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

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

Henri Dutilleux: Correspondances

Henri Dutilleux’s music has its devotees. I am yet to join their ranks, but had no reason to think this was not an admirable performance of his song-cycle Correspondances.

LA Opera Revives The Ghosts of Versailles

In 1980, the Metropolitan Opera commissioned composer John Corigliano to write an opera celebrating the company’s one-hundredth anniversary. It was to be ready in 1983.

La Traviata, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Peter Konwitschny’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata had many elements in common with the production’s original outing in 2013 (The production was a co-production with Opera Graz, where it had debuted in 2011).

Idomeneo in Lyon

You might believe you could go to an opera and take in what you see at face value. But if you did that just now in Lyon you would have had no idea what was going on.

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

I wonder whether we need a new way of thinking — and talking — about operatic ‘revivals’. Perhaps the term is more meaningful when it comes to works that have been dead and buried for years, before being rediscovered by subsequent generations.

Iphigénie en Tauride in Geneva

Hopefully this brilliant new production of Iphigénie en Tauride from the Grand Théâtre de Genève will find its way to the new world now that Gluck’s masterpiece has been introduced to American audiences.

Tristan et Isolde in Toulouse

Tristan first appeared on the stage of the Théâtre du Capitole in 1928, sung in French, the same language that served its 1942 production even with Wehrmacht tanks parked in front of the opera house.

Arizona Opera presents Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Arizona Opera presented Eugene Onegin during and 1999-2000 season and again on February 1 of this year as part of the 2014-2015 season. In this country Onegin is not a crowd pleaser like La Bohème or Carmen, but its story is believable and its music melodic and memorable. Just hum the beginning of the “Polonaise” and your friends will know the music, if not where it comes from.

Ernst Krenek: Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen, Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Florian Boesch and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall in Ernst Krenek’s Reisebuch aus den österreichischen Alpen. Matthias Goerne has called Hanns Eisler’s Hollywooder Liederbuch the Winterreise of the 20th century. Boesch and Vignoles showed how Krenek’s Reisebuch is a journey of discovery into identity at an era of extreme social change. It is a parable, indeed, of modern times.

Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new Anna Bolena, a production shared with Minnesota Opera, features a distinguished cast including several notable premieres.

San Diego Celebrates 50th Year with La Bohème

On Tuesday January 27, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme. It is the opera with which the company opened in 1965 and a work that the company has faithfully performed every five years since then.

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.

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):