Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.



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):