Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):