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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Nicky Spence [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]
26 Jun 2011

Two Boys, ENO

You would have had to be deaf and blind — or perhaps just a very wise monkey — not to have been aware that a young American composer called Nico Muhly was about to open at the English National Opera in London last night with a work called Two Boys.

Nico Muhly: Two Boys

Click here for cast and other information.

Above: Nicky Spence [All photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]

 

Since late last year, it seems that the personable and obviously multi-talented Muhly has been (pardon the allusion) pushed down our throats from every media-angle, and by too many London hacks anxious to maintain their street-cred in Twitter-land. This kind of media blitz is obviously a two-edged sledgehammer: if the show bombs then everybody looks somewhat foolish, if it achieves critical and/or box-office success (I suspect the latter in this case) then we’ll probably get bombarded again all too soon with the next wonder-kid of modern music. Ah well.

Two_Boys_20.gifMary Bevan

At the world premiere of Two Boys last night, (cleverly being opened here and not at its co-pro alma mater of the Met) you would have been forgiven for thinking that you had missed the date and wandered into London Fashion Week. Everyone who had read all the supplements, all the tweets, all the blogs and listened to the podcasts — or even just came on spec because everyone else said they should — was there. It was achingly hip. Never mind — we all want opera extending its audience so why not? It probably swelled the coffers of the ENO champagne bar.

So how was it? Well, perhaps one should score it in TV Talent Show style and take it from there:

Story: 6/10, Music: 6/10, Production: 6/10........you get the idea I expect. Singers? Definitely 8/10, if only for commitment to the work, vocal characterisation, and damn good acting within the limits of the production.

Craig Lucas has written a libretto that is based on a true news story of some years ago about two boys, internet chat rooms, assumed identities and attempted murder and this story — slight as it is in dramatic terms — worked to a point. What was lacking was any depth of characterisation, any motivations or emotional developments to give the piece structure. Maybe that was part of the plan: certainly the waves of music that swirled and pulsed and counterpointed the long articulated lines of speech/song didn’t suggest much in the way of dramatic development or journey. Muhly’s work is difficult to describe; his music is like high-class mood-music, or perhaps those compositions carefully constructed and “written to picture” for an expensive nature documentary. It doesn’t challenge the listener, nor does it repel — but I doubt it delighted or surprised many either.

Two_Boys_04.gifSusan Bickley and Nicky Spence

The singers were universally good: the core of the story lies with the investigating police officer played by Susan Bickley (does she ever disappoint?) who has demons of her own to confront as a stranger in the strange land of her suspect’s virtual world of net friends. Her diction was excellent and character well-drawn. That suspect, who we know as “Brian”, is sung by young tenor Nicky Spence with a tremendous empathy for this pathetic, unintelligent, bullied young man who’s flashes of desperate anger at his uncomprehending parents just reinforce his weakness and lack of self esteem. That excellent work was matched by the amazingly confident performance of boy treble Joseph Beesley — one just hopes that the calculated evil inherent in his character doesn’t leave too much of a shadow. The many supporting roles were equally well presented and sung without a single unhappy choice — and singers and orchestra (under Rumon Gamba) seemed well-rehearsed and remarkably slick considering this was a first night of an entirely new work.

Two_Boys_24.gifJoseph Beesley and Nicky Spence

On the production side, a few good ideas were made much of but could have been given more emphasis — the video backdrops of world-wide internet “chatting” — words repeating, and reappearing, and often mirroring the actual sung words. Some of the best dramatic moments came with the chorus spread around and above the stage suggesting the vast numbers of internet chatters communicating endlessly and pointlessly from their sad individual bedrooms. The graphic video work was good — but again could have been so much more; in fact the whole production just felt as if it were treading far too carefully, too “nicely” and was afraid of upsetting anyone. All a bit anodyne, in essence. Perhaps they will push the boat out a bit more for its New York premiere? Somehow, I doubt it.

Sue Loder.

Six more performances through June and July: see www.eno.org

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):