28 Sep 2011
Faust, Royal Opera House
When the Royal Opera House London does things well, it does them very well indeed. This Gounod’s Faust was a sizzler!
Following highly successful UK premières of Salieri’s Falstaff (in 2003) and Trofonio’s Cave (2015), this summer Bampton Classical Opera will present the first UK performances since the late 18th century of arguably his most popular success: the bitter comedy of marital feuding, The School of Jealousy (La scuola de’ gelosi). The production will be designed and directed by Jeremy Gray and conducted by Anthony Kraus from Opera North. The English translation will be by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. The cast includes Nathalie Chalkley (soprano), Thomas Herford (tenor) and five singers making their Bampton débuts:, Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano), Kate Howden (mezzo-soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Matthew Sprange (baritone) and Samuel Pantcheff (baritone). Alessandro was the joint winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Competition 2016.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.
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On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
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The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.
Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.
This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful producers of opera.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.
Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
When the Royal Opera House London does things well, it does them very well indeed. This Gounod’s Faust was a sizzler!
A stellar cast — Angela Gheorghiu, Vittorio Grigolo, René Pape and Dmitri Hvorostovsky — made this a sense of occasion, although the production, by David McVicar, was first seen in 2004. The performance worked well because there was good integration of all elements that contribute towards operatic experience — singing, staging, acting and orchestra. Following on from the superb Puccini Il trittico (reviewed here), it made for a spectacular start to the 2011/2 season at the Royal Opera House, London.
McVicar himself wasn’t present, but revival director Lee Blakely must have inspired the cast, for they were singing with great panache. Perhaps a little too much at times, for both Gheorghiu and Grigolo threw themselves so passionately into their parts that at times, there were weaknesses. But better this enthusiasm than technically note-perfect and dull. Faust and Marguerite don’t have Méphistophélès’s demonic powers, but they beat him in the end.
René Pape as Méphistofèlés
It was touching to see how genuinely happy Gheorghiu seemed to be when she comes upon the jewel box and forgets the studied froideur, with which she sang “The Song of the King of Thule.” If her diction wavers, it’s not entirely out of context. Gheorghiu’s Marguerite, despite the unflattering blonde wig, is sympathetic. Faust’s sacrificing love becomes altogether plausible.
Faust stretches Vittorio Grigolo vocally, but he compensates with expressive acting. His bright, exuberant timbre creates a Faust who’s hypnotized by the excitement of being young, a junkie to the thrill of new sensations. Thus he fits well with René Pape’s suave Méphistophélès. This opera is as much about social values as metaphysical struggle, so Pape’s sophisticated “French” urbanity may indeed be preferable. The humour in the plot, and the dogged cheerfulness in much of the orchestral writing indicates a lighter touch than obvious melodramatic malevolence.
Gounod’s long sequences for ballet are integral to the opera because, like the mercurial scene changes, they add sparkling wit. The witches in Walpurgis Night aren’t ugly crones but seductive ballerinas, who in this production have an orgy with the male patrons of the ballet. Just as Faust is tempted by sex, and Méphistophélès is repelled by Marthe (Carole Wilson)’s generous offer, so were audiences in Gounod’s time titilliated by tutus and dancers of easy virtue. These “witches” are free spirits of nature. Margeurite and Faust do what comes naturally. When Méphistophélès sings about “Reines de beauté, de l’antiquité”, Pape wears a woman’s black gown. Perhaps the reference is to Ortrud and her ancient gods, but more likely it connects to Goethe’s Eternal Feminine, temporarily usurped by Satan.
Angela Gheorghiu as Marguérite
Hence the creation of Siébel as trouser role (Michèle Losier,). Nothing is quite what it appears to be in this moral universe. Even the “sculpture” in the church turns out to be Méphistophélès in a marble-coloured cape.
There’s a similar logic to Gounod’s emphasis on the military.context. It’s great theatre and the rousing march “Gloire immortelle” is justly famous. It expands the part of Valentin, Marguerite’s brother, for he symbolizes the moral force that stand up to Méphistophélè’s sensual wiles. Dmitri Hvorostovsky is luxury casting, and his big arias, especially the curse, were superbly dramatic. In this production, he also has to act a lot, both in the sword scenes and in the ballet, where now he’s one of the undead, and is tempted. Macabrely, by the dancers. Perhaps Valentin doesn’t have to be.young, but Valentin’s naivety is so much a part of the role that we should cherish Hvorostovsky while we can.
Stage designs, by Charles Edwards are sumptuous, but as usual, his designs “act” amplifying themes in the drama. Town transforms to church then to the Harz mountains and to the Théâtre Lyrique, as mercurially as Méphistophélès can transport Faust through time and place. Spartan gloom to gorgeous luxury to desolation, like Faust’s life. Marguerite’s redemption seems even more miraculous. There’s no need to lift her up to the ceiling. Gheorghiu lies still, lit in pristine simplicity.
So much in this opera depends on the orchestra and the choruses, and this we had in abundance. Evelino Pidò first conducted at the Royal Opera House in 1993, His experience and focus pulled all the elements of the performance together extremely well.
For more information, please see the Royal Opera House website.