Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

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.

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.

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.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).



Hannah Hipp [Photo © The Royal Opera / Richard Hubert Smith]
26 Oct 2011

A Portrait of Manon — Young Artrists at the Royal Opera House

Without young artists, no art form will thrive or grow. The Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists scheme nurtures the best from its young artists that their performances attract thoughtful audiences.

Jules Massenet: Le Portrait de Manon; Hector Berlioz: Les Nuits d’été

Aurore: Susana Gaspar; Jean: Hanna Hipp; Tiberge: Pablo Bemsch; Des Grieux: Zhengzhong Zhou. Conductor: Geoffrey Paterson (Le Portrait de Manoin). Volker Krafft (Les Nuits d’été). South Bank Sinfonia. Director: Pedro Ribeiro. Designer: Sophie Mosberger. Lighting: Warren Letton. Movement: Mandy Demetriou. Royal Opera House Jette Parker Young Artists, Linbury Studio Theatre, 18th October 2011.

Above: Hannah Hipp

Photos © The Royal Opera / Richard Hubert Smith


All members of the Royal Opera House Young Artists scheme are professionals, not students, and have extensive experience even before they come, as former Young Artist Simona Mihai put it “to be polished like gemstones”. Graduates of the scheme include Marina Poplavskaya, Jacques Imbrailo and Ekaterina Gubernova.

Most of the Young Artists are singers, but the scheme also covers other aspects of opera-making. The singers, directors and conductors in the scheme created this special performance of Massenet Le Portrait de Manon and Berlioz Les Nuits d'été to demonstrate their skills.

JPYA_LES-NUITS-DETE-02.gifPablo Bemsch

Massenet composed Le Portrait de Manon in 1894 as a one-act sequel to Manon. It is an excellent choice, coming after the Royal Opera House productions of Manon and Cendrillon. Knowing the background is valuable, as Le Portrait de Manon is essentially an epilogue to Manon. However, this Young Artists production was good enough that it could stand on its own.

Des Grieux (Zhengzhong Zhou) has grown old and bitter, so trapped in his grief that he's irritated when his lively young nephew Jean (Hanna Hipp) falls in love and wants to marry. The set (Sophie Mosberger) is very well designed, emphasizing Des Grieux's isolation, despite the trappings of wealth. There's a long rumination, in which Des Grieux sings about his past. Zhengzhong Zhou worked two years in France, and sang Valentin in Gounod's Faust earlier this month, so although he's only 27, he characterized Des Grieux's personality with emotional depth. His makeup was so well done, he looked as mature as he sounded. Pablo Bemsch, as Tiberge, Des Grieux's friend, was also very convincing, extending our sympathy with the predicament. Des Grieux isn't being unreasonable when he opposes Jean's marriage: perhaps he doesn't want the young man to be hurt as he was.

JPYA_MANON-01.gifZhengzhong Zhou as Des Grieux and Hannah Hipp as Jean

Love and youth will triumph, after all, as this is opera. Hanna Hipp is one of this year's new members of the Young Artists scheme, but she impressed greatly even as a student several years ago at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Here she's a vivacious young scamp in trousers. Maybe Des Grieux is right, Jean's too young to be tied down. But Hipp and Aurore (Susana Gaspar) are spirited, and their confidence in their roles makes the resolution inevitable. Stunned by Aurore's appearance, dressed as Manon, Des Grieux remembers and relents. If Manon the opera is tragic, Le Portrait de Manon is an invigorating romp, and in this performance, deftly executed.

Berlioz’s Les Nuits d'été is a song cycle, and even in the 1856 orchestral transcription heard here, doesn't transfer easily to the stage. In theory, there's no reason why not, and the undercurrent of dream unifies the group of songs. While the staging for Le Portrait de Manon was concise, enhancing, adding to meaning, the staging for Les Nuits d'été was clumsy. One bed might have sufficed. These songs express states of mind, not different characters.

JPYA_MANON-02.gifHannah Hipp as Jean, Pablo Bemsch as Tiberge and Susana Gaspar as Aurore

Pablo Bensch had been interesting as Tiberge earlier, so I was looking forward to his Villanelle. Unfortunately orchestra and singer weren't properly aligned, the winds entering insensitively, throwing the vocal line off kilter. Fortunately, Bemsch was better supported in Au Cimitiere. Hanna Hipp and Susana Gaspar sang the other songs. The balance was good, making a case for mixed voices. Berlioz sanctioned this, but it's usually impractical in recital — another good reason for paying attention to Young Artists Events, where repertoire is often approached in interesting ways.

Anne Ozorio

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):