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 Reviews

Elizabeth Llewellyn: Investec Opera Holland Park stages Puccini's La Rondine

It’s six or so years ago since soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn appeared as an exciting and highly acclaimed new voice on the UK operatic stage, with critics praising her ‘ravishing account’ (The Stage) of Mozart’s Countess in Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2011 Le nozze di Figaro in which ‘Porgi, amor’ was a ‘highlight of the evening’.

Sukanya: Ravi Shankar's posthumous opera

What links Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Brian Newbould and Anthony Payne? A hypothetical question for University Challenge contestants elicits the response that they all ‘completed’ composer’s last words: Mozart’s Requiem, Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (the Unfinished) and Edward Elgar’s Third Symphony, respectively.

Cavalli's Hipermestra at Glyndebourne

‘Make war not love’, might be a fitting subtitle for Francesco Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra in which the eponymous princess chooses matrimonial loyalty over filial duty and so triggers a war which brings about the destruction of Argos and the deaths of its inhabitants.

Dougie Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera: in conversation

One year ago, tens of millions of Britons voted for isolation rather than for cooperation, but Douglas (Dougie) Boyd, Artistic Director of Garsington Opera, is an energetic one-man counterforce with a dynamic conviction that art and culture are strengthened by participation and collaboration; values which, alongside excellence and a spirit of adventure, have seen Garsington Opera acquire increasing renown and esteem on the international stage during his tenure, since 2012.

I Fagiolini's Orfeo: London Festival of Baroque Music

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music is titled Baroque at the Edge and celebrates Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and the 250th anniversary of Telemann’s death. Monteverdi and Telemann do in some ways represent the ‘edges’ of the Baroque, their music signalling a transition from Renaissance to Baroque and from Baroque to Classical respectively, though as this performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo by I Fagiolini and The English Cornett & Sackbutt Ensemble confirmed such boundaries are blurred and frequently broken.

The English Concert: a marvellous Ariodante at the Barbican Hall

I’ve been thinking about jealousy a lot of late, as I put the finishing touches to a programme article for Bampton Classical Opera’s summer production of Salieri’s La scuola de' gelosi. In placing the green-eyed monster centre-stage, Handel’s Ariodante surely rivals Shakespeare’s Othello in dramatic clarity and concision, as this terrifically animated and musically intense performance by The English Concert at the Barbican Hall confirmed.

Riel Deal in Toronto

With its new production of Harry Somers’ Louis Riel, Canadian Opera Company has covered itself in resplendent glory.

Concert Introduces Fine Dramatic Tenor

On May 4, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a concert starring Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and her husband, Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazev. Led by Italian conductor Jader Bignamini, members of the orchestra showed their abilities, too, with a variety of instrumental selections played between the singers’ arias and duets.

COC: Tosca’s Cautious Leap

Considering the high caliber of the amassed talent, Canadian Opera Company’s Tosca is a curiously muted affair.

Matthias Goerne - late Schumann songs, revealed

Matthias Goerne Schumann Lieder, with Markus Hinterhäuser, a new recording from Harmonia Mundi. Singers, especially baritones, often come into their prime as they approach 50, and Goerne, who has been a star since his 20's is now formidably impressive. The colours in his voice have matured, with even greater richness and depth than before.

Schubert's 'swan-song': Ian Bostridge at the Wigmore Hall

No song in this wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt at the Wigmore Hall epitomised more powerfully, and astonishingly, what a remarkable lieder singer Bostridge is, than Schubert’s Rellstab setting, ‘In der Ferne’ (In the distance).

Baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé wins the 2017 Guildhall School Gold Medal

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has announced baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé as the winner of this year’s Gold Medal, the School’s most prestigious prize for outstanding soloists. The prize is awarded to singers and instrumentalists in alternate years and this year was the turn of the singers.

Stunning power and presence from Lise Davidsen

For Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen this has been an exciting season, one which has seen her make several role and house debuts in Europe and beyond, including Agathe (Der Freischutz) at Opernhaus Zürich, Santuzza (Cavalleria Rusticana) Norwegian National Opera and, just last month, Isabella (Liebesverbot) at Teatro Colón. This Rosenblatt Recital brought her to the Wigmore Hall for her UK recital debut and if the stunning power, shining colour and absolute ease that she demonstrated in a well-chosen programme of song and opera are anything to judge by, Glyndebourne audiences are in for a tremendous treat this summer, when Davidsen appears in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

LALO and COQUARD: La Jacquerie

La Jacquerie—here recorded for the first time—proves to be a wonderful opera, bringing delight upon delight.

Three Rossini Operas Serias

Rossini’s serious operas once dominated opera houses across the Western world. In their librettos, the great French author Stendahl—then a diplomat in Italy and the composer’s first biographer—saw a post-Napoleonic “martial vigor” that could spark a liberal revolution. In their vocal and instrumental innovations, he discerned a similar revolution in music.

Urania Remasters Marriage of Figaro

Good news for lovers of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro: the famous Living Stereo recording, a co-production of RCA Victor and English Decca, is now available again, well remastered, on Urania.

Tosca: Stark Drama at the Chandler Pavilion

On Thursday evening April 27, 2017, Los Angeles Opera presented a revival of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In 2013, director John Caird had given Angelinos a production that made Tosca a full-blooded, intense drama as well as a most popular aria-studded opera. His Floria was a dove among hawks.

Glyndebourne Festival 2018 programme announced

The UK’s first professional production of Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer prize-winning opera Vanessa takes place at Glyndebourne Festival 2018. One of the great American operas, Vanessa was hailed as a triumph at its premiere in 1958 but quickly fell out of the repertoire and has only been staged intermittently since.

Major new international singing competition launched by Glyndebourne

The Glyndebourne Opera Cup - the international competition for opera singers is designed to discover and spotlight the best young singers from around the world, offering a top prize of £15,000 and a platform for launching an international opera career.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2017, at the Wigmore Hall

The Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship Fund was founded in 1953 in memory of the much-loved contralto from Lancashire who died at the tragically young age of 41 and whose career as a singer lasted just 12 years. The purpose of the fund was to make an annual award to a young British singer sufficient to cover the cost of a year’s study and general support. The first competition was held in 1956 and it has continued to provide a few outstandingly talented young singers each year since then with the opportunity of making a start in what is a most difficult and demanding career.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Sara Fulgoni as Beatrice [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of Welsh National Opera]
28 Feb 2012

Beatrice and Benedict at the Wales Millennium Centre

Welsh National Opera presented a rather undercooked account of Berlioz’s tricky opera, in a revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s classic production

Hector Berlioz: Beatrice and Benedict

Beatrice: Sara Fulgoni; Benedict: Robin Tritschler; Don Pedro: Piotr Lempa; Leonato: Michael Clifton-Thompson; Hero: Laura Mitchell; Claudio: Gary Griffiths; Ursula: Anna Burford; Somarone: Donald Maxwell; Messenger: Stephen Wells. Housekeeper: Helen Greenaway. Orchestra and Chorus of Welsh National Opera. Conductor: Michael Hofstetter. Director: Elijah Moshinsky. Revival Director: Robin Tebbutt. Designer: Michael Yeargan. Costume Designer: Dona Granata. Lighting Designer: Howard Harrison. Lighting realised by: Paul Woodfield. Welsh National Opera, Wales Millenium Centre, 26th February 2012.

Above: Sara Fulgoni as Beatrice

Photos by Johan Persson courtesy of Welsh National Opera

 

Throughout his career Berlioz had a rather distinctive way with the form of a piece, so it is perhaps inevitable that an opéra comique written by him would not be straightforward. Beatrice and Benedict is his final dramatic work, a piece that is small scale partly because Berlioz’s health would not allow him to write anything bigger and partly because that was what was suitable for a summer entertainment at the spa of Baden-Baden. Stagings of the piece are relatively rare so it was with great pleasure that I anticipated WNO’s performance of the opera, doubly so as it was to be a revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1994 production, beautifully designed by Michael Yeargan (sets) and Dona Granata (costumes).

BB_WNO_13.gifRobin Tritschler as Benedict

The work was performed in English with spoken dialogue adapted from Shakespeare’s play by Elijah Moshinsky and revival director Robin Tebbutt. Now the British, as a rule, are not very good at opéra comique, something awful seems to happen when the works cross the channel — Offenbach turns into G & S and anything more serious gets just plain embarrassing. Recent performances of the opera in London have tended to be concerts, in which the dialogue was either spoken by actors or replaced by a spoken narration, neither solution very satisfactory. With Beatrice and Benedict the problem is worse because people insist on trying to turn the piece back into a musical version of Much Ado About Nothing rather than sticking with a French opéra comique. In Cardiff we had dialogue cut to the bone, but spoken in a language which veered awkwardly between direct quotation from Shakespeare and more modern idiom.

I had heard wonderful reports of the original 1994 production Elijah Moshinsky production, but somehow the magic does not seems to have survived. The set looked lovely, ravishing in fact, with Paul Woodfield now in charge of Howard Harrison’s original lighting plot. But the set was designed for the far smaller stage of the New Theatre in Cardiff. And its rigidly architectural form meant that not only did the set look narrow, but sight lines were not ideal; it is a shame that somehow it could not have been opened up somewhat. The setting was 19th century Sicily, with the ladies in big crinoline dresses and an architectural loggia doing admirable service for all scenes in the opera.

Musically we got off to a good start with a sparkling account of the overture under Michael Hofstetter. The spoken dialogue got off to a bad start with Michael Clifton-Thompson’s Leonato having to deliver his lines with his back to the audience.

BB_WNO_10.gifGary Griffiths as Claudio and Piotr Lempa as Don Pedro

Sarah Fulgoni’s Beatrice looked lovely and she spoke her dialogue quite aptly. But there was something of a mis-match between her nice, well-modulated speaking voice and the incredibly richly upholstered tones of her mezzo-soprano voice. Here was a Beatrice who, though intelligent and musical, simply failed to sound like the sharp-witted Beatrice that we expect. There were moments of great beauty, particularly in Beatrice’s long solo in Act 2 when she comes to accept that she loves Benedict, but the as a whole the character failed to take off. Perhaps, this is partly because there was simply too little spark between Fulgoni and Robin Tritschler’s Benedict.

If Fulgoni’s voice seemed overly rich for her role, Tritschler’s lyric tenor seemed in danger of being too light for Benedict. Under pressure his voice seemed to turn a trifle too reedy and you wondered whether this was ideal repertoire for him. He encompassed Benedict’s solos melodiously and was and entirely willing and capable actor. But the essential spark was not there, his relationship with Beatrice just didn’t crackle with energy the way it should.

Both Fulgoni and Tritschler were entirely capable, but unfortunately Donald Maxwell as Somarone gave us an object lesson in how to take control of the stage whether speaking or singing. Somarone the learned music master can be a rather tedious character and Maxwell did rather over do things by including topical references into his speeches. But as a demonstration of how to capture the attention of an audience, he could not be faulted.

BB_WNO_12.gifLaura Mitchell as Hero

Laura Mitchell and Gary Griffiths played Hero and Claudio. Unfortunately in the opera Claudio is reduced to a cipher and as there is no one to impede their love, Hero has only to be delightfully in love. This Mitchell did beautifully, looking and sounding ravishing. She and Anna Burford as Ursula brought Act 1 to a ravishing close with their duet; one of the moments when music, drama and visuals came together in a moment of perfection which gave a hint at the pleasure the production must have given when new.

The role of Don Pedro is musically very small, but the character is quite a player in the spoken dialogue; Piotr Lempa, the only non-native English speaker in the cast, coped brilliantly nevertheless.

Under Michael Hofstetter the orchestra gave a sympathetic account of Berlioz’s score. Hofstetter’s biography in the programme book described him as a baroque specialist though he seems to have been venturing into wider water recently, with productions including Tristan und Isolde, and conducted Beatrice and Benedict at Houston Grand Opera in 2008.

This was one of the evenings in the theatre which does not quite catch fire, though nothing really goes wrong either. As Beatrice and Benedict is revived so rarely, I did so want it to be so much more; that said there were many incidental beauties along the way.

Robert Hugill

Click here for a photo gallery of this production.

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):