Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Fedora in Genoa

It is not an everyday opera. It is an opera that illuminates a larger verismo history.

The Marriage of Figaro, LA Opera

On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.

The Tempest Songbook, Gotham Chamber Opera

Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

William Sharp as Richard and Thomas Dolié as Rustaut [Photo by Louis Forget courtesy of Opera Lafayette]
31 Jan 2012

Le Roi et le Fermier

A year or two back, Opera Lafayette, the Washington-based company that specializes in eighteenth-century obscurités françaises, presented Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny’s Le Magnifique, an opéra-comique about a race horse.

Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny: Le Roi et le Fermier

Jenny: Dominique Labelle; Betsy: Yulia Van Doren; La Mère: Delores Ziegler; Le Roi: Thomas Michael Allen; Lurewel: Jeffrey Thompson; Richard: William Sharp; Rustaut: Thomas Dolié; Charlot: David Newman. Opera Lafayette, conducted by Ryan Brown, at the Rose Theater. Performance of January 26.

Above: William Sharp as Richard and Thomas Dolié as Rustaut

Photos by Louis Forget courtesy of Opera Lafayette

 

Opéra-comique began its long and significant existence as a sort of French opera buffa, with less grandeur in the musical requirements and spoken dialogue instead of sung recitative between numbers. Over the years this mixed genre evolved in many interesting ways, not always comical: Carmen began life as an opéra-comique.

Le-Roi-8307.gifJeffrey Thompson as Lurewel

Le Magnifique had pretty tunes but the presentation was undermined by two insurmountable problems: English plot summaries spoken between musical selections (instead of the original French dialogue) and a title character who never appeared on stage—horses don’t sing much in opera, even opéra-comique. Le Magnifique proved a great disappointment considering the company’s excellent track record without horses, but how do you solve the dialogue problem if the piece is not in the local language and you are unwilling to trust your singers as actors?

The company’s music director, Ryan Brown, evidently has a passion for the once-chic Monsigny, however, and this year (its 250th anniversary) he chose to give the composer’s 1762 opus, Le Roi et le Fermier. This piece has a simpler plot, drawn from an English play, and both title characters (king and farmer) appear on stage and even sing. Furthermore, Le Roi had legendary legs: A hit not only in Paris but in Vienna and St. Petersburg, Le Roi et le Fermier was revived in 1780 at the theater at the chateau of Versailles in a production designed for, and starring, Marie Antoinette, who sang the role of the put-upon Jenny, a virtuous farm girl besieged by a nasty milord. The queen’s brother-in-law, the future King Charles X, sang the not inappropriate role of a dim but valiant gamekeeper. The show was often given for a few years, before an audience as select as the cast to be sure, and—miracle of miracles!—the sets have survived, have been refurbished, and will be in use again later this winter—for Opera Lafayette’s French debut. So New York’s Rose Theater at Columbus Circle became, in effect, the site of the out-of-town try-out (without sets).

Le-Roi-8406.gifDominique Labelle as Jenny, William Sharp as Richard and Thomas Michael Allen as Le Roi

The plot is brief, basic, obvious, wry: The king (incognito) is lost in Sherwood Forest in a storm. A kindly farmer invites him to dinner. The king thus encounters honest subjects first hand, learning that the farmer’s fiancée’s dowry (a flock of sheep) has been stolen by the lustful milord. Meanwhile, the milord (his name is Lurewel, which must have been funnier in the original English), also lost in the woods, has been discovered by gamekeepers who think he’s a poacher. Brought to book, he recognizes the king, who then punishes him and ennobles the farmer—who rejects the title for the false tinsel it is. Kings reaching over the heads of the nobility to befriend ordinary folk was a theme very much in the air, though Louis XVI seems to have missed the point. Too bad; he’d have been good at it.

All this may seem artificial (is the average Western much better? The Good, the Bad and the Royal?), and Opera Lafayette rolled with it: Welcome, total artifice, so long as it is done with style. Didier Rousselet’s witty staging in projected sets (a wonderful dark forest) included silent movie bustle, mugging and mime, foolish costumes—it’s dark in that hut but would a king remain incognito in a jeweled silk waistcoat?—and a pair of intrusive but chic French narrators to speak the dialogue between the musical numbers, standing behind or beside the close-mouthed singers. One got used to this; it seemed part and parcel of the artifice.

The score is tuneful and rewardingly clever with very simple means: A duet for loutish baritone gamekeepers is followed by another for two foolish tenor fops, and then, since they are all lost in the same wood, have a quartet, devised by repeating the duets simultaneously! The three women in the cottage with their separate concerns (worried bride, puzzled mother, chattering child) become a lovely trio of contrasting vocal lines over a common melody in the orchestra. Simple ideas, these, but effective and, in the voices of an accomplished cast, delicious. Monsigny’s orchestration is lively and witty (a pre-Rossini storm, galloping horns for the king’s hunt, tinkling bells whenever money is mentioned), but his music is really not strong enough to carry the occasion on its own. The original run had singing actors not acting singers. Le Roi was probably known to—and inspired—Gluck, Mozart, Paisiello, even Beethoven and Rossini, but they each outdid their model. But it passed a charming evening, displaying another piece of the puzzle of how composers learned to use musical forms to dramatic effect, and how this blossomed into later, more elaborate opera. Marie Antoinette had her faults, but no one denies she had taste.

Le-Roi-8469.gifScene from Le Roi et le Fermier

The Opera Lafayette cast sang French so well one was puzzled anew at their not being trusted to speak the dialogue as well. But many of these singers, who have impressed me on other occasions, in other halls, in far more difficult music (Handel, for example) seemed to lack bottoms to their voices in the Rose Theater. Does the hall cut off the lower notes (I sat in Row H) or were they not fully in command of their parts yet? Or did they underestimate the task required of them? Monsigny does not call for grand opera accomplishments and the ranges are smaller than Rameau or Gluck would demand, but miscalculation was in the air.

Dominique Labelle, in Marie Antoinette’s role of Jenny the shepherdess, was a case in point. Stunning as Handel’s Angelica in last summer’s Mostly Mozart Orlando, she had little use on this occasion for high notes or ornamentation, and her upper register was lovely—but low notes faded out. Her farmer, baritone William Sharp, was a suitable match for he suffered from the same defect: good phrasing, forthright mime, and a lower register that faded like woodland fog. They warmed up, but we did not warm to them.

The opera’s vocal bravado was given, as politics and tradition demanded, to its rankiest character, the King, tenor Thomas Michael Allen, obliged to sing of the glories of heroic battle because this is a fairy tale and the king must be brave as well as magnanimous. He did not have the serious grandeur, the glitter in alt that one might have hoped for in a monarch, and like the farmer hosts who insist that he sing for his supper, we were obliged to be indulgent.

Smaller roles were more happily filled. Yulia Van Doren, in stiff pigtails to symbolize her character’s age (fourteen), sang her little chanson deliciously (she’s kissed the king and been slapped by her mother) and made a convincing mime of childishness. Delores Ziegler held down the mother’s contralto lines well in the exquisite trio. The noble nitwits (who wears court wigs and satin in the woods?) were Jeffrey Thompson and Tony Boutté; the bluff and foolish deputies who arrest them (Charles X’s part) were Thomas Dolié and Jeffrey Newman, singing with great sturdiness. The Opera Lafayette orchestra was small but effective, making all Montigny’s delicate points with grace and Gallic lightness.

John Yohalem

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):