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 Reviews

English Pocket Opera Company: Verdi’s Macbeth

Last year we tracked Orfeo on his desperate search for his lost Euridice, through the labyrinths and studio spaces of Central St Martin’s; this year we were plunged into Macbeth’s tragic pursuit of power in the bare blackness of the CSM’s Platform Theatre.

Béla Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Béla Bartók’s only opera, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, composed in 1911 and based upon a libretto by the Hungarian writer Béla Balázs, was not initially a success.

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

André Previn: Brief Encounter (libretto by John Caird)
19 Aug 2011

Previn and Caird’s Brief Encounter

The chief classical music and opera critic for the Los Angeles Times often criticizes any new operas based on familiar films or classic novels, on the basis of artistic timidity and conservatism.

André Previn: Brief Encounter (libretto by John Caird)

Laura Jesson: Elizabeth Futral; Alec Harvey: Nathan Gunn; Fred Jesson: Kim Josephson. Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. Conductor: Patrick Summers.

DG 0289 477 9351 9 [2CDs]

$30.99  Click to buy

Think of the last three new operas which debuted at Los Angeles Opera — Il Postino, The Fly, and Grendel. Each was very different from the others, but at least for publicity purposes, much of the audience would have some familiarity with the material going in. In the end, all that should matter is the actual artistic quality of the resulting work (in the case of those three, in respective order: “qualified,” “abysmal,” and “interesting but flawed”).

Your reviewer does not know whether that critic reviewed the 2009 Houston Grand Opera premiere of André Previn and John Caird’s operatic adaptation of Brief Encounter, based on the well-known David Lean film. It would certainly have been an easy target, however. Here is a story of suppressed emotion, perfectly suited for the intimacy of close-ups and the relevant restraint of film acting. Somehow Previn and Caird convinced themselves this would good material for the field of opera — the core of which tends to be heightened emotion and dramatic but unsubtle effects. Perhaps just the mere renown of the film and its evocative title deluded the creators…

Helen Jesson and Alec Harvey, neither happily married, meet at a train station. They quickly feel a strong emotional attraction, and though Mrs. Jesson is nagged by guilt, she finds herself on the threshold of commencing an affair with Harvey, until he himself decides to make their mutual temptation impossible to pursue, by moving out of the country.

The lack of narrative incident and the mostly interior emotional conflicts make this one of those libretti where the singers are always announcing to the audience what they feel:

LAURA: I’ve been such a fool/I’ve been such a fool/I’ve fallen in love

Or:

ALEC: All my Thursdays are the same/Dreaming, yearning, planning, fearing/Praying for Laura to be here

The rest of the opera, in keeping with the original story, is a morass of the mundane, with talk of tea and weather and huge helpings of cliché (“time and tide will tell”). The exaggerated British accents of some of the singers of the smaller roles prove grating as well. A little of this goes a long way, and it should be pointed out that almost 30 minutes pass in act one before the would-be lovers have their first conversation alone. Previn scores these prosaic sections of the opera with his more pointed, acerbic modernistic style. The lyrical outbursts, when they come, are welcome as respite from the arid recitatives. Unfortunately, the most potent of Previn’s themes bears a very strong resemblance to the opening notes of Leonard Bernstein’s music for “Make our garden grow” from Candide. One can only imagine that with as esteemed a figure as André Previn, no one dared point this out to him.

In the lead roles, Nathan Gunn makes the best effect, his manicured, smooth approach perfect for the role. Elizabeth Futral as Helen is asked to sing at the top of her range far too much. Her final scene, therefore, is her most affecting, as Previn finally allows her to slip down into lower territory. Kim Josephson, in the thankless role of the husband for whom Helen forsakes true love, earns a fairly good solo in the last act.

Perhaps a video of this production would have produced evidence that Previn and Caird’s adaptation made a stronger impact seen staged. A better bet would be that any video would only call to mind comparisons with the classic film, which would be not in favor of the opera.

Chris Mullins

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):