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

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

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):