmore Hall

The Concordia Foundation was founded in the early 1990s by international singer and broadcaster Gillian Humphreys, out of her ‘real concern for building bridges of friendship and excellence through music and the arts’.

Tansy Davies: Between Worlds (world premiere)

An opera dealing with — or at least claiming to deal with — the events of 11 September 2001? I suppose it had to come, but that does not necessarily make it any more necessary.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Portrait of André Ernest Modeste Grétry (1741-1813) by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1785)
23 May 2011

Richard Coeur-de-Lion, New York

André-Modeste Grétry, the greatest opera composer ever to come from Belgium, made his way to Paris in 1767 at the age of 26.

André Ernest Modeste Grétry: Richard Coeur-de-Lion

Laurette: Molly Davey; Antonio: Catherine Webber; Blondel: Robert Balonek; Richard: Joshua Benevento; Williams: Cory Clines; Florestan: Anthony Caputo. American Classical Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Crawford. At the Society for Ethical Culture, performance of May 18.

Above: Portrait of André Ernest Modeste Grétry (1741-1813) by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun (1785)

 

His grand operas were flops and he himself disarmingly confessed to having little talent for harmony, but the tunefulness of his light operas—we might call them operettas or opéras-bouffes if those terms had been coined yet—made him the toast of the town, an international success, and enabled him to survive the Revolution despite the distinctly royalist overtones of his biggest hit, Richard Coeur-de-Lion (1784, revised 1785). The big number, “O Richard, O mon roi, l’univers t’abandonne” (Oh, Richard, my king, though the universe abandons thee”) was sung by loyal but indiscreet officers toasting Louis XVI at a difficult moment during the uprisings, with disastrous consequences. Grétry sat out the bad times, then brought the opera back when Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor.

Grétry was a man on one of the cusps of opera, the confusing but inspiring time when opera seria was expiring and no one was sure what the new music would produce for the stage. Gluck (who composed light operas and opere serie as well as the “reform” dramas for which we remember him best) was an important influence, on the era and on Grétry. Gluck and Mozart and a whole array of lesser lights, step by step, transformed opera, and it is difficult not to be fascinated by the explorations that led them there. That means the operas of Monsigny, of J.C. Bach, of Salieri, of Paisiello, of Martin y Soler—all of them familiar to Mozart. So was Grétry, who was at the first peak of his popularity when Mozart paid his famous visit to Paris in 1778.

Grétry’s use of spoken dialogue rather than the Italian invention of recitative between numbers, combined with his intentional and dramatic blurring of the edges between dialogue and musical numbers makes him the harder to present in translation, though in his own era full translations of Richard were popular in London and many other towns. Like Opera Lafayette, which presented a rather disappointing account of Grétry’s Le Magnifique last fall, American Classical Orchestra (which has also given his Zémire et Azor) has compromised by having the dialogue in English, the singing in French. Whatever continuity Grétry was aiming for is thereby sacrificed, and since this is precisely why his operas were important, it seems an unfortunate choice. Too, Opera Lafayette’s singers were not very good and the plot of Le Magnifique seemed especially silly and dubiously coherent. Richard was, at least, presented with good voices and ardent actors, and one could almost overlook the awkward jump into and out of song.

Richard is a rescue opera—though such operas (Fidelio being the most notable) are usually assigned to the era after the Revolution. The principal figure is not the title character, England’s Crusader king, a captive in Germany, but the troubadour Blondel who (in this version anyway) wanders around the neighborhood pretending to be a blind minstrel, hoping to get a lead on his royal friend’s whereabouts. This produces (in Act II) a duet, within and without the castle walls and, the identification being made, to a stratagem to get him out. Connoisseurs of Mission: Impossible will sneer at the simplicity of the plot, and the emotional level is hardly that of Fidelio, but people have to start somewhere.

Baritone Robert Balonek, in the starring role of the troubadour Blondel, revealed a light, full, meaty, attractive baritone that made this faithful intriguer comprehensible and sympathetic, and he’s easy on the eyes as well as the ears. I look forward to hearing him again.

Molly Davey sang Laurette, whose aria is nowadays the best-known item in the score, being the reverie of the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades. It is a curious number, seeming somehow more appropriate to the sinister, apprehensive moment in that opera than it is in Grétry’s light original. Davey sang it very oddly: some phrases clear, light and high-flying, others from an entirely different voice lurking in the mezzo range, and still others, here and elsewhere all night, in an almost inaudible squeak. She should consider getting her various voices to study with the same teacher. At least they should be more intimately introduced to one another.

Joshua Benevento sang a pleasant, not terribly distinguished King Richard, Cory Clines a sturdy innkeeper, Anthony Caputo a mellow prison commander—more a lover (of Laurette) than a villain like Pizarro in Fidelio. Bright-voiced Catherine Webber sang the trouser role of Blondel’s pert young guide.

Thomas Crawford led this charming performance. The American Classical Orchestra makes use of valveless brasses (trumpets, horns) and skin heads on their drums, but happily, their antiquarianism does not prevent them playing in tune. While no substitute for a full staging, the American Classical Orchestra’s concert provided an enjoyable introduction to this winsome score.

John Yohalem

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):