Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at Seattle

It appears that Charlie Parker’s Yardbird has reached the end of its road in Seattle. Since it opened in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia it has played Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and the English National Opera.

La Périchole in Marseille

The most notable of all Péricholes of Offenbach’s sentimental operetta is surely the legendary Hortense Schneider who created the role back in 1868 at Paris’ Théâtre des Varietés. Alas there is no digital record.

Three Centuries Collide: Widmann, Ravel and Beethoven

It’s very rare that you go to a concert and your expectation of it is completely turned on its head. This was one of those. Three works, each composed exactly a century apart, beginning and ending with performances of such clarity and brilliance.

Seventeenth-century rhetoric from The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

‘Yes, in my opinion no rhetoric more persuadeth or hath greater power over the mind; hath not Musicke her figures, the same which Rhetorique? What is a but her Antistrophe? her reports, but sweet Anaphora's? her counterchange of points, Antimetabole's? her passionate Aires but Prosopopoea's? with infinite other of the same nature.’

Hrůša’s Mahler: A Resurrection from the Golden Age

Jakub Hrůša has an unusual gift for a conductor and that is to make the mightiest symphony sound uncommonly intimate. There were many moments during this performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony where he grappled with its monumental scale while reducing sections of it to chamber music; times when the power of his vision might crack the heavens apart and times when a velvet glove imposed the solitude of prayer.

Full-Throated Troubador Serenades San José

Verdi’s sublimely memorable melodies inform and redeem his setting of the dramatically muddled Il Trovatore, the most challenging piece to stage of his middle-period successes.

Opera North deliver a chilling Turn of the Screw

Storm Dennis posed no disruption to this revival of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, first unveiled at Leeds Grand Theatre in 2010, but there was plenty of emotional turbulence.

Luisa Miller at English National Opera

Verdi's Luisa Miller occupies an important position in the composer's operatic output. Written for Naples in 1849, the work's genesis was complex owing to problems with the theatre and the Neapolitan censors.

Eugène Onéguine in Marseille

A splendid 1997 provincial production of Tchaikovsky’s take on Pushkin’s Bryonic hero found its way onto a major Provençal stage just now. The historic Opéra Municipal de Marseille possesses a remarkable acoustic that allowed the Pushkin verses to flow magically through Tchaikovsky’s ebullient score.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Claire Rutter as Tosca and Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossi [Photo by Mike Hoban courtesy of English National Opera]
27 Nov 2011

Tosca, ENO

The swift return to the Coliseum of Catherine Malfitano’s production of Tosca, premiered in 2010, contrasts strongly with the increasingly disposable nature of many recent ENO productions.

Giacomo Puccini: Tosca

Floria Tosca: Claire Rutter; Mario Cavaradossi: Gwyn Hughes Jones; Baron Scarpia: Anthony Michaels-Moore; Cesare Angelotti: Matthew Hargreaves; Sacristan: Henry Waddington; Spoletta: Scott Davies; Sciarrone: Graeme Danby; Gaoler: Christopher Ross; Shepherd-boy: Jacob Ramsay-Patel. Director: Catherine Malfitano; Set designs: Frank Schloessmann; Costumes: Gideon Davey; Lighting: David Martin Jacques and Kevin Sleep. Chorus of the English National Opera (chorus master: Nicholas Chalmers); Orchestra of the English National Opera; Stephen Lord (conductor). Coliseum, London, Saturday 26 November 2011.

Above: Claire Rutter as Tosca and Gwyn Hughes Jones as Cavaradossii

Photos by Mike Hoban courtesy of English National Opera

 

Malfitano’s staging makes a refreshing change both from the likes of the floundering first-time spoken theatre and film directors often recently engaged by the company, and from the ludicrous, dramatically-null vulgarity of the Zeffirelli brigade. It doubtless helps to have someone at the directorial helm who knows the work from the inside, having sung the title-role a good many times herself. There is nothing here — with the possible exception of the third act — to frighten self-appointed ‘traditionalists’, although in such repertoire and with respect the audiences it tends to attract, I cannot help but wish that someone would occasionally shock the horses. (Just imagine what Calixto Bieito might make of Tosca!) Despite the sometimes bizarre specificity of the libretto, there seems to me no reason why intelligent relocation or abstraction could not work: the opera is not in any meaningful sense ‘about’ the experience of the French Revolution in Rome. Malfitano, however, elects successfully to retain the settings and for the most part the attitudes of the work’s creators, respecting as do they the classical unities.

The first act is therefore set in S.Andrea della Valle at noon, convincingly represented in realistic fashion by Frank Philipp Schlössmann’s designs. The force of Cavaradossi’s painting registers straightforwardly, but none the worse for that. One strongly feels the menace of the Church as pillar of the (re-)established order at the entrance of clergy and acolytes for the “Te Deum”. (I cannot help but find the anti-clericalism shallow, verging on the puerile, but that is no fault of the production.) Likewise, the second act is set at evening in Scarpia’s quarters in the Palazzo Farnese, furnished as one might expect, though without excess. The third act therefore comes as a bit of a surprise, at least in terms of designs . Doubtless taking as its cue references in words and stage directions to the stars, perhaps even those to the saints in heaven, we see the skies as if from a space ship, though something akin to the battlements is still present. It did not bother me in the slightest, though nor, by the same token, did I find the image revelatory. Throughout, Malfitano’s direction of the characters on stage proves quietly accomplished, providing neither mishaps nor particular flashes of revelation. I do not mean to imply that it is dull, for it is not, but nor does this in any sense approach reinterpretation, for which many will doubtless be relieved. If I found the final melodrama as difficult to take as ever, a not-entirely-fitting conclusion to so well-crafted a score, then clearly I am in the minority; rightly or wrongly, it receives faithful treatment here.

Stephen Lord’s conducting was impressive. Lord is not a conductor I have previously heard, but I should certainly be interested to do so again. Despite the occasional instance of perhaps driving the score a little hard, the full yet variegated sound conjured from the orchestra was as fine as I have heard at the Coliseum for quite some time. Alert to Puccini’s Wagnerisms without overplaying them, there was a fine continuity to Lord’s traversal of the score, which here in both harmony and orchestration at times sounded, to its great benefit, appreciably more modernistic than one often hears. It was not for nothing that both Schoenberg and Berg were admirers. Even Mahler, in his scathing description of a Meistermachwerk, acknowledged the skill of orchestration — an undoubted advance upon so many of Puccini’s Italian forebears — though added that any cobbler nowadays could merely ‘orchestrate to perfection’.

Tosca_2011_Anthony_Michaels_Moore_2_Credit_Mike_Hoban.pngAnthony Michaels-Moore as Scarpia

If the singing did not truly scaled the heights, it was professionally despatched. No one is going to replicate Callas, and Claire Rutter wisely did not attempt to try: hers was an intelligent enough stage portrayal, a little lacking in charisma perhaps, likewise in creation of the diva-status of Floria Tosca as singer, but, despite occasional weakness in sustaining her line, there was nothing grievous to worry about. Gwyn Hughes-Jones’s Cavaradossi was not entirely free of crooning tendencies, nor did it revel in subtleties, but it was well enough sung, and would doubtless have sounded better in Italian. Anthony Michaels-Moore seemed to experience vocal difficulties in the first act but his Scarpia sharpened up in the second, albeit without ever quite capturing the sheer danger and malevolence of the most notable interpreters. The smaller parts were all well taken. Choral singing, not always the strongest point recently at the Coliseum, was similarly accomplished.

Mark Berry

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):