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

Cold Mountain, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia deserves congratulations on yet another coup. The company co-commissioned Cold Mountain, an opera by Jennifer Higdon based on Gene Scheer’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s celebrated Civil War epic.

Christian Gerhaher Wolfgang Rihm Wigmore Hall

For their first of two recitals at the Wigmore Hall, Christian Gerhaher and Gerold Huber devised an interesting programme - popular Schubert mixed with songs by Wolfgang Rihm and by Huber himself.

Götterdämmerung in Palermo

There are not many opera productions that you would cross oceans to see. Graham Vick’s Götterdämmerung in Sicily however compelled such a voyage.

Emmanuel Chabrier L’Étoile — Royal Opera House London

Premièred in 1877 at Offenbach’s own Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’Étoile has a libretto, by Eugène Leterrier and Albert Vanloo, which stirs the blackly comic, the farcical and the bizarre into a surreal melange, blending contemporary satire with the frankly outlandish.

Robert Ashley’s Quicksand at the Kitchen

Robert Ashley’s opera-novel Quicksand makes for a novel experience

Premiere of Raskatov’s Green Mass

One of the leading Russian composers of his generation, Alexander Raskatov’s reputation in the UK and western Europe derives from several, recent large-scale compositions, such as his reconstruction of Alfred Schnittke’s Ninth Symphony from a barely legible manuscript (the work was first performed in 2007 in the Dresden Frauenkirche by the Dresden Philharmonic under Dennis Russell Davies), and his 2010 opera A Dog’s Heart, based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s satire (which was directed by Simon McBurney at English National Opera in 2010, following the opera’s premiere at Netherlands Opera earlier that year).

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Lyon

This nasty little opera evening in Lyon lived up to the opera’s initial reputation as pure pornophony. This is the erotic Shostakovich of the D minor cello sonata, it is the sarcastic and complicated Shostakovich of The Nose . . .

Bel Canto: A World Premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago

During December 2015 and presently in January Lyric Opera of Chicago has featured the world premiere of the opera Bel Canto, with music by Jimmy López and libretto by Nilo Cruz, based on the novel by Ann Patchett.

Tosca, Royal Opera

Christmas at the Royal Opera House is all about magic, mystery and miracles: as represented by the conjuror’s exploits in The Nutcracker — with its Kingdom of Sweets and Sugar Plum Fairy — or, as in the Linbury Theatre this year, the fantastical adventures of the Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Lila, and her companions — a lovesick elephant, swashbuckling pirates, tropical beasts and Fire-Fiends.

Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw

The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.

Classical Opera: MOZART 250 — 1766: A Retrospective

With this performance of vocal and instrumental works composed by the 10-year-old Mozart and his contemporaries during 1766, Classical Opera entered the second year of their 27-year project, MOZART 250, which is designed to ‘contextualise the development and influences of [sic] the composer’s artistic personality’ and, more audaciously, to ‘follow the path that subsequently led to some of the greatest cornerstones of our civilisation’.

Benjamin Appl — Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Luca Pisaroni and Wolfram Rieger were due to give the latest installment in the Wigmore Hall's complete Schubert songs series, but both had to cancel at short notice. Fortunately, the Wigmore Hall rises to such contingencies, and gave us Benjamin Appl and Jonathan Ware. Since there's a huge buzz about Appl, this was an opportunity to hear more of what he can do.

Ferrier Awards Winners’ Recital

The phrase ‘Sunday afternoon concert’ may suggest light, post-prandial entertainment, but soprano Gemma Lois Summerfield and her accompanist, Simon Lepper, swept away any such conceptions in this demanding programme at St. John’s Smith Square.

Pelléas et Mélisande at the Barbican

When, o when, will someone put Peter Sellars and his compendium of clichés out of our misery?

Samuel Barber: Choral Music

This recording, made in the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in June 2014, is the fourth disc in SOMM’s series of recordings with Paul Spicer and the Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir.

L'Arpeggiata: La dama d’Aragó, Wigmore Hall

Having recently followed some by-ways through the music of Purcell, Monteverdi and Cavalli, L’Arpeggiata turned the spotlight on traditional folk music in this characteristically vibrant and high-spirited performance at the Wigmore Hall.

Tippett : A Child of Our Time, London

Edward Gardner brought all his experience as a choral and opera conductor to bear in this stirring performance of Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time at the Barbican Hall, with a fine cast of soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Taverner and Tavener, Fretwork, London

‘Apt for voices or viols’: eager to maximise sales among the domestic market in Elizabethan England, publishers emphasised that the music contained in collections such as Thomas Morley’s First Book of Madrigals to Four Voices of 1594 was suitable for performance by any combination of singers and players.

Fall of the House of Usher in San Francisco

It was a single title but a double bill and there was far more happening than Gordon Getty and Claude Debussy. Starting with Edgar Allen Poe.

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):