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

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

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):