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 Performances

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Falstaff in Genoa

A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Kitty Whately as Rosina [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera]
12 Mar 2012

A Physical Barber by ETO

For an operatic masterpiece The Barber of Seville is surprisingly tricky to do well, it is not one of those pieces which plays itself.

Gioacchino Rossini: The Barber of Seville

Count Almaviva: Nicholas Sharratt; Figaro: Grant Doyle; Rosina: Kitty Whately; Doctor Bartolo: Andrew Slater; Berta: Cheryl Enever; Don Basilio: Alan Fairs; Ambrogio: Andrew Glover; An Officer: Brendan Collins; A Notary: Maciek O’Shea. Conductor: Paul McGrath. Director: Thomas Guthrie. Designer: Rhys Jarman. Lighting: Guy Hoare. Translation: David Parry.

Above: Kitty Whately as Rosina

Photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera

 

For a start, it is rather long with copious quantities of plot and of recitative. Essentially it’s a fast paced farce, but one which is populated by believable, human characters thanks to Rossini’s music. But then, Rossini goes and throws in those long, stylised ensembles which sound fabulous but present the director with the problem of what to do. Some solve this by making the farce veer into slapstick, and other productions just aren’t funny (on Radio 3 recently the director of the Met, Peter Gelb, talked about one of their patrons not realising that The Barber of Seville was a comedy).

Barber_ETO_04.gifAndrew Slater as Bartolo and Alan Fairs as Basilio

For ETO’s new production, which opened at the Hackney Empire on March 8th (we saw it on March 10th), director Thomas Guthrie opted for a very physical approach, but one that was strongly character based. The cast were all highly choreographed (the ensemble in the first scene actually break out into choreographed dance), but we never descended into slapstick, laughs always came because of the interaction on the stage not simply because a character was doing a funny walk. He kept the piece moving at a very fast pace and the talented, young cast responded by delivering recitative that was dramatically convincing and quick moving. The work was sung in English, in David Parry’s musical translation. The result was, as it should be, highly entertaining, you never felt that you were sitting through the recit simply waiting for the next aria, as can happen.

Barber_ETO_03.gifNicholas Sharratt as Almaviva

Rhys Jarman’s traditionally inspired designs consisted of a series of painted flats representing panelling; with judicious additions in each scene, these created a flexible series of playing spaces, both interior and exterior. All overlooked by a striking backdrop of a city-scape with a lowering sky. Colours were in a carefully chosen tonal palate, modern but classical; with Gillray style cartoons in modern colours as the pictures in Bartolo’s house. Costumes were traditional too, but the piece didn’t feel embedded in aspic.

The title role was played by Grant Doyle, who studied both in his native Australia and at the RCM. He was on the ROH Young Artists programme in 2001-3 and plans include the title role in Don Giovanni at Garsington. Doyle has a strong stage presence and effortlessly dominated, as Figaro should, without ever mugging. (Incidentally he played the guitar himself during the Act 1 serenade). His Figaro was rather a smug character, almost annoyingly so, but a charmer too. His account of ‘Largo al factotum’ was marred very slightly by balance problems, which reoccurred at other times during the performance; from our seat in the Dress Circle the orchestra sometimes was a little too strong for the singers, probably more to do with the acoustic of Frank Matcham’s theatre (which was built as a music hall) than anything else.

Kitty Whately won the Kathleen Ferrier Award in 2011 and currently studies at the RCM International Opera School. We saw her as Teodata in Flavio at ETO last year and were looking forward to her singing Rosina and we were not disappointed. Whately has a poised stage presence and gave the impression that Rosina was looking on the world, for the most part, in amused tolerance. A strong minded person, but lively and certainly attractive; she was touching in the closing scenes when Rosina thinks that she has been betrayed by Figaro and ‘Lindoro’.

Barber_ETO_02.gifGrant Doyle as Figaro

I have to confess that when it comes to the singing of passage-work both in baroque opera and early 19th century Italian opera, I am a bit of an obsessive; in an ideal world everything should be sung beautifully and cleanly. This Whately did, of the 3 main leads (Rosina, Figaro, Almaviva) all sang their passage-work confidently, expressively and creditably. But there were times when I felt that both Nicholas Sharratt (singing Almaviva) and Doyle were smudging things, but Whately’s divisions always seemed to come out cleanly.

She was partnered by the highly personable Nicholas Sharratt who has sung Nemorino at Grange Park Opera and Brighella (Ariadne auf Naxos) at Garsington. He has an attractive, quite slim-line lyric tenor voice with an easy top so that as Count Almaviva the tessitura of the role did not seem to hold terrors for him. As I have said, there were times when I felt he smudged his passage-work, but I warmed to his performance. His open stage presence and the way he developed a good rapport with Whately were endearing; plus he had good comic timing, he was funny without ever over doing things when playing the drunken soldier. He topped this by giving a fine account of the Count’s final aria, the showpiece which is usually cut and which Rossini re-used for La Cenerentola. After a long evening, Sharratt’s performance was quite brilliant and made a good dramatic case for including the aria.

Barber_ETO_05.gifL-R: Grant Doyle as Figaro, Kitty Whately as Rosina, Nicholas Sharratt as Almaviva, Cheryl Enever as Berta, Andrew Slater as Bartolo and Alan Fairs as Basilio

Andrew Slater has been an ETO regular for a few years now. He played Doctor Bartolo as an obsessively jealous dyspeptic, rather than being plain nasty. He coped manfully with having to do some amazingly botched comic surgery on patients during his Act 1 aria; one of the few moments when Guthrie’s ideas got the better of him. As with all good comedy, you felt sorry for Bartolo even though he behaved badly.

Alan Fairs was a hilariously scary Don Basilio and gave a strong, highly characterised account of the calumny arias. Cheryl Enever was a lively Berta, unfortunately deprived of her aria.

Conductor Paul McGrath kept things going at quite a lick, which was great for the comedy but which meant that co-ordination between pit and stage was not always quite what it should have been; this was particularly true in the big comic ensembles when Guthrie has his cast moving around. But it was an understandable error, given the desire to keep everything zipping along.

This was a performance full of energy and vivid character. Guthrie’s very physical approach to theatre was enthusiastically taken up by the cast. Despite the occasional problems, this was a performance that was funny and enjoyable in all the right ways.

ETO is performing the opera on tour in the UK until May 26th, along with Eugene Onegin and three children’s operas.

Robert Hugill

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):