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

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Sandra Piques Eddy is Isabella [Photo by Chris McKenzie courtesy of Boston Midsummer Opera]
28 Jul 2011

Boston Midsummer Opera’s Italian Girl in Algiers

This year’s venture for the annual Boston Midsummer Opera is an elegant reading of Rossini’s fizzy masterpiece of 1813, l’Italiana in Algeri.

Gioacchino Rossini: The Italian Girl in Algiers (L’Italiana in Algeri)

Isabella: Sandra Piques Eddy; Lindoro: Bradley Williams; Taddeo: David Kravitz; Mustafa: Eric Downs; Elvira: Sara Jakubiak; Zulman: Julia Mintzer; Ali: David Lara. Vocal Quartet/Chorus: Sean Lair, Michael Kuhn, Stephen Humeston, Joshua Taylor. Music Director and Conductor: Susan Davenny Wyner; Stage Director: Drew Minter; Scenic Designer: Stephen Dobay. Tsai Performance Center, Boston, 27, 29, 31 July 2011.

Above: Sandra Piques Eddy as Isabella

All photos by Chris McKenzie courtesy of Boston Midsummer Opera

 

Undertaken in response to a desperate plea from the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice to fill a gap in the spring schedule, Rossini’s opera was completed in an astonishing twenty-seven days. It was the work of a young man — it could be argued that all of Rossini’s operas are the works of a young man, since he retired from the theater at thirty-eight — but by no means an inexperienced one: La scala di seta, La pietra del paragone, and Tancredi were already behind him. The impress of Mozart’s most ebullient moments is still heavy on the very young Rossini, but this is a kind of Mozart in constant and barely controlled agitation: not for Rossini the long lyrical lines of his friend in later life, Vincenzo Bellini. The libretto, which had already been set by Luigi Mosca just a few years earlier, is a farcical continuation of the European fascination with Turkish, and more broadly Middle Eastern, themes and ideas: the dauntless Isabella, fortuitously shipwrecked in Algiers, chances upon her lost lover, now enslaved, and contrives to free herself and him, while making a fool of the Bey Mustafa.

Director Minter and designer Dobay have resituated the piece in the present day, in a place more or less like the U.A. E. (so much for Algiers!), which has made an uneasy compromise with Western culture — the Bey and his wives in more or less traditionally Arab garb, while the Bey’s henchmen wear shirts and trousers. The dazzling single set suggested the jewel-toned interiors of a palace, with easy access to a stylized dock, while cinnamon-colored silhouettes suggested the towers of the city beyond and around the action; it made the best of the stage, urging the cast forward toward the audience. It seems to have been, if one reads the notes, the intention of both the music director and the stage director to bring an undercurrent of real danger to the proceedings (Barbary pirates! Sexism!), but happily this ambition had faded out within half an hour. For all that we know about Rossini’s flexibility in supplying new arias for new cities or singers, his dramaturgy at its best proceeds with ironclad determination: Rossini’s unstoppable music and the dramatic flow it illustrates tell us insistently that this is a farce, not a melodrama. There is no way to confuse Italiana with The Death of Klinghoffer. Mustafa is not menacing: he’s infantile; he’s been declawed by the end of the first act.

As the richly characterized Isabella, the fourth of the flexible roles for the low-meezo voice Rossini cherished (but not the last: Rosina and Angelina were to follow) Eddy sang with notable accuracy, and her remarkable beauty was underscored by her comic flair. Downs must be one of the younger and better-looking Mustafas on record. There was a certain active tone in his voice which, while a benefit to lyrical singing, slightly blurred some of his passage-work. As the hapless Lindoro, Williams sang well, very much in the manner of the Irish tenor, with that high and forward placement. Kravitz’s Taddeo was an agreeable goof, while Jakubiak, in the rather thankless role of the rejected wife, acquitted herself well, despite passing pitch inaccuracies in the first act. BMO reduced Rossini’s male double-chorus to four voices — the Bey’s muscle — which made sense dramaturgically, but effectively reduced the piece to a chamber opera. Wyner’s orchestra played with a clean accuracy, although the singers were occasionally tempted to get ahead of her.

ItalianG-4.gif(L-R) Sandra Piques Eddy as Isabella, Sara Jakubiak as Elvira, and Eric Downs as Mustafa

One of the challenges of Angelo Anelli’s quite serviceable libretto is the nature of Isabella’s relationship with the men in her life. Who is Taddeo (Kravitz) — cast-off lover? Failed suitor? Is he an old man, a pantalone, or just a luckless young or middle-aged one? One has the notion that Anelli never quite decided, and the age-old uncertainty hovers over this production as it does over most. How can Lindoro (Williams), passive in his captivity while awaiting his Isabella, seem more than effete? It is remarkably difficult to bring Lindoro into focus, and almost impossible, dramaturgically, to bring them into focus together. The comedy is almost reducible to a contest of wills between the spirited Isabella and the schoolyard-bully Mustafa. As the conductor’s notes rightly point out, it is a specimen also of the then-popular “rescue” opera. She fails to mention, however, its striking resemblance to the greatest “rescue” opera, which similarly features a surprising female rescuer: Fidelio, the first version of which predated Italiana by eight years, and the final version of which followed it by only a year. These operas, like the contemporary writings of Madame de Stael and Mary Wollstonecraft, ask: what is the capacity of a woman? In Rossini’s works, the woman steadily loses power, until she is a sinner (Semiramide), and then hardly more than a cipher (Comte Ory; Guillaume Tell).

IGIA-8.gif(L-R) Bradley Williams as Lindoro, Eric Downs as Mustafa, and David Kravitz as Taddeo

We have little trouble now in agreeing with the very young Rossini on the joys of seeing a woman exert all the force of her beauty and wit — but what of the mode alla Turca? Minter’s version, which connects the dots between the Turkish threat circa 1800 and today’s oil magnates with shady “shipping” practices, hardly diminishes the cultural chauvinism of the original, and concludes in the same place. It is just more fun, according to Anelli and Rossini, to be Italian than anything else, and Isabella and her friends want nothing better than to be back home, where women are free; Minter’s production, which concludes with the Bey’s thugs converted to pseudo-Italian clothing (to the point of waving little Italian flags), ready to expatriate, and the Bey himself, as well as his wife, in semi-Western garb, tacitly agrees with them, cultural anxiety notwithstanding. Still, Boston Midsummer Opera delivers a Rossini production of great verve and clarity — a real summer pleasure.

Graham Christian

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):