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

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Emma Bell as Miss Fortune [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
13 Mar 2012

Miss Fortune mis-fires, Royal Opera House

An absurd plot has never stood in the way of a good opera. Unfortunately, Judith Weir’s Miss Fortune at the Royal Opera House isn’t much of an opera.

Judith Weir: MIss Fortune

Tina Miss Fortune: Emma Bell; Lord Fortune: Alan Ewing; Lady Fortune: Kathryn Harries; Fate: Andrew Watts; Donna: Anne-Marie Owens; Hassan: Noah Stewart; Simon: Jacques Imbrailo. Conductor: Paul Daniels. Director: Chen Shi-zheng. Sets: Tom Pye. Costumes: Han Feng. Lighting: Scott Zielinski. Videos: Leigh Sachwitz. Flora & Fauna Visions. Choreographer: Ran Arthur Braun. Royal Opera House, London, 12th March 2012.

Above: Emma Bell as Miss Fortune [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House]

 

It’s an anomaly in an otherwise fertile career, which has made Weir one of the significant British composers of our time. She deserves high profile tratment. So it’s just bad luck that while Weir is getting maximum attention, Miss Fortune does not show her at her best. Better a revival of A Night at The Chinese Opera or Blond Eckbert than this mishap.

The surmise is reasonable enough. Billionaire parents instantly lose all they have. “I’ll work, I’ll live, I’ll eat” sings Tina (Emma Bell) their daughter, “I’ll find my way on the street”. Perhaps, but the hardships she comes across are so sanitized that they’re hard to take seriously. Of course this is a fairy tale, but real fairy tales have bite. Miss Fortune is so shallow you couldn’t drown a gnat.

So don’t come expecting real emotions in this opera, and certainly no element of social analysis. The whole opera predicates on the idea of Fate in the form of a doppelgänger in a natty tie-dyed dressing gown. “I’m with you everywhere” sings Andrew Watts, trying his utmost to sound convincing, but there’s so little substance in this text that even he can’t bring out the malevolent possibilities in the character. Fate isn’t fair, it’s insane. Countertenors have the range to madden and confound, but the music here is so even-tempered that it makes little impact. When one of the breakdancers spins dangerously on the top of his head, risking his neck and spine, he expresses more about the nature of fate than anything in this music. It’s not a good sign when a choreographer can say more about the meaning of an opera than a composer. Wonderful dancing, however. These men (members of the Soul Mavericks) were so good that they almost rescued the whole show.

Lord and Lady Fortune (Alan Ewing and Kathryn Harries) have parts to sing that are more slapstick panto than depth, and Weir’s writing for them is very good, setting each at counterpurposes to the other, which expresses personality. But poor Tina! She’s such an inept cipher that Emma Bell hardly has to do much more than follow the notes. Hassan (Noah Stewart) and Donna (Anne-Marie Owens) are stock characters too, dutifully realized. .

The problem lies in the libretto. Judith Weir is brilliant at writing atmospheric, descriptive music, but such music needs something to hang on to, like flesh needs a skeleton (another image of Fate).This libretto is so weak, it’s embarrassing. The banality of the text follows the banality of the narrative, and the music doesn’t rise above it. For example, sharp-suited Simon the Yuppie (Jacques Imbrailo) comes down from his office (”it’s not far away”) to tell Donna the Laundromat Lady that his shirt is the best laundered and best ironed he’s ever worn. That’s about the level of discourse in this opera. The Deus ex machina is a lottery ticket which may or may not change Fate, but it’s so artificial we don’t really care. Imbrailo’s singing was by far the finest singing of all, exquisitely shaped and warmed with sincerity. Imbrailo is such a genuinely nice person in real life that perhaps he can identify with the better aspects of Simon. But the beauty of his singing was at odds with pedestrian vocal demands in the score. If only the part had been written with more substance, doing justice to this level of singing.

The staging on the other hand was superb. Wonderful set by Tom Pye, based on two triangular objects suspended above the stage, onto which were projected a fantastic array of light effects and videos (Scott Zielinski, Leigh Sachwitz, Flora and Faunavisions). This was truly magical. Inventive costumes (Han Feng) and strong direction by Chen Shi-zheng, who injects the proceedings with a charm lacking in the music. You could have spent the whole evening marvelling at this staging. Miss Fortune and the recent ROH Rusalka are mirror opposites, one with good music and dull staging, the other with wonderful staging and uninvolving music. But we shouldn’t go to the opera to enjoy the scenery, even when it’s as good as this. It’s the characters that make an opera, and their feelings, as brought out in the music.

Paul Daniel is an excellent and much underrated conductor who made his name in the ENO glory days when Weir and Turnage were in their prime. He has experience and inspired good playing from this orchestra, better than several conductors we’ve heard in recent months. Hopefully, he’ll be back again soon — he’s an asset.

There were so many positives about this production. It would be hard to imagine a better range of resources utilized to make it work. But Miss Fortune is fatally flawed because it just isn’t dramatic. I longed for Mark Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole, which has grown on me with time. Anna Nicole had its dull moments, but its grotesqueries were so engrossing that they held attention, even if they made you want to scream.

Anne Ozorio

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):