Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Tristan und Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper

David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s seminal music drama runs aground on the Cornish coast.

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

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):