Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.



Ermonela Jaho as Violetta and Stephen Costello as Alfredo [Photo © ROH 2011 / Catherine Ashmore]
05 Jan 2012

La Traviata: The 454th Performance at the Royal Opera House

This performance of La Traviata was the 454th at the Royal Opera House, and the first performance in the 3rd revival this season of Richard Eyre’s production.

Giuseppe Verdi : La Traviata

Violetta : Ermonela Jaho, Alfredo Germont : Stephen Costello,Giorgio Germont : Paolo Gavanelli, Flora : Justina Gingyte, The Marquis : Jeremy White, Gastone : Ji Hyun Kim, The Doctor: Robert Lloyd, Annina : Hanna Hipp. Conductor : Maurizio Bemini, Director : Richard Eyre, Revival Director : Paul Higgins, Designs : Bob Crowley. Royal Opera House, London, 2nd January, 2012.

Above: Ermonela Jaho as Violetta and Stephen Costello as Alfredo

Photos © ROH 2011 / Catherine Ashmore


Each of this season’s revivals has been in the hands of a different revival director. This time, Paul Higgins oversaw Ermonela Jaho returning as Violetta and Stephen Costello making his Covent Garden role debut as Alfredo.

Since her last appearance here as Violetta, Jaho has made quite a stir with her performance as Suor Angelica in the new production of Puccini’s Il Trittico. Costello has previously appeared at the Royal Opera House in a concert performance of Donizetti’s Linda di Chamounix and as Rinuccio in Il Trittico, so that Alfredo represents the singers biggest stage role yet at Covent Garden.

Bob Crowley’s designs still look very well and the production remains very handsome. It was new in 1994 and this run seems to be its 15th revival, so that one of the items of interest would be how the production was holding up. One always expects the party scene in Act 1 to be something of a mess and Crowley’s design seems to intentionally crowd the partygoers, but I did wonder whether the chaos could be more organised, whether there had been quite enough rehearsal time.

LA-TRAVIATA-2513ashm_337-GR.gifJustina Gringyte as Flora

Jaho is a slim, almost diminutive figure who has no problem at all looking fragile, which is always a help in this role. She was very studied dramatically, using a range of expressive but carefully choreographed movements. Not at all stiff or static, but rather as if Violetta had constructed a persona for herself; an interestingly valid point of view, though this may simply be Jaho’s natural style.

Technically Jaho is a lyric soprano with a tight vibrato and an attractively veiled quality to the voice. In Act 1 her coloratura was creditable rather than pin-sharp, and she had an occasional tendency to attack notes from below. But she also had the magical ability to thin her voice right down.

“Sempre libera” had a slightly desperate quality to it and you could almost feel Jaho saying thank goodness that was over at the end of the act. But then few sopranos manage all 3 acts of La Traviata with equal facility, that’s one of the role’s challenges.

Costello was nicely correct and callow as Alfredo, especially on his first entry into the party. Slim and good looking, his voice was a surprise being thicker and darker than expected, with a nicely focused Italianate tone. He brought a lovely lyric feel to the Brindisi. With both him and Jaho you felt that there was a good likelihood that their voices will move on to more dramatic roles.

LA-TRAVIATA-2513ashm_274-JA.gifErmonela Jaho as Violetta and Stephen Costello as Alfredo

Interaction between them was rather nervous and this seemed to reflect in their voices. You did not really believe that there was passion there. The intensity in Costello’s voice didn’t quite match his body language. Jaho seemed to find form in Act 2, expressing Violetta’s suffering with great expressiveness.

Jaho thinned her voice magically for “Dite alla giovine” and the duet with Gavanelli crackled with emotion in a way that hadn’t happened in Act 1. In Act 3, “Addio del passato” was beautifully sung and profoundly moving, but here and elsewhere in this act, Jaho did rather too much operatic staggering about; I happen to think that less is more here. Her death was dramatic and beautiful, but perhaps a little too ‘stagey’. Jaho’s performance was profoundly moving, but ultimately I found her to be a little too studied.

Costello was similarly impressive. I often feel that Alfredo is not the brightest button in the box and whether by accident or design Costello conveyed something of this. In the scene at Flora’s the duet between Jaho and Costello was thrilling, his anger blazed forth in a way that his passion did not. Unfortunately Costello reverted to looking stiff, though he sang with conviction and passion. He did spend a lot of times on his knees, which he seemed to find uncomfortable. Musically Costello turned in a passionate and stylish performance, but this was not always reflected in his body language. It seemed he would have benefited from greater rehearsal time with a strong director.

LA-TRAVIATA-2513ashm_436-GA.gifPaolo Gavanelli as Girogio Germont

It helped that Paolo Gavanelli’s Giorgio Germont was pure class. Every inch an aristocrat, severely controlled, not a blusterer, Gavanelli sang beautifully with profoundly expressive line. He conveyed the character’s breeding and inhibition, and it was lovely to hear it sung by a native Italian.

It was nice to see David Stout as the Baron and he turned in a stylish performance. The other smaller roles were well cast, with Justina Gingyte as Flora, Jeremy White as the Marquis and Ji Hyun Kim as Gastone. Robert Lloyd made a sympathetic Doctor and Hanna Hipp a strong Annina.

Maurizio Benini provided a safe pair of hands in the pit, with support for the singers and well placed flexible tempi. This wasn’t perhaps a vintage revival but it was certainly involving, with some strongly characterised performances.

Robert Hugill

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):