Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

A Venetian Double: English Touring Opera

Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto was the composer’s fifteenth opera, and the ninth to a libretto by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). First performed at the Teatro Sant’Apollinaire in Venice on 28th November 1651, the opera by might have been sub-titled ‘Gods Behaving Badly’, so debauched are the deities’ dalliances and deviations, so egotistical their deceptions.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Walter Braunfels : Orchestral Songs Vol 1

New from Oehms Classics, Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 1. Luxury singers - Valentina Farcas, Klaus Florian Vogt and Michael Volle, with the Staatskapelle Weimar, conducted by Hansjörg Albrecht.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.



Kim Sheehan as Livia and Nicholas Merryweather as Milord Arespingh [Picture(s) by Anthony Hall courtesy of Bampton Classical Opera]
21 Sep 2011

The Italian Girl in London, Bampton Classical Opera

As one of the most successful Italian opera composers of the late-eighteenth century, Domenico Cimarosa’s reputation lasted well into the following century during which his operas were staple repertoire in all the major European opera houses.

Domenico Cimarosa: The Italian Girl in London

Livia: Kim Sheehan; Madama Brillante: Caryl Hughes; Sumers: Adam Tunncliffe; Don Polidoro: Nicholas Merryweather; Milord Arespingh: Robert Winslade

Above: Kim Sheehan as Livia and Nicholas Merryweather as Milord Arespingh
All picture(s) by Anthony Hall courtesy of Bampton Classical Opera


Revered by artists and intellectuals, he was (according to an informative programme essay) considered by Delacroix to be superior to Mozart, while Stendhal asserted that his genius was equal to that of Raphael!

Nowadays, Cimarosa is best known primarily for his comic masterpiece, Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage). However, once again Bampton Classical Opera have delved into the archives and located another melodious, charming gem richly deserving of a wider audience.

Covering a single day during a time of war, and set in a London hotel, The Italian Girl in London is a typically daft buffa tale of muddle, misunderstanding and mayhem. Resident are an eclectic bunch of Europeans: an eminently sensible, if self-righteous, Dutchman, Sumers; Don Polidoro, an ardent Italian; and the morose English aristocrat, Milord Arespingh — their needs catered for by the émigré Italian hostess, Madama Brillante, assisted by her French waitress, Henriette. The foreign visitors find English manners and customs baffling, but despite their national differences, all three men are equally entranced by the captivating Henriette. In fact, ‘Henriette’ is actually Livia — formerly affianced to, and jilted by, Milord, who has been ordered by his father to marry the ghastly Diana. Polidoro is the object of Madama’s own amorous attentions, but she is determined to embarrass him for his infatuation with Livia. So, she explains that the girl can make herself invisible using a magic bloodstone, and tricks him into making amorous advances to thin air. Meanwhile, Sumers has learned of Milord’s forthcoming marriage and resolves to protect Livia from the inappropriate attentions of others. The protagonists lurch from one melodrama to the next: the deluded Polidoro searches for his own bloodstone in order to advance his courtship with Livia; driven to despair by thoughts of a life with Diana, Milord demands that the Italian spares him his fate by running him through with a sword; Livia is arrested (a ruse intended by her father to prevent her running away from home), before the chivalrous Sumers comes to her rescue. Inevitably, there is a sentimental resolution to the pandemonium: the puzzles are solved, the disorder dispelled, and both lovers and nations celebrate peaceful reconciliations.

Following fully staged performances earlier this season at Bampton, Westonbirt and at the Buxton Festival, Bampton Classical Opera presented the opera at St. John’s Smith Square with only costumes and minimal props to recreate the Victory Bar at the down-at-heel ‘Nelson Hotel’; a Rubik Cube (which fascinates but defeats the dim-witted Milord) and a rack of Charles & Di postcards serve to establish the year, 1982. At Buxton sets and staging were wittily deployed to complement the entertaining translation by Jeremy Gray and Gilly French, and this visual humour was missed, especially in the barmy finale to Act 1. Perhaps some side flats would have helped, but, although the stage business was necessarily quite limited given the restrictions of the St. John’s performing space, the young cast did succeed in conjuring up a frothy, sunny atmosphere — although the nautical cutlasses were more anachronistic when drawn from the umbrella stand than they had been when plucked from a wall display of maritime memorabilia!

_MG_9513.pngThe finale of Act I

Although the commedia dell’arte stereotypes are rather two-dimensional, focused acting from the whole cast quickly established strong characterisation: Nicholas Merryweather demonstrated a typically sharp appreciation of comic timing and gesture, and Adam Tunncliffe made much of the rather ‘flat’ role of Sumers, engaging the audience’s attention effectively in well-acted, focused recitatives. He demonstrated a flexible, pleasing tenor as he introduced a much-needed touch of sobriety into the inane proceedings. Even the silent roles — Rosa French, as the hotel’s gum-chewing maid, and director Jeremy Gray, attempting to restore order with his police officer’s hand-cuffs — contributed considerably to the capers and drolleries.

The singers enjoyed Cimarosa’s graceful, shapely vocal lines; while there is little flamboyant coloratura, the well-crafted phrases do allow for textual clarity, and diction was uniformly clear. Merryweather excelled in this regard; moreover, he charmingly varied his tone to indicate the passionate Italian’s whims and wiles — his crafty whispered asides, with perfect intonation and crisp enunciation, were particularly impressive. As a poised and dignified Livia, Irish soprano Kim Sheehan produced a pleasing round tone, never strident at the top, and conveyed tender pathos when destined for imprisonment.

Bass Robert Winslade Anderson (Milord) seemed a little hesitant at first, and on occasion strayed from conductor Thomas Blunt’s beat, but to be fair, placed in front of the orchestra and without a monitor to aid them, all the cast had to work hard in this regard. And, in an explosive jealous outburst in his Act 2 aria, Anderson presented a confident portrait of blustering pomposity, making excellent use of the text to develop characterisation. As the knowing, worldly Madama Brillante, Caryl Hughes’ Act 2 cavatina was particularly lively and bright.

Placed centrally on raked staging behind the singers, Bampton Classical Orchestra delivered a neat, precise performance, understated and accurate, never overwhelming the young voices. Textures were elegant, articulation appropriately nimble, and Charlotte Forrest’s continuo accompaniments were elegantly decorative. Blunt judged the tempi well, particularly in the galloping Act-finales; after a series of solo arias he confidently led cast and players as the momentum accumulated towards the cheerful, buoyant conclusion.

Claire Seymour

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):