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 Reviews

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

Soldier Songs in San Diego

David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.

Barber of Seville [Hollywood Style] in Los Angeles

On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Brindley Sherratt as Jacopo Fiesco [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of English National Opera]
14 Jun 2011

Simon Boccanegra, ENO

It would seem that in his preparations for this new production of Simon Boccanegra, the acclaimed Russian director, Dmitri Tcherniakov, has been familiarising himself Jonathan Miller’s previous ENO efforts.

Giuseppe Verdi: Simon Boccanegra

Simon Boccanegra: Bruno Caproni; Amelia Boccanegra: Rena Harms; Jacopo Fiesco: Brindley Sherratt; Gabriele Adorno: Peter Auty; Paolo Albiani: Roland Wood; Pietro: Mark Richardson; A captain: David Newman; Amelia’s maid: Judith Douglas. Conductor: Edward Gardner. Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov. Set Designer: Dmitri Tcherniakov. Lighting Designer: Gleb Filshtinsky. Video Designer: Finn Ross. English National Opera, London Coliseum. Wednesday 8th June, 2011.

Above: Brindley Sherratt as Jacopo Fiesco

All photos by Mike Hoban courtesy of English National Opera

 

Not only did the set for the prologue, a town square in 1960s mafia-controlled Genoa, follow Miller’s Rigoletto in drawing on Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’, but it was also an urban variation of the desert diner design of Miller’s 2009 L’elisir d’amore.

As trench-coated gangster, trilbies inclined to mask their plotting and intriguing, gathered in a night-time café, and Graham-Greene-esque figures lurked menacingly on street corners, a stylish car rolled in from stage right, and then proceeded to flash its lights unceasingly — and headache-inducingly — for the entire prologue.

Certainly the designs for this prologue were by far the most engaging, and dramatically relevant, of the evening. When we whizzed on twenty-five years (or, in this production, perhaps forty years) for Act 1, minimalism took over from realism — although the assault on the audience’s eyes continued, this time in the form of a glaring white square on the bleak, black back wall. The Grimaldi household was a sparse and modernist affair: one white arm-chair, one wall painting. In fact, the latter had occasioned the most surprising and exciting moment of the production, when the final tableau of the Genoan street scene was electronically transferred to a stage drop and electronically shrunk, rapidly receding only to reappear as a pictorial memory of the past on the wall of the family home.

In the final two acts, a featureless, grey, rather underequipped committee room, in a bland corporate command centre, replaced the majestic Doge’s place of the original scenario. The fully functioning wall clock suggested a countdown to crisis, but why did the various stages of action commence at seeming random hours thereby destroying the realism? There were many other non sequiturs: doors which were immovably fixed, but then swung freely open; a text (translation by James Fenton) which spoke of ‘swords’ as the gangsters brandished their steel hand guns. Motifs and ideas were introduced but not developed: so, having decided to update the action almost to the modern day, Tcherniakov seemed to lost interest in pursuing real-life parallels after the prologue — a pity, as there is plenty of potential for highlighting modern-day coups d’état , given recent history and even the contemporary ‘Arab Spring’. Moreover, the costumes did little to add to the impression that this was a serious attempt to portray political power struggles: Adorno’s biker’s leathers and Amelia’s grungy Doc-Martens jarred with the endless grey suits, and I’d be grateful for an explanation as to why Boccanegra sported a ludicrous paper hat on his head during his final decline?

I’m not sure that Tcherniakov was really interesting in engaging his audience. He frequently placed his characters to the rear or edges of the stage, or with their backs to the auditorium; and, it was unclear at times whether characters sharing the stage could or couldn’t see/hear each other. Add some inexplicable stage business — the desperate wrestling over Maria’s dead body which was almost ripped apart in a tug-of-war between Boccanegra and the patriacians; Paolo’s cartoonish writhing and squirming when, alone on stage at the end of Act 1 Scene 1, he bitterly conjures up his dastardly plot; the final tussle between Amelia and her new husband, Adorno, with the plebs joining in the fisticuffs as the curtain fell — and the overall vision was incomprehensible.

Simon-Boccanegra_-Bruno-Cap.gif

Perhaps Tcherniakov thought that because the plot is so notoriously complicated that such details would not matter. Indeed, he tried to help us follow the action by projecting the unfolding readout of a tele-printer onto the stage drop before each act or scene. These were indeed useful at times, but, presumably to cover a tricky scene stage, an overly explanation after the prologue caused the action to stagnate, diminishing the musico-dramatic momentum which has been so skilfully built by conductor, Edward Gardner. And, there are inherent dangers in highlighting the libretto’s more ridiculous moments: an inevitable audience chuckle accompanied the bald statements, in successful sentences, that Amelia had been abducted, but … she had now managed to escape. There are many awkward ‘fudges’ in the text, and they are probably best ignored — the music should make the narrative and emotional drama clear.

Thank goodness, then, that the music and much of the singing were top notch. As the eponymous champion of the people, Bruno Caproni — after an underwhelming start during which an over-indulgent vibrato muddled the intonation — grew in stature, and in his final poignant portrayal of regret revealed an expressive, flexible voice of pleasing tone. His diction was superb throughout, even when he was placed in the margins or at the rear of the stage. Roland Wood, as Paolo, also took some time to get into his stride, but produced a strong performance in the final Act. Peter Auty and Rena Harms were musically effective but not entirely suited dramatically to their roles as Adorno and Ameila. Both exhibited brightness and lightness at the top of their registers, but lacked some of the gravity required; Harms struggled to convey the developing complexities of Amelia’s character as her knowledge and understanding of her past and present increase, while Auty had tuning some problems during his big moments.

Simon-Boccanegra_Bruno-Capr.gif

Best of the bunch was Brindley Sharratt’s Fiesco; although Fiesco was clutching an asthmatic’s inhaler, he clearly suffered no problems with his lungs, and produced a powerful tone which carried the clearly articulated to the farthest reaches of the house. Despite his vengeful plotting, with its tragic consequences, Sharratt won the audience’s sympathy, and the final duet between Fiesco and the faltering Boccanegra was immensely moving.

But the loudest applause of the night was deservedly awarded to Edward Gardner and the ENO orchestra. Gardner gradually ratcheted up the musical and dramatic tension, controlling the broader structures with a masterful sweep. The way he whipped the chorus from pianissimos to fiery climaxes was astounding. Sensitive to the needs of the drama, and individual singers, he also allowed the instrumentalists free rein when it was the turn of the score to carry the responsibility for the expressive drama. It was a relief that at least someone was able to make a coherent unity of the work.

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):