Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Libretto of Le Nozze di Figaro, Prague 1786 [Image courtesy of Wikipedia]
07 Jul 2011

The Marriage of Figaro, Opera Holland Park

Even before a note was sounded at Opera Holland Park on Saturday evening, the still summer evening was ruffled by a breeze of unease.

W. A. Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro

Figaro: Matthew Hargreaves; Susanna: Jane Harrington; Count Almaviva: George von Bergen; Countess Almaviva: Elizabeth Llewellyn; Cherubino: Hannah Pedley; Dr Bartolo: Lynton Black; Marcellina: Sarah Pring; Don Basilio/Don Curzio: Andrew Glover; Antonio: Henry Grant Kerswell; Barbarina: Jaimee Marshall. Conductor: Matthew Willis. Director: Liam Steel. Designer: Emma Wee. Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell. Opera Holland Park, Saturday 2nd July 2011.

Above: Libretto of Le Nozze di Figaro, Prague 1786 [Image courtesy of Wikipedia]


Producer James Clutton took to the stage to announce that the original Susanna, Claire Meghnagi, had “left the production” and been replaced at short notice by Jane Harrington. In addition, Matthew Hargreaves, our elegantly attired factotum for the evening was not feeling on top form, but would soldier on regardless.

To paraphrase Lady Bracknell, “to lose one principal may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness”. In the event, if Hargreaves was suffering it did not affect him too greatly; there were a few problems with projection initially — he was rather tentative in the opening duets — but he quickly warmed up and by ‘Se Vuol Ballare’ was well into his stride (although conductor Matthew Willis nearly knocked him off-balance with some unexpected and inexplicable changes of tempo). If Hargreaves fudged a few of his notes at the top, it did not detract from a committed and lively performance. His camp, mincing, Jeeves-like antics were energetic and eye-catching, and he demonstrated a good sense of timing in what is an intricately choreographed production.

As for Harrington, she slipped effortlessly into the comic capers and complicated stage manoeuvres; she clearly knows this opera well, but if she really had had only a few days of rehearsal, she must have a remarkable stage memory. Her Susanna exuded brio, confidence and charm. Her Act 3 duet with the Countess ‘Sull’ aria’ was exquisitely sweet and clear. Indeed, the vocal expressivity of Elizabeth Llewellyn, as the disillusioned, disheartened Countess, was one of the highlights of the evening. Both ‘Porgi amor’ and ‘Dove sono’ powerfully conveyed her distress and established her aristocratic dignity. However, Llewellyn and her philandering Count, George von Bergen, (equally strong vocally, his dark registers booming out to suggest menace) are not the most convincing of actors and in a production that often found them at the front of the stage, statically facing the audience, they didn’t always make dramatic impact.

And, herein lies much of the problem with this production. For Liam Steel frequently neglects to direct the principals while involving the chorus in ceaseless hectic, and often distracting, activity. During the overture, the hustle and bustle of the upstairs/downstairs world was captured by a seething mass of servile retainers who rushed about the stage, plumping cushions, airing linen, carrying silverware (a debt, conscious or otherwise, to David McVicar’s ROH production?), and charging helter-skelter in and out of the numerous doors which extended in sharp perspective from the arched walls of Holland Park House (Emma Wee’s graceful set, cleverly calling the walls of the house into action). Such frenetic commotion on stage was not matched in the pit where, here and throughout the performance, rhythmic drive and forward momentum — so essential to the comic impetus — were sadly lacking. In general, Willis adopted an overly lyrical approach, eschewing the brisk crispness of the Classical idiom; occasional exaggerated dynamic contrasts and clumsy accelerations of pace could not inject the necessary joie de vivre.

Figaro-OHP.gifScene from The Marriage of Figaro [Photo by Fritz Curzon]

There were some deft theatrical touches — Cherubino’s leap through the chamber window into the geranium beds, for example, was neatly and wryly effected — but on the whole there was too much clutter and fussy choreography, which frequently hindered the singers’ attempts to establish character and dramatic situation through the music itself. Thus, Lynton Black struggled to convince us of Dr Bartolo’s vicious anger in the vengeful ‘La vendetta’, as the chorus farcically waved red books to and fro in the background; in case we were uncertain that Antonio (Henry Grant Kersell) is a gardener, his arrival in search of the destroyer of his precious flowerbeds was accompanied by a chorus of dancing geranium pots. When they weren’t parading picture frames or pirouetting around the furniture, the chorus were placing ‘legless’ furniture beneath the derrieres of their distressed masters and mistresses. The music was simply never allowed to speak for itself. Thus, even Cherubino’s gauche outpouring of adolescent passion, ‘Voi che sapete’, sung with bright clarity by a perky Hannah Pedley, was ‘illustrated’ by some mimed shenanigans by the four principals, subsequently imitated in a choreographed coda by a lower class quartet.

Although this chaotic stage business might have resembled a bedroom farce, the fact is that it simply wasn’t funny. The unpoetic banalities of the ‘re-written libretto’ (I hesitate to use the word ‘translation’) did not help; the surtitles not only lacked the grace of Da Ponte’s witty couplets, but frequently had only a tenuous relationship to the events and dialogue that the original libretto describes. Thus, despite some fine singing, hyperactivity on stage contrasted with lethargy in the pit, and as darkness fell, what is a long opera began to feel like a languorous one; one of the finest musical comedies reduced to dramatic inertia.

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):