Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

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.

Félicien David: Songs for voice and piano

This well-packed disc is a delight and a revelation. Until now, even the most assiduous record collector had access to only a few of the nearly 100 songs published by Félicien David (1810-76), in recordings by such notable artists as Huguette Tourangeau, Ursula Mayer-Reinach, Udo Reinemann, and Joan Sutherland (the last-mentioned singing the duet “Les Hirondelles” with herself!).

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.

John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea

This new release of John Taverner’s virtuosic and florid Missa Corona spinea (produced by Gimell Records) comes two years after The Tallis Scholars’ critically esteemed recording of the composer’s Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas, which topped the UK Specialist Classical Album Chart for 6 weeks, and with which the ensemble celebrated their 40th anniversary. The recording also includes Taverner’s two settings of Dum transisset Sabbatum.

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



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):