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

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde, London - Rattle, O'Neill, Gerhaher

By pairing Mahler Das Lied von der Erde (Simon O'Neill, Christian Gerhaher) with Strauss Metamorphosen, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra were making a truly powerful statement. The Barbican performance last night was no ordinary concert. This performance was extraordinary because it carried a message.

David McVicar's Rigoletto returns to the ROH

This was a rather disconcerting performance of David McVicar’s 2001 production of Rigoletto. Not only because of the portentous murkiness with which Paule Constable’s lighting shrouds designer Michael Vale’s ramshackle scaffolding; nor, the fact that stage and pit frequently seemed to be tugging in different directions. But also, because some of the cast seemed rather out of sorts.

Verdi Otello, Bergen - Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, Lester Lynch

Verdi Otello livestream from Norway with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Garner with a superb cast, led by Stuart Skelton, Latonia Moore, and Lester Lynch and a good cast, with four choirs, the Bergen Philharmonic Chorus, the Edvard Grieg Kor, Collegiûm Mûsicûm Kor, the Bergen pikekor and Bergen guttekor (Children’s Choruses) with chorus master Håkon Matti Skrede. The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1765, just a few years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra : Scandinavian musical culture has very strong roots, and is thriving still. Tucked away in the far north, Bergen may be a hidden treasure, but, as this performance proved, it's world class.

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

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):