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

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

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.

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.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

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.

Janáček’s 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.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

La rondine [image courtesy of Opera Holland Park]
12 Jul 2011

La rondine, Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park’s unique selling point has always been a devotion to the more obscure works of Puccini and his Italian contemporaries.

Giacomo Puccini: La rondine

Magda: Kate Ladner; Ruggero: Seán Ruane; Lisette: Hye Youn Lee; Prunier: Hal Cazalet; Rambaldo: Nicholas Todorovic; Perichaud: Henry Grant Kerswell; Crebillion/Rabonier: Maciek O’Shea; Gobin: Patrick Mundy; Bianca/Gabriela: Sarah Minns; Suzy/Lolette: Olivia Ray; Yvette/Georgette: Stephanie Bodsworth; Una voce interno: Anna Patalong; Il Maggiordomo: Geoffrey Thompson. Opera Holland Park Chorus. City of London Sinfonia. Conductor: Peter Selwyn. Director: Tom Hawkes. . Designer: Peter Rice. Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell. Choreographer: Jenny Weston. Opera Holland Park, July 2011.

Above: La rondine [image courtesy of Opera Holland Park]

 

Last time OHP staged La rondine it still fell into this category, and until that year, there had been no London staging of the piece for decades. But the gorgeous, star-studded EMI recording of 1996 had revived interest in the piece, and in 2002 the Royal Opera (with the Magda and Ruggero of the EMI set, Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna) mounted its first-ever Rondine, pipping OHP to the post by a matter of weeks. Despite the fact that the ROH production must have been in the pipeline for a while, the timing seemed almost impolite.

At every turn of La rondine there is a reminder of Puccini’s earlier work; the pentatonicism of Butterfly, the dreamy end-of-act exits of Bohème (La rondine goes so far as to end every act with one), the bustling ensembles of Manon Lescaut. And the tenor aria in the middle of Act 1, ‘Parigi’, sounds like an afterthought inspired by ‘Firenze’ from the later Gianni Schicchi — which, of course, is exactly what it is, having not been part of the original score. But somehow La rondine still manages to be unique among Puccini’s output, a drama with comic episodes that has a flavour all of its own.

Nine years after that pair of London stagings, this lovely piece has managed to maintain... well, perhaps not a firm foothold in the repertoire, but certainly a presence. There has been a revival of the Covent Garden production, and a staging by British Youth Opera. Now it is back at Holland Park in a brand-new staging, no longer one of the season’s novelty pieces but a tried and tested crowd-pleaser. It says much in its favour that the entire run is sold out.

Tom Hawkes’s production updates the action to around the time of the opera’s composition — it premiered in 1917, under the shadow of World War 1. Designer Peter Rice transforms the stage with an elegant arc of Rennie Mackintosh-inspired metalwork which acts as the uniting factor for all three scenes of the opera. Each act has its own colour scheme; Magda’s chic soirée is mostly muted pastels and silver, while much of the clientèle of Bullier’s bar is edgy monochrome with bold-coloured accents. Both of these situations provide a backdrop for Magda to stand out from the crowd in a contrasting palette of colours — her almost regal gown of crimson velvet gives way to a simple blue dress for her night out. Truth be told, this misfired somewhat — my first thought was of Tosca disguising herself as Micaela from Carmen! - but the point became clear in Act 3 when everything, including Magda, was in white. It is made very clear that until Ruggero inadvertently rocks the boat by proposing marriage, this is where Magda finds a sense of comfort and belonging.

As Magda (the ‘swallow’ of the title), the Australian soprano Kate Ladner was glamorous, feminine and self-assured — she would have been a head-turner even without the stand-out costumes. Her poised and voluptuous soprano was perfect for ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’, the small-talk of Act 1 and the intimate duet scenes. She was well-matched by Seán Ruane as Ruggero, convincingly youthful and with a refreshing tenderness to his tone. The one thing both initially lacked was abandon — both Magda’s outburst of longing for romantic adventure at the end of her second aria and the lovers’ cries of ‘Dolcezza! Ebrezza! Incanto! Sogno!’ in the middle of the Act 2 waltz sounded far too safe. Happily, they found the extra reserve of expansive lyricism in time for the impassioned heart-searching of Act 3.

Hal Cazalet’s light tenor was ideal for Prunier the poet; as the salon raconteur of Act 1 his gift for natural and conversational delivery of sung dialogue really came into its own. He and Hye Youn Lee’s good-natured, vivacious Lisette made a natural and likeable couple.

The group scenes really felt relaxed and natural thanks to the detailed direction of an array of contrasting and credible characters, and a classy ensemble comprised mainly of OHP regulars. Stephanie Bodsworth, Sarah Minns and Olivia Ray were as lively, sparkling and characterful as the three grisettes in Act 2 as they had been as Magda’s guests in Act 1. Nicholas Todorovic (Kate Ladner’s real-life husband) was a gruff, proud Rambaldo, and there was a very impressive turn from the young soprano Anna Patalong as the unnamed voice whose mysterious solo at the end of Act 2 warns of the fickleness of love. The OHP chorus, too, were on fine form.

In the pit, Peter Selwyn and the City of London Sinfonia succeeded in capturing the delicate colours of the score — Viennese melodic sentiment couched in a rich, Italianate and recognisably Puccinian idiom. At times I felt Selwyn could have been a little more attentive to the singers (at one point in Magda’s second aria, Ladner had to make an adjustment for having been left behind by the accompaniment) but it was a pleasure to listen to, always well-balanced.

For rarity value, go and see La Wally later this month. For high drama, catch Rigoletto. But for melody, elegance, lovely singing and fine ensemble work, this Rondine has all that Holland Park is best at, and all I could have asked of it.

Ruth Elleson © 2011

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):