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

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.

Fortepiano Schubert : Wigmore Hall

The Wigmore Hall complete Schubert song series continued with a recital by Georg Nigl and Andreas Staier. Staier's a pioneer, promoting the use of fortepiano in Schubert song. In Schubert's time, modern concert pianos didn't exist. Schubert and his contemporaries would have been familiar with a lighter, brighter sound. Over the last 30 years, we've come to better understand Schubert and his world through the insights Staier has given us. His many performances, frequently with Christoph Prégardien at the Wigmore Hall, have always been highlights.

MOZART 250: the year 1767

Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 project has reached the year 1767. Two years ago, the company embarked upon an epic, 27-year exploration of the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. The series will incorporate 250th anniversary performances of all Mozart’s important compositions and artistic director Ian Page tells us that as 1767 ‘was the year in which Mozart started to write more substantial works - opera, oratorio, concertos … this will be the first year of MOZART 250 in which Mozart’s own music dominates the programme’.

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):