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

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):