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

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

Nina Stemme's stunning Strauss Salome, BBC Proms London

The BBC Proms continued its Richard Strauss celebrations with a performance of his first major operatic success Salome. Nina Stemme led forces from the Deutsche Oper, Berlin,at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 30 August 2014,the first of a remarkable pair of Proms which sees Salome and Elektra performed on successive evenings

Santa Fe Opera Presents Updated, at One Point Up-ended, Don Pasquale

On August 9, 2014, Santa Fe Opera presented a new updated production of Don Pasquale that set the action in the 1950s. Chantal Thomas’s Act I scenery showed the Don’s furnishing as somewhat worn and decidedly dowdy. Later, she literally turned the Don’s home upside down!

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire)
07 Jun 2011

Candide, Barbican Centre

‘Glitter and be gay!’ cries Cunegonde, determined to overcome the bitter circumstances in which she finds herself in sordid, downturn Paris.

Leonard Bernstein: Candide

Andrew Staples: Candide; Kiera Duffy: Cunegonde; Kim Criswell: Old Lady; Jeremy Huw Williams: Pangloss, Martin; David Robinson: Governer, Vanderdendur, Ragotski; Marcus Deloach: Maximilan, Captain; Kristy Swift: Paquette; Jeffrey Tucker: Bear Keeper, Inquisitor, Tzar Ivan; Matthew Morris: Cosmetic Merchant, Inquisitor, Charles Edward; Jason Switzer: Doctor, King Stanislaus; Michael Scarcelle: Junkman, Inquisitor, Hermann Augustus, Croupier; Peter Tantsits: Alchemist, Inquisitor, Sultan Achmet, Crook. London Symphony Chorus. London Symphony Orchestra. Kristjan Järvi: conductor. Thomas Kiemle: director/producer. Barbican Centre, London, Sunday, 5th June, 2011.

Above: François-Marie Arouet (aka Voltaire)

 

And, her show-shopping number from Bernstein’s opera-operatta-musical, Candide, certainly provided an apt watchword for this concert performance at London’s Barbican Centre on Sunday evening, which fizzed and sparkled, oozing happiness and sweetness to wash away the occasional glints of darkness.

From the first downbeat of Kristjan Järvi’s baton, as he furiously kick-started a breakneck overture, to the stirring choral conclusion, the energy never once flagged, and the melodies kept flowing. Järvi control of Bernstein’s flexible structures, with their changing time signatures, flexible syncopations and cross rhythms was superb, and he deftly kept the large forces of the orchestra and chorus synchronised, give or take a few untidy ritenutos, dynamically driving them forward. It’s not often that one sees an entire viola section smiling beatifically to themselves, but that’s what happened here as they rang out yet another glorious overture melody, anticipating the optimistic sentiments of Candide’s and Cunegonde’s vision of future bliss, ‘Oh happy we’. The LSO’s instrumentalists obviously enjoyed the indulgent riches of this colourful and euphonious score, and relished the variety of the composer’s effortless pastiches and parodies, although at times I would have liked a little more brash boldness from the brass and reckless abandon from the percussionists!

The chorus were in boisterous mood, their carefree swaying and animated hand-waving, providing a dash or two of visual humour to match the primary-colour lighting which flagged up changes of mood, for anyone in doubt. Having collapsed anarchically as the Westphalian schloss Thunder-ten-Tronck succumbed to an enemy onslaught, the chorus gleefully bobbed and cheered — ‘Watch ‘em die! … Hang ‘em high’ — through the frenzied mayhem of the Auto-da-fé. Their rather uncoordinated involvement was funny the first time, but rather tiring on the second, third, fourth occasion. However, by the final chorus, ‘Make Our Garden Grow’, they were back firmly under the control of the conductor’s baton for the stunningly powerful a cappella declaration, ‘Let dreamers dream what world they please’.

Best of the soloists was Andrew Staples, as a wide-eyed, innocent Candide; he balanced a firm, focused tone with moments of more gentle reflection. The bright buoyancy of his opening ‘Life is happiness indeed’ had, without undue sentimentality, modulated by the end of his journey into a moving moment of realism and disillusion, as his love and hopes dissipated into ‘Nothing more than this’ — Cunegonde was really only in it for the money. Candide’s two Meditations in Act 1 were the highlight of the evening as, supported by piquantly alternating major/minor harmonies, he floated perfectly placed rising major sixths to convey his tender hopes that his teacher Pangloss’s maxim could indeed be true: ‘There is a sweetness in every woe’. Staples sincerity was utterly convincing as he put his faith in the ‘kindness’ and ‘sunlight I cannot see’; and strong harp and woodwind playing gave rhythmic and harmonic propulsion, suggesting optimism and resolution.

At times, Kiera Duffy might have done well to remember that power sometimes works best when balanced with restraint. For, while she dazzled in ‘Glitter and be gay’, crystal clear when striking the stratospheric heights of Cunegonde’s wild enthusiasm for a bling-laden life of recklessness and glamour, she allowed her enthusiasm to get the better of her and at times was in danger of slipping into melodrama and histrionics.

She was matched in her excesses by Kim Criswell, an old stager of musical theatre and ‘cross-over’, whose Old Lady was a wild, backcomb-haired banshee, exuberantly flinging herself — and her partners — into the tempestuous tango of the aptly titled ‘I am easily assimilated’, and the musical hall antics of ‘What’s the use’. Marcus DeLoach, as Maximilian, was one of the few whose diction was unfailingly crisp and biting; and, in various supporting roles, Jeffrey Tucker, Matthew Morris, Charles Edward, Jason Switzer, Peter Tantsits and Michael Scarcelle were uniformly accomplished.

But, I found Welsh baritone Jeremy Huw Williams a disappointing Pangloss; he distinctly lacked the warm openness of sound needed to convey Pangloss’s spirit of innocent optimism. There was little sparkle, despite his diamante-studded tie, and he fell back on bluster and posturing. Both pitch and words were pretty indiscriminate, which made the title of his aria, in his second role as Martin, wryly ironic — ‘Words, words, words’.

Certainly, there is nothing sacred about Bernstein’s text. No fewer than six contributors had a hand in the book and lyrics, and it underwent numerous revisions, with Bernstein himself being involved in at least seven of them! Here we were treated to a cynical, occasionally acidic, narration by Rory Kinnear — updating that prepared by Bernstein and John Wells for concert performance. Kinnear reprised some of the bitter scepticism of his recent Hamlet at the National Theatre. Leaping blithely onto the platform, he was a master of droll scepticism, eye-brows arched, tongue firmly in-cheek. I suspect that many of the topical witticisms were added, or even improvised, by Kinnear himself; his voice amplified, we could sharply hear every riposte, something which could not always be said for the singers themselves who suffered when Järvi gave chorus and orchestra free rein, despite their placing at the front of the stage. It didn’t help that, although the libretto was printed in the programme, it was impossible to read the text in the darkened auditorium — at least during in the first Act before, presumably, complaints made their way to the stage management …

There was one ‘wrong note’ in Kinear’s narration, however, and it came right at the end when, interrupting the triumphant final cadences of the gloriously overwhelming chorus, he sardonically asked the audience, ‘Any questions?’, a quip which jarred with the musical sentiments expressed. Of course, there are no ‘questions’: the music is unambiguously jubilant, the ‘message’ clear.

That said, this flippant parting shot couldn’t dampen my spirits at the end of this wonderful performance and, despite the torrential June downpour, my smile lasted all the way home.

Claire Seymour

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):