Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.

La Vestale, La Monnaie, Bruxelles

In the first half of the 19th century, Spontini’s La Vestale was a hit. Empress Josephine sponsored its premiere, Parisians heard it hundreds of times, Berlioz raved about it and Wagner conducted it.

Shattering Madama Butterfly Stockholm

An intelligent updating and outstanding performance of the title role lead to a shattering climax in Puccini's Japanese opera



Copyright Vlaamse Opera / Frederik Beyens
02 Dec 2011

Antwerp’s Puzzling Tchaikovsky Rarity

From the moment the curtain rose to reveal a loony bin instead of the 15th Century Inn of the libretto, it seemed likely the Flemish Opera was going to raise more questions than it answered about Tchaikovsky’s rarely performed The Enchantress.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Tsjarodejka (The Enchantress)

Nastasia (Kuma): Ausrine Stundyte; Nikita: Valery Alexeev; Jevpraxija: Irina Makarova; Prince Yuri: Dimitri Polkopin; Mamirov: Taras Shtonda; Paisi: Nikolai Gassiev; Ivan Sjoeran: Igot Bakan; Foka: Jevgeni Polikanin; Polja: Anneke Luyten; Balakin: Vesselin Ivanov; Potap: Thomas Dear; Loekasj: Stephen Adrieans; Kittsjiga: Thomas Muerk; Nenila: Bea Desmet; Conductor: Dmitri Jurowski; Director: Tatjana Gűrbaca; Set and Lighting Design: Klaus Grűnberg; Costume Design: Marc Weeger and Silke Willrett; Chorus Master: Yannis Pouspourikas.

Above: Copyright Vlaamse Opera / Frederik Beyens


I certainly applaud the enterprising company for the adventurous season on offer during which locals can also take in Il Viaggio a Reims, Il Duca d’Alba and Mahagonny along with the slightly more mainstream Forza and a lone bread-and-butter run of Carmen. The overall high quality of productions here and the excellent caliber of the singers has won the loyalty and trust of a public who will clearly embrace new experiences beyond the standard repertoire. That said, The Enchantress was, for me, an opportunity missed.

Back to the afore-mentioned nut house: the first act was populated by an ensemble dressed in a ragtag, indecipherable array of (mostly) contemporary costumes (by Marc Weeger and Silke Willrett) that included mismatched track suits, letter jackets, medical wear, shorts, mix-and-match gowns, drag, military, terrorists, a large polar bear ‘mascot,’ and yes, even a female chorister in a giant white knit penis costume with removable ‘cap.’ There were real genitals on display as well, with two naked muscled ballerinos jiggle-flopping their way through the proceedings, one sporting a design of body-paint and wearing a surgical mask, the other disguised by a full rubber head of a green alien seemingly out of the bar scene in the original Star Wars. (Perhaps this was to protect the innocent.) The box set (designer Klaus Grűnberg) was a white tiled asylum (with some more penis images graffiti’d on the walls), packed with ‘choral risers’ built of overturned white plastic bottle crates. At rise, an acrobat is discovered balancing horizontally on his stomach atop an aluminum A-frame ladder center stage, while the inmates revel manically in the crowded playing space.

Did no one see the problem of presenting a virtually unknown work in such a radical ‘interpretation’? An audience hungry to know the piece has read a program synopsis and surtitles that are completely at odds with what is being presented visually. And while we are wondering how it all reconciles, what it might ‘mean,’ and what the hell the dancing polar bear is doing up there, we are mightily distracted from the full impact of some worthy music, well performed. The title refers to the central character of Nastasia (nicknamed ‘Kuma’), dubbed by some historians as "the Russian Carmen," so potent is her sensual appeal. It is not the lovely soprano Ausrine Stundyte’s fault that director Tatjana Gűrbaca has imagined her as more ‘floozy’ than ‘fatale.’ Decked out in a Sally Bowles spaghetti strap cocktail dress and black suit jacket, black hose, and a head piece that looks like a Beefeater black furry hat with a serious feathered cowlick, Kuma comes off visually about as ‘irresistible’ as a roadside hooker at 6:00 am. It doesn’t help that Ausrine is made to sashay and shimmy and stroke and pout with every Vamp cliché in the catalogue. What Ms. Stundyte does accomplish is singing very beautifully indeed, with a sizable lyrico-spinto instrument that encompasses a robust mid-register and a potent top with just a hint of steel. Previous encounters with her have revealed her to be capable of much more personalized, inventive acting than was asked of her here.

The crowd management seemed mostly designed to get masses out of the way as best as possible, in order for the principals to get on stage through the double doors, far upstage center. A couple of soloists (Prince Nikita, Deacon Mamirov) were brought downstage, but others were not, including young Prince Yuri whose lingering in the door made a weak first impression, distanced as he was from the audience. Although the upper class were in business suits, it was hard to guess what their relationships were owing to the lack of specificity in the stage groupings.

Mercifully, the obstructive ladder was finally struck and the space was freed for more varied pictures. There was a wonderful sense of repose in Act One’s great ‘a capella’ ensemble, but the lighting (Mr. Grűnberg again), having been adequate this far, was suddenly cued to throw the whole stage into very dim shadows. Very. Dim. Faces-Lost-Dim. Like this effect, the entire Act was littered with un-illuminated generalities and a conspicuous lack of focus. By the time One ended with Mamirov being pummeled with the knit penis head wielded by the Star Wars nude (laughing silently-if-demonically), I was worried — very worried — where else this could go. And then…

Act Two, set in a non-specific, elegant grey-curtained office-cum-dining-room showed some startling dramatic bite and unexpected character development. Turns out we are in Soviet Russia, and the privileged class are powerful apparatchiks. Princess Jevpraxija is rubber-stamping documents at her desk as she laments abandonment by her husband Nikita. Irina Makarova, looking regal in a tailored State uniform, turned in a performance of searing intensity and vibrant, polished vocalism. My immediate thought as the mezzo poured out impressively controlled chest tones as well as unstinting, ringing phrases above the staff was "wow, what a Verdi singer she would be." And sure enough, the thrilling Ms. Makarova has the full arsenal of those Italian roles in her repertoire. Hers was a deeply felt, varied interpretation, ranging from buttoned-down acceptance of her situation; to ranting, clothes-shedding defiance; to heartfelt, melting phrases of mourning and loss. Hers was arguably ‘the’ performance of the night, although to be fair, Ms. Stundyte become much more engaged (and better used) later in the evening, and her Act IV aria was beautifully judged and exceptionally moving.

The son, Prince Yuri was well-taken by Dimitri Polkopin, although his straight-forward tenor bullies its way through more than a few high phrases, concerned a bit more with volume than with suavity. Still, he displayed good theatrical instincts and even contributed some wit to the plot machinations as he played Mama’s Boy to Ms. Makarova’s Diva Mother. The cat-and-mouse, give-and-take staging of Act Two showed good use of the stage, and displayed a real search for dramatic motivation. Valery Alexeev was heard to best advantage paired up with these two co-stars, and his rather blustery delivery that began the show transformed into a focused, forward-placed, no-nonsense performance of real import. Taras Shtonda made the most potent vocal impression of the men, his naturally booming, orotund bass impressing all evening long. Mr. Shtonda was hampered a bit by the Mr. Magoo-like demeanor and presence that were imposed on him, but he got around that with his solid, meaningful, arching phrasing. As the intruder Paisi (a vagabond disguised as monk), Nikolai Gassiev offered a spirited, consistent portrayal, but on this evening his reliable comprimario tenor sounded just a bit raspy.

Director and design team showed a real clarity now. Some meaningful stage business was mined to good effect as the desk is re-dressed as a formal dining table, and set with dinnerware and accoutrements for the "royal" family to sup together. Physical and emotional relationships were revealed through well-considered movement, and there was a conscientious search for dramatic truth. Just as I was basking in all this honesty, taking in the affecting score, and marveling that we were now at another show freed of the prior absurdities, damn if the upstage curtain didn’t part, and a wagon full of milk-crate-mountains, scruffy protesters, and that damn bear, come rolling downstage at us! Truthfulness? Poof! Gone! (However, as Kittsjiga in this scene, Thomas Muerkas offered some exceptional singing as he denounced the aristocracy). And so the show careened willy-nilly from honesty to self-indulgent distraction, ultimately leaving us with no cogent over-all impression except wondering what the composer’s Enchantress might really be like.

In the pit, the Flemish band played cleanly, enthusiastically, and responsively, although I have heard Dmitri Jurowksi elicit more passion and commitment on other occasions. The maestro seemed a bit detached, perhaps a bit hamstrung by the excesses of the production. Certainly, Chorus Master Yannis Pouspourikas ably coached his ensemble to pour out long stretches of full-throated phrases, and they scored big in the unaccompanied scene. But owing to the rambunctious motion often asked of them, phrase endings were not always clean, and on one occasion, there were internal rhythmic coordination problems.

In the end, while the first act music came off as most characterful, on my first hearing the writing became more generic, even gratuitous, as the show wore on. While it was a welcome opportunity to experience The Enchantress at long last and at a company of fine repute, whatever good intentions Flemish Opera had, it must remain to another enterprising theatre to more fully make its case.

Jim Sohre

Click here for cast and other production information

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):