Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Wally and Stephen Richardson as Stromminger [Photo by Fritz Curzon courtesy of Opera Holland Park]
01 Aug 2011

La Wally, Opera Holland Park, London

Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally is known for its arias, but the full opera is rarely performed. Expectations were high for this production at Opera Holland Park, London.

Alfredo Catalani: La Wally

Wally: Gweneth-Ann Jeffers; Stromminger: Stephen Richardson; Afra: Heather Shipp; Walter: Alinka Kozari; Hagenbach: Adrian Dwyer; Gellner: Stephen Gadd; Il Pedone: Charles Johnston. Conductor: Peter Robinson. City of London Sinfonia. Director: Martin Lloyd-Evans. Designer: Jamie Vartan. Holland Park Opera. 29th July to 12th August 2011.

Above: Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Wally and Stephen Richardson as Stromminger

Photos by Fritz Curzon courtesy of Opera Holland Park

 

La Wally has huge potential. It’s an Italianate Der Freischütz, imbued with the wild, free spirit of the Romantic Movement, though Catalani was a contemporary of Puccini. Perhaps they shared a common fascination with exotic locales and extreme emotion.

La Wally is gloriously theatrical. The heroine, Wally, is extraordinary. She’s an elemental, part woman, part nature spirit, who lives alone in the wilderness — surviving, one imagines, on sheer force of will. Compared to Wally, Carmen is a wimp. This story isn’t set in the high Alps for nothing. The mountains loom upwards towards the stratosphere. Extraordinary heroine, extraordinary setting: mountain peaks, frozen glaciers, crevasses, snowstorms and an avalanche.

Catalani’s music isn’t sophisticated, but it’s gorgeously atmospheric. Peter Robinson conducted the City of London Sinfonia with brio. Horns on one side, trombones and trumpet on the other, “calling” to one another as villagers in the Alps might do — church bells, the sound of distant hunting horns, long booming alpenhorns (created by the trombones), the sound of cowbells, bright sunny flute motifs, not-quite-Ländler dances, just bucolic enough to be humorous. This music is so colourful that you can visualize the imagery.

Then the atmosphere changes, like the weather in the Alps. Wally has been away for a year in the wilderness. The villagers are carousing in the square by the tavern. Wally is humiliated and overreacts. From then on Wally’s fate is sealed. The Andante that begins Act III marks a turning point. It’s moody, as if the weather is closing in. Catalani’s writing is so vivid that it becomes the drama. Wally’s heroic rescue mission is described in hard-driven figures. The avalanche music in Act IV could come straight out of Hollywood.

La Wally is a fascinating opera, so full of possibilities that it should be heard in full more frequently. So I was frustrated that more wasn’t made of it. Certainly, the opportunities were there. Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, who was a sensational Leonora in the 2010 OHP production of Verdi’s La forza del destino, was a brilliant choice for Wally. This isn’t any easy role to cast, particularly since the stars who’ve made the famous arias so popular are hard to equal. Wally is a complex personality, full of extremes and contradictions. The score gives clues to her background, but the part is so remarkable that there’s so much that could be done to flesh out the part. Jeffers has a voice with good range and emotional depth.

Her ‘Ebben? Ne andrò lontana’ was poignant, because Jeffers understands what leaving the village means to Wally. Wally takes risks, like her emblem the edelweiss, she clings to steep slopes and survives harsh conditions. Forceful as Wally is, Jeffers shows her finest colours in the Third and Fourth Act arias. Her dialogue with Walter (Alinka Kozari) is spirited, and her ‘Eterne a me d’intorno’ was a study in heartfelt dignity.

LaW-062.gifStephen Richardson as Stromminger and Stephen Gadd as Gellner

Jeffers can act as well as sing, as her performance in La forza demonstrated. In this production, her resources were sadly underutilized. Director Martin Lloyd-Evans keeps Jeffers busy doing things like change her clothes. In the score she removes her bodice, but on this stage she’s stripped down to her underwear, somewhat gratuitously. She’s directed to move in an inhibited way, as if she’s domesticated. The pearls aren’t merely decorative but as symbolic as a chain. Perhaps Wally is a victim of abuse, for Stromminger (Stephen Richardson) keeps beating her up, but she’s far too strong a personality to be cowed. Jeffers really should be groomed for greater things. She’s an asset British opera should nurture properly

This production had a generally strong cast. Adrian Dwyer and Stephen Gadd sing Hagenbach and Gellner better than they are called on to act. Stephen Richardson’s Stromminger is weighty — a pity the character dies after Act 1. Alinka Kozari’s Walter is bright and sharply characterized. Her extended Act I monologue was a joy. Charles Johnston was Il Pedone and Heather Shipp a sparky Afra.

La Wally isn’t an easy opera to stage, but Catalani’s score is so inherently dramatic that it suggests imaginative solutions. The mountains and the wild extremes of nature reflect the excesses in Wally’s personality. They function like a chorus, “speaking” through the music, sometimes sunny, but gradually more turbulent. and menacing, culminating in the avalanche. Mountains are dangerous, as Catalani keeps reminding us in the score. There’s almost no way anyone could stage La Wally realistically, for a narrative like this demands suspension of disbelief. Landscape settings on this grand scale would have been technically impossible in Catalani’s time. Realism in opera isn’t “tradition” but aberration. This opera is surreal nature fantasy, but that doesn’t mean banal.

Designer Jamie Vartan sidesteps the issue altogether, using a painter’s dropcloth, suspended by guy ropes that remain clearly visible throughout and threaten to trip the singers at several points. Only in the very end does the dropcloth make sense, when it’s manipulated to look much more like mountains, but by then the opera’s nearly over. The problem of how to stage the avalanche is solved but until that point, we’re often left staring at the carved portico that remains of Holland Park House which completely undercuts the idea of open horizons and wilderness. Since the opera itself comprises two distinct parts it might have been more effective to realise the difference with different settings, Perhaps filmed projections might work well in other houses, but Holland Park is almost open-air. Given the nature of the two acts, even a good old fashioned painted backdrop of mountains might work. It could be witty and let the singers and orchestra do their thing.

The staging is so awkward that if you didn’t know the plot you’d be lost. Gellner chases Hagenbach up the peaks and pushes him into a crevasse in the glacier. Catalani’s music describes the urgency and struggle with whirling figures like wind, trudging staccato, tearing, screaming figures from the string section, alarums from the brass. But what we get on stage is a trestle table about three feet high, covered with cloth. Gadd scuffles with Dwyer who rolls onto the other side of the table. The avalanche roars through the orchestra. We see an acrobat hanging from a rope on stage but the music has already told us that Wally and Hagenbach have been so overwhelmingly engulfed that no trace of them remains.

La Wally is definitely worth going to as it could be a while before another production comes along. Don’t worry too much about the staging, but focus on the excellent singing and the lively orchestra. This opera has great potential, so it’s worth thinking about in depth.

Anne Ozorio

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):