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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

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.

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.

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.



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

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