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Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

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.



Sarah Connolly as Octavian [Photo by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera]
08 Feb 2012

Der Rosenkavalier, ENO

English National Opera’s revival of Richard Strauss’s fin de siècle Figaro is a heart-warming treat for a cold winter’s night.

Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier

The Feldmarschallin: Amanda Roocroft; Octavian: Sarah Connolly; Baron Ochs: John Tomlinson; Valzacchi: Adrian Thompson; Annina: Madeleine Shaw; Sophie: Sophie Bevan; Herr von Faninal: Andrew Shore. Conductor: Edward Gardner. Director/Set Designer: David McVicar. Costume Designer: Tanya McCallin. Lighting Designer: Paule Constable. English National Opera, London, Wednesday, 1st February 2012.

Above: Sarah Connolly as Octavian

Photos by Clive Barda courtesy of English National Opera


Director David McVicar’s self-designed staging perfectly balances detail and spaciousness — an accomplished feat and a productive one; although the score is complex and infinitely nuanced, McVicar has been able to identify which details to foreground visually and which to allow to reside in the musical foundations. So, there is finely judged attention to detail but the resulting drama is not fussy or cluttered.

Rosenkavalier_ENO_2012_2.gifAmanda Roocroft as The Feldmarschallin

A single backdrop suffices: a curving Regency interior, slightly past its prime but still offering elegant evidence of the stylish sophistications of yesteryear — much like the Marschallin herself. Gilt and bronze drapes, curling creepers and cobwebbed chandeliers create a fairy-tale otherworldliness, and this is enhanced by Paule Constable’s clever lighting which, evoking subdued candlelight — the front of stage decked with row of crumbling candles (which Valzacchi snappily switches on at the start of the Mariendal scene) — establishes an ethereal distance. And, in the fading light of Act 1, a deepening, looming shadow of the Marschallin provides a visual echo of the ‘former’ self whose passing she laments.

McVicar’s direction judiciously mixes dense and intricate movements — as during the spooking of Ochs in the inn scene, when tumblers and goblins cavort and cartwheel wildly across the stage — with gentler gestures which flow as organically as Strauss’s score, particularly in the closing moments. The extremes of the wide stage are deployed to depict the emotional distance between characters; and at the close to emphasise the Marschallin’s isolation from the young lovers.

Rosenkavalier_ENO_2012_4.gifSophie Bevan as Sophie

John Tomlinson’s Baron Ochs of Lerchenau is a Falstaffian scally-wag, with all the bluff, swagger and ultimately forgivable self-interest of his Shakespearean predecessor. We may cringe at his hapless fumbling after any helpless female within arm’s reach; find his empty boasts and groundless vanity infuriating and his class-obsessed condescension distasteful. But, his candid self-knowledge and readiness to greet defeat with big-hearted generosity win our tolerance, tenderness and even, in the end, our pity. This is a comic turn par excellence, one which fortunately does not lapse into caricature; and, the humour is never achieved at the expense of musical control or accuracy. A master of crisp diction, Tomlinson’s every syllable is crystal clear. Weighty but flexible, his bright, gleaming tone is a joy, and it loses none of its gloss as he descends to the depths of his register. It may be a little over-strained at the top, but who cares? This Ochs relishes the amorous games even if they end in a rout; and Tomlinson’s complete delight in the theatrical and musical world which encompasses him is equally apparent.

As the elegant Marschallin, Amanda Roocroft is regal of bearing and radiant of voice; if she doesn’t quite have the velvety roundness of the ideal Straussian heroine, she uses light and shade to movingly reveal the Marschallin’s insecurities, the piano reflections of her Act 1 monologue wistfully conveying muted resignation.

The lustrous spin of Sophie Bevan’s response to the bestowal of the silver rose would melt the shining breastplate of even the most cold-blooded Rosenkavalier. Bevan captures both the tempestuousness of the feisty adolescent and the nascent serenity of the mature woman within. This Sophie is no slight soubrette; and in the Act 3 trio the Marschallin clearly recognises her rival’s powerful charm and determined will.

Sarah Connolly inhabits the eponymous envoy’s breeches with total authority, utterly convincing as the excitable young romancer who learns that the path of true love never quite runs smooth. By turns ebullient and grave, bullish and wistful, Connolly has unostentatiously mastered every nuance of character, even adopting a convincing rural brogue for the Act 3 deception of Ochs. Particularly resounding in her upper register, Connolly’s doubtful hesitation when forced to choose between past and future loves is painfully touching.

Rosenkavalier_ENO_2012_1.gifAdrian Thompson as Valzacchi, Sir John Tomlinson as Baron Ochs and Madeleine Shaw as Annina

A master of comic timing, Andrew Shore is typically impressive as the exasperated Herr von Faninal; Shore alone matched Tomlinson in his use of the text, though as his partner-in crime, Annina, Madeleine Shaw is confident and vocally arresting. And, there are many fine performances from those taking the smaller character roles, including Jennifer Rhys-Davis as Sophie’s chaperone — her urgent proddings with her fan keep her young charge firmly in line during her conversation with the rose bearer — and Gwyn Hughes Jones who produces a stunning Italianate glean as he entertains the Marschallin in Act 1 (and whose petulant flounce and pout indicates his irritation when his star turn is prematurely halted!). Ericson Mitchell is rather older than the prepubescent boys who are usually cast to play Mohammed, the Marschallin’s page, and I’m not sure his crafty retrieval of Sophie’s handkerchief and bold final bow to the audience really captures the cheeky breeziness of the closing bars of the score; but his presence does add an edgy touch of adolescent knowingness to the goings-on in the Marschallin’s boudoir.

Edward Gardner's reading of Strauss’s wonderfully evocative score is expansive and luscious. He creates an opulent but airy bed of sound through which a multitude of minutiae effortlessly reveal themselves: sinuous, seductive clarinet coils; impassioned horn commentaries; rising celli climaxes. Tempi are at times quite idiosyncratic — the final trio is slow, and Och’s waltzes wistfully elongated — but this complements, rather than negates, the dramatic flow. This is superb orchestral playing with scarcely a note out-of-place or ill-judged; the precision of chamber music within a vast orchestral canvas.

Claire Seymour

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