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

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Antonio Vivaldi: La verità in cimento [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of Garsington Opera Festival 2011]
26 Jun 2011

Viva Vivaldi — Garsington Opera 2011

Garsington Opera — in its superb new home on the Wormsley estate in rural Oxfordshire — has yet again confirmed the merit of its decision to promote Vivaldi’s long-ignored operas.

Antonio Vivaldi: La verità in cimento

Click here for cast and other production information.

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of Garsington Opera Festival 2011

 

The most recent offering is his La Verità in cimento (Truth put to the test) and Garsington have a hit on their hands if the first two performances are anything to go by. The plot is absurd, convoluted and comes down to the effect of one decision, years ago, to switch two babies (and therefore their inheritance) which in turn drives this drama of human love, greed and cold-blooded power seeking. The characters are a dysfunctional royal family whose ruling Sultan is a well-meaning tyrant who makes that one big decision but then lives to regret it as his extended family start to tear each other’s throats out when they learn of the deception as the boys come of age.

LaVeritainCimento_04.gif

This is high-baroque opera, written by the canny Red Priest in 1720, and it is interesting to note that like his near-contemporary Handel, Vivaldi finds the moral (and immoral) dilemmas of the ruling classes of the utmost interest and worthy of his finest musical expression — after all they were his paymasters and themselves much concerned with the problems of succession, inheritance and political marriage. Unlike Handel however, the Venetian composer doesn’t tend to investigate his character’s deepest emotional conflicts with an extensive series of formal arias in classic da capo form — his music is lighter, fleeter and less organised. And yes, let’s face it, less memorable. However, there are some stand-out moments in this charming and melodic score which reveal some very un-Handel -like trios and ensemble numbers which seem to prefigure an altogether different genre of opera writing still very much on the horizon.

As the machinations of this sumptuously-dressed family unfold (much fur, leather and silk worn by all in a clever mix of styles) there is little action per se other than inside each character’s head — so all credit to director David Freeman for making the most of a delightfully outré set designed by Duncan Hayler which offers us an icy palace of glass, metal and white fur rugs with a gleaming, huge white tree dominating as a centre piece. The tree, whose two main branches sweep to the far sides of the stage, presumably symbolises the two warring factions of the two sons and their respective mothers (Sultana Rustena and Mistress Damira) but it also acts as a refuge, love-nest, and lair with its varying levels of platforms and steps. This is clever use of space, and together with the rear and side exits this configuration helps the story zip along as effectively and wittily as does the music from the pit below, directed (and, it would sometimes seem, driven almost physically) by a bobbing, sweeping and multi-tasking Laurence Cummings.

LaVeritainCimento_01.gif

With all the emphasis on the emotions and thoughts of the characters and little physical action or change of location, it is obviously supremely important to have the right bunch of performers and once again Garsington must be congratulated on getting it right. The casting splits into two near-equal halves of the three older generation characters of Sultan, his Sultana, and his long-established Mistress and the three main young characters of his two sons and a visiting Princess who they both (naturally) fall for. Paul Nilon, Jean Rigby and Diana Montague fulfil those elder roles with enormous energy, musicianship and effortless virtuosity: Nilon’s flexible and expressive tenor and stagecraft are as good as ever as the Sultan, Jean Rigby’s (Sultana Rustena) dark mezzo soprano lends itself to her character’s emotional highs and lows (she has a gorgeous slow aria of despair “Fragil fior”, with recorder obbligato, that drew deserved applause), and Diana Montague (Damira, mezzo soprano) was stunning in her portrayal of the wronged Mistress who plans revenge — elegant and fluent coloratura mixed with effortless long-lined phrasing which mirrored her equally elegant couture gowns. These seasoned performers were the musical core of the production, holding everything together with an easy command of the idiom.

LaVeritainCimento_02.gif

Flying higher above them, musically at least, were the younger generation of singers and characters and here the casting was almost as sure-footed. The young soprano Ida Falk Winland (winner of the Song Prize in the 2008 Ferrier competition) divides her time between her native Sweden and the UK at the moment and has an attractive voice with both a bit of weight to it and an obvious facility for Vivaldi’s ornate lines. She was often singing with either one or both of her “suitors”, the two half-brother princes who, in this production (unlike in the original of 1720, )are sung by countertenors Yaniv d’Or and James Laing, and as it often the way with this voice type the soprano out-sang both in terms of sheer volume. This did tend to unbalance the music somewhat which was a shame as there is a terrific trio for the three which could have been stunning, and perhaps needed a little adjustment on the part of the young Swede for the greater good of the ensemble sound. Yaniv d’Or, ( Melindo), who is not well known in this country, sang and acted with commitment and verve but his voice is not one that immediately attracts. James Laing (Zelim) has a sweet tone, more even and polished than his stage-brother, and I liked his easy top and legato in his more reflective arias. Two non-speaking roles of butler and gardener (the latter oddly placed throughout at the side of the stage busily tying and untying bunches of herbs and flowers — your guess is as good as mine) are uncredited in the programme book.

LaVeritainCimento_03.gif

This might not be world-class opera seria (or buffo) but it is fun, it’s musically fleet-footed and charming , it’s cleverly-produced and directed, and the singers are well-cast and attractive: what more does one need for a high-summer’s evening entertainment in the lush green of an English rural estate? Here’s to Garsington’s next exposé of Vivaldi’s “lost” operas — they are setting themselves a high standard.

Sue Loder

Next performances: 25th, 29th June and 1st, 4th, July. Garsington (at Wormsley), Oxfordshire, UK.

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):