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

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?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Robert Poulton as Rigoletto and Julia Sporsén as Gilda. [Photo by Fritz Curzon.courtesy of Opera Holland Park]
29 Jul 2011

Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park

It’s always a good idea to ferret away a sure-fire winner amongst the rarities, and Opera Holland Park’s Rigoletto certainly meets, and in some aspects surpasses, expectations.

Verdi: Rigoletto

Rigoletto: Robert Poulton; Gilda: Julia Sporsén; Duke : Jaewoo Kim; Sparafucile: Graeme Broadbent; Maddalena: Patricia Orr; Count Ceprano: Simon Wilding; Monterone: William Robert Allenby; Marullo: John Lofthouse; Borsa: Neal Cooper; Countess Ceprano: Anna Patalong; Giovanna: Laura Woods; Court Usher: Mark Spyropoulos; Page: Nicola Wydenbach; Conductor: Stuart Stratford; Director : Lindsay Posner. Designer: Tom Scutt. Lighting Designer: Philip Gladwell. Choreographer: Nikki Woollaston. Opera Holland Park, Tuesday, 26th July 2011.

Above: Robert Poulton as Rigoletto and Julia Sporsén as Gilda

All photos by Fritz Curzon.courtesy of Opera Holland Park

 

Tom Scutt’s clever set is economical and theatrically effective. Two rusty, corrugated iron freight units, helpfully labelled ‘Italia’ in case we are in any doubt of the location, may not immediately be visually appealing; but, spun and disrobed to reveal first a bordello bondage cage à la Berlusconi, then Rigoletto’s meek abode, next Sparafucile’s seedy bar which is itself transformed into the assassin’s gruesome abattoir, they prove efficient and engaging.

They also neatly contain the various locations but also allow for some pointed juxtapositions between interiors and exteriors, thereby enhancing tragic ironies. Thus, as Gilda promises her father that her love was only for him and for God, we see the Duke persuading Giovanna to allow him admittance to the young innocent’s sparse bedroom, foreshadowing the subsequent seduction. Similarly, we witness the plotting of Gilda’s abductors as she sleeps unknowingly within. Moreover, Gilda’s own ascent to the roof-top, effectively indicates her desire for freedom from her father’s jealous, selfish oppression. Most powerfully, in the Act 3 quartet, Gilda and Rigoletto cower in the gloom without, overhearing the Duke’s flirtations with Maddalena within — the contrasting sentiments which animate the four characters convincingly revealed and fully intelligible.

Rigo-222.gifJaewoo Kim as Duke and Patricia Orr as Maddalena

Director Lindsay Posner has updated the action to an unspecified modern era — Jonathan Miller’s Mafioso motifs, all sinister dark glasses and slick suits, retain their influence. But, despite the success of Miller’s seminal production, there remain some problems with such an updating. The opening ball scene may be suitably colourful — red velvet-clad hussies slinkily gyrating and twisting between the black-masked tuxedoes, and the piquant dances and carefree gaiety ticking the debauchery box — but the overall impression is not really the ‘kingdom of pleasure’ of which the revellers boast.

And, bunga-bunga parties don’t generally employ a ‘court jester’. Thus Rigoletto’s appearance, clutching a cane walking stick, afflicted by a small hunch, and sporting a ‘buffone’ ti-shirt seems a little out of kilter.

Similarly, it’s customarily necessary for the audience to imagine Gilda as much younger than the average prima donna in the role: but here, it is hard to believe that the tomboy-ish naïf in hoodie and leggings knows nothing at all of life or love, or even her father’s name. Moreover, for one so innocent, Gilda’s maidenly resistance gives way with remarkable rapidly under the pressure of the Duke’s passionate wiles. Surely the florid coloratura of one so pure should not be accompanied by sexual shivering and writhing among the tousled sheets?

Bewitched by her aristocratic wooer, Gilda delivers ‘Caro nome’ clutching a pillow in a dancing embrace, while her hairbrush is fashioned into a wannabe’s microphone — all that is missing is some air-guitar strumming and strutting; not bad for a girl who leaves the house only to go to church, and who — judging by the paucity of her decrepit surroundings (certainly her home is humble, but is it really a hovel?) - is not in possession of even a transistor radio.

Perhaps such criticisms are unfair, for elsewhere, Posner demonstrates a notable attention to detail, resulting in an imaginative reinterpretation of familiar moments. Thus, we witness Gilda’s suicidal lunging for Sparafucile’s knife intent, despite her beloved’s infidelities, on self-sacrifice to save the Duke. And, the bar-TV screen, showing Seria A is interrupted by Pavarotti’s rendering of ‘La donna è mobile’, itself swiftly silenced by some speedy zapping by the Duke, neatly timed to coincide with the score.

And, there is much fine singing. As the Mantuan Duke, Korean-born Australian tenor Jaewoo Kim is perhaps somewhat miscast. Solid and reliable, he never looked completely comfortable as the smarmy charmer, or sufficiently predatory as the celebrant of promiscuity in ‘Questa o quella’. A rather tentative host in the opening party scene, the Duke’s dishevelled appearance in boxer shorts after his assignation with Maddelena hardly presents him as a louche libertine. Though accurate and secure of intonation, Kim lacks a true lyric quality and the requisite warm palette of colours, and his voice was somewhat hard and inflexible, particularly at top. Without sufficient musical and theatrical presence to command the stage, the Duke was at times unfortunately overshadowed, as in his agitated Act 2 aria when he laments the loss of the girl who has become the lodestar of his life — never convincing sentiments at the best of times.

Verdi’s jester is not a benign joker, rather a bitter, cruel man who, warped by his physical deformity, is selfish and abusive. But he is also a portrait of psychological and physical suffering and thus his physical deformities must be made clear if he is to be more than a mischievous imp, and if his paranoia and resulting spiteful vindictiveness are to be understood and forgiven. In his donkey jacket and Viking helmet, Robert Poulton’s scarcely inhibited ‘hunchback’ has to work hard to win our sympathy. But, Poulton proves himself eminently able to deal with the vocal demands and stamina of this challenging role; particularly impressive were the long recitatives, such as that which follows his first encounter with Sparafucile. His vengeful anger and bitterness were always clear, and he worked hard to arouse our sympathy in the duets with Gilda, producing a pleasing cantabile in ‘Piangi, fanciulla’.

Rigo-157.gifRobert Poulton as Rigoletto

Julia Sporsén, as Gilda, was a real revelation, displaying superb clarity and projection, her tone pure and effortlessly pleasing; she revelled in the bright coloratura and the simple childlike lyricism with equal aplomb — although, as ever, it proved difficult to reconcile the showy bravura with trusting simplicity. Sporsén may have lacked a genuine pianissimo but she demonstrated true tenderness in the opera’s final moments, and more than compensated for a lack of dynamic range with a soaring, gilded soprano as she appealed to Heaven for pity. Posner’s ‘masterstroke’ was saved for this final duet: for, instead of a momentary miracle recovery in father’s arms, summoning just enough strength to tell her heart-broken, frenzied father how she deceived him, this Gilda has already joined her mother in Heaven - an angelic voice, aloft, real or imagined, while the hunchback, clutching a body-bag, laments his misguided love and irredeemable loss. For once, no suspension of disbelief was required, and the distance both literal and metaphorical between father and daughter was touchingly rendered.

Graeme Broadbent’s Sparafucile radiated stentorian menace; his cavernous bass conveyed the emotionless amorality of the aproned butcher, who sharpened his knives like a demon barber. As Monterone, William Robert Allenby struck a dignified figure, his brooding, powerful bass-baritone suitably aggrieved.

In the other minor roles, a leather-clad Patricia Orr was a lively Maddalena, while Laura Wood’s Giovanna smuggled the Duke under Gilda’s dressing table with perfect timing. The chorus sung with secure ensemble.

Conductor Stuart Stratford was consistently alert to the musical details, coaxing beautiful solo playing from his principal cello, clarinet and oboe. After a solemn opening (perhaps the horns might have provided a touch more menace), he skilfully controlled the subtle shifts of pace, volleying rhythmic rises, and swelling instrumental furies followed by anxious descents, which characterise Verdi’s melodramatic score.

The venue itself provided the icing on the cake, as the darkening sky cast natural shadows heralding the approach of the louring storm and soughing wind, and signalled the unavoidable fulfilment of Monterone’s curse.

Overall, OHP served up a truly enjoyable evening of much fine musicianship and, despite a few false notes, some genuinely fresh theatrical insights.

Claire Seymour

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):