Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

A Prom of Transformation and Transcendence: Renée Fleming and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

This Prom was all about places: geographical, physical, pictorial, poetic, psychological. And, as we journeyed through these landscapes of the mind, there was plenty of reminiscence and nostalgia too, not least in Samuel Barber’s depiction of early twentieth-century Tennessee - Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

The Queen's Lace Handkerchief: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

Billed as the ‘First British Performance’ - though it had had a prior, quasi-private outing at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe in July - Opera della Luna’s production of Johann Strauss Jnr’s The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief (Das Spitzentuch der Königin) at Wilton’s Music Hall began to sound pretty familiar half-way through the overture (which was played with spark and elegance by conductor Toby Purser’s twelve-piece orchestra).

Glyndebourne perform La clemenza di Tito at the Proms

The advantage of Glyndebourne Opera’s performances at the BBC Proms is that they give us a chance to concentrate on the music making. And there was plenty of high-quality music-making on offer at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 28 August 2017 when Glyndebourne Opera performed Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito.

Rossini’s Torvaldo e Dorliska in Pesaro

The rare and somewhat interesting Rossini! Torvaldo e Dorliska (1815) comes just after Elisabetta, Regina di Ingleterra (the first of his nineteen operas for Naples) — a huge success, and just before Il barbiere di Siviglia in Rome — a failure.

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):