15 Nov 2011
Eugene Onegin, ENO
Deborah Warner’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is an evocative and lyrical depiction of elegiac passion.
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
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.
Deborah Warner’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is an evocative and lyrical depiction of elegiac passion.
Fittingly for a work drawn from Pushkin’s verse novel, Warner’s vision is literary in its inspiration. Moving the action forward fifty years, from Pushkin’s 1840s to the late-nineteenth century, the director and her designer, Tom Pye, conjure a moving picture of Chekovian ‘twilight moods’. The pace is gently controlled; beautifully rendered natural scene drops unfold, like pages of a book, as we move through the chapters of the protagonists’ lives. The visual detail and accuracy of observation recalls Chekhov’s stylised blend of realism and romance.
Pye’s designs are sumptuous and surprising. The imposing ballroom columns of the third act, through which polonaising couples burst, justly won an instantaneous gasp of applause; cleverly, as the suppressed emotions of the social interior are exchanged for the freedom of the natural exterior, the splendid pillars become terrace colonnades – their majesty emphasising the tragic frailty of the protagonists. Most impressive was the silvery lakeside expanse of the second act, all glistening ice, wintry branches and shimmering mist – perfectly capturing the frozen emotions of the duellists who are alienated by jealousy, pride and convention.
The only puzzle was the vast barn of act one, which replaced the usual winter dacha. It was not clear why members of the fairly wealthy Larin family slept in what looked like an outbuilding. And, such an immense expense, stretching into the wings and up to the flies, was not the ideal location for Tatiana’s letter scene, which requires a sense of intimacy and constraint. Jean Kalman’s striking lighting did help: violent shadows loomed ominously behind the tormented heroine, and the gleaming sunrise which heralded the end of the act was almost painful in its gradually deepening intensity. The designs were complemented by Chloe Obolensky’s detailed naturalistic costumes.
Of the strong cast assembled, it was Toby Spence, as a fervently passionately Lensky who shone brightest. A sustained and utterly convincing dramatic interpretation was matched by a faultless vocal performance. In particular, in his act 2 aria preceding the duel, Spence delivered an exquisite pianissimo passage of reflection, poignantly recognising and regretting that even genuine fraternal love could not prevent pointless annihilation of life. The tensions and antagonisms between Lensky and Onegin were visually suggested by the taut diagonal line that the men formed as they ranged their rifles, Lensky sited to the rear of the stage, already receding from life. Warner’s attention to detail was impressive in this scene; telling touches, such as Onegin’s removal of his hat, subtly shaped the audience’s response.
Amanda Echalaz as Tatiana and Claudia Huckle as Olga
Lensky’s romantic ardour was such that it is hard to imagine how he could have formed such a strong friendship with the coolly aloof Onegin of Audun Iversen! It is a role that the Norwegian baritone has tackled to acclaim several times before; in this production, his Onegin is not a dastardly villain but wavers between blunt honesty and immature self-indulgence. He is bored by and frustrated with stifling social conventions. Although a little constrained to begin, by the final act Iversen’s beautiful mellow tone, with its rich low notes and free, relaxed in upper register, went some way to winning the audience’s sympathy for this flawed dreamer.
Having recently taken audiences by storm as Tosca at both of London’s main houses, Amanda Echalaz’s Tatiana was a little disappointing. There is no doubting the wonderful strength and depth of her voice, and her secure chest notes are impressive. Tatiana’s elegiac passion was powerfully conveyed. But, Echalaz’s tone was rather one-dimensional. She has admirable stamina and there was lots of power, but not much light and shade. There were some moments of gleam, but on the whole both more radiance and more fragility were required in order to convey Tatiana’s tragic vulnerability and emotional frailty. There were some intonation problems too, particularly a tendency for the fortissimos to stray sharpwards.
Auden Iversen as Onegin and Amanda Echalaz as Tatiana
The principals were well supported by the minor roles. Diana Montague (Larina) and Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Filippyevna) were superb, while Claudia Huckle was a lively, impassioned Olga. Brindley Sherratt, who impressed in ENO’s recent Simon Boccanegra, displayed gravitas and honesty as the elderly Gremin. In the cameo role of Monsieur Triquet, Adrian Thompson almost stole the show!
The thunder of the enlarged chorus in the climactic moments was rich and thrilling, although they were a little untidy at times. The stage was crowded, with children and dancers adding to the maelstrom. Kim Brandstrup’s choreography combined stylised realisation of Russian peasant culture enriched with modernist gesture; both in the opening act and the later ballroom the dances served to establish cultural mannerisms and social hierarchies.
Claudia Huckle as Olga and Toby Spence as Lensky
Edward Gardner conducted with consummate appreciation of the spirit and pace of the opera: he and Warner allow space for emotive silences, most tellingly in letter scene. Pauses between scenes and acts suggest that while life hangs suspended, later everything will inevitably change. Sudden surges of rapturous orchestral outpouring are contained within controlled musical forms, as the repressed souls fleetingly give vent to romantic yearnings. Gardner’s attention to detail is masterly. Nothing is over-stated. Tchaikovsky’s score is not so interested in external worlds but in the characters’ inner development, just as in Chekhov’s plays the poetic power is hidden beneath surfaces, and so reveals the true depths of human experience.
Martin Pickard’s translation is rather mundane at times although he captures some of the original’s lyricism in the set pieces. Pushkin’s tale may be a fairly clichéd account of unrequited love, missed opportunities and the conflict between passion and convention, but it is a tale with which all can surely identify. If despair and hopelessness dominate, there is still radiance amid the torture. From quiet beginnings, Warner allows huge human passions to emerge. She simply lets the music tell its story.