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

Saint Louis Butterfly Soars

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis knew to trust the surefire potential of Madame Butterfly, and pretty much stayed out of its way.

Saint Louis: Gordon’s Revised Grapes

If opera is to remain a viable, accessible 21st century art form, it will be largely owing to the commitment of visionary companies like Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Titus Lightens Up in Saint Louis

Mozart’s opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito, performed in English at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis did something I did not think possible.

Il turco in Italia: Garsington Opera

Martin Duncan's production of Rossini's Il turco in Italia debuted in 2011, only the second production to be performed in Garsington Opera's then new home at Wormsley. Revived for the first time on 25 June 2017, David Parry was again conducting with Quirijn de Lang as Selim, Geoffrey Dolton as Don Geronio and Mark Stone as Prosdocimo returning to their roles, plus Sarah Tynan as Fiorilla, Katie Bray as Zaide, Luciano Botelho as Narciso and Jack Swanson as Albazar. Designs were by Francis O'Connor, with lighting by Mark Jonathan and movement by Nick Winston.

Glyndebourne's wartime Ariadne auf Naxos

It’s country-house opera season, and Glyndebourne have decided it’s time for a return of Katharina Thoma’s country-house-set Ariadne auf Naxos, first seen in 2013. Thoma locates Strauss’s opera-about-opera in a 1940s manor house which has been sequestered as a military hospital, neatly alluding to Glyndebourne’s own history when it transformed itself into a centre for evacuees from east London and the Christie children’s nursery became a sick bay.

On Trial in Saint Louis

That Opera Theatre of Saint Louis fearlessly embraces the cutting edge is once again evidenced by their compelling American premiere of The Trial.

A Traditional Rigoletto in Las Vegas

On June 9, 2017, Opera Las Vegas presented a traditional production of Verdi’s Rigoletto conducted by Music Director Gregory Buchalter with a cast headed by veteran baritone Michael Chioldi. A most convincing Rigoletto, Chioldi was a man in psychological pain from the begining of the opera. His fear and his vulnerability to the whims of the nobility were evident in every meaty, well-colored phrase he sang.

Thumbprint, An Amazing Woman Leaves an Indelible Mark

Thumbprint is the story of the young, innocent and illiterate Mukhtar Mai who was assaulted by a group of powerful men. Following the attack, Mukhtar, having supposedly been disgraced, was expected to commit suicide. Instead, she amazed everyone who knew her by going to the police and calling for the arrest of her attackers.

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Verdi standing
27 Mar 2012

La forza del destino by Chelsea Opera Group

For sixty years, the Chelsea Opera Group has adorned London opera life. It doesn’t do mass market, but focuses on unusual and obscure repertoire. This audience comes for the music!

Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino

Il Marchese di Calatrava: Richard Wiegold; Donna Leonore di Vargas: Gweneth-Ann Jeffers; Curra: Patrizia Dina; Don Alvaro: Peter Auty; Un Alcade: Joihn Brice; Don Carlo di Vargas: Robert Poulton; Mastro Trabuco: Paul Curievici; Preziosilla: Antonia Sotgiu; Fra Melitone: Donald Maxwell; Il Padre Guardiano: Brindley Sherratt; The Doctor: Christopher Childs Santos. The Chelsea Opera Group Orchestra and Chorus. The Imperial Male Voice Chorus. Conductor: Robin Newton. Chorus master: Deborah Miles-Johnson. Queen Elizabeh Hall, South Bank, London, 25th March 2012.

Above: Giuseppe Verdi

 

This fuels Chelsea Opera Group productions with the kind of commitment you get from true devotees who love what they’re doing. Founded by David Cairns, they produced Berlioz Les Troyens and even Benevenuto Cellini in the 1960’s, conducted by Colin Davis, closely associated with them since their inception. London would not be what it is without the Chelsea Opera Group ethos and its audiences.

Starting this year’s season at London’s South Bank, the Chelsea Opera Group presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La forza del destino, in the 1862 St Petersburg version rather than the more familiar 1869 Milan version. Chelsea Opera did La forza del destino previously in 1959, 1966 and 1986. Some patrons have heard them all. Last year, there was an excellent production in Paris, with Violeta Urmana, Marcelo Àlvarez and Kwangchul Youn. The Chelsea Opera budget can’t scale such stellar heights but compensates with verve. Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, Peter Auty and Brindley Sherratt gave performances so passionate that they filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall so effectively there was no need for staging. Jeffers and Auty sang these roles at Opera Holland Park in 2010.

In La forza del destino, Jeffers is a force of nature, expressing levels of Leonora’s personality hinted at in the score. Leonora is virginal but passionate. She’s planning to elope to South America, sacrificing her status for an outsider whose ancestors are descended from the god of the Sun (ie Incas). Leonora’s father is a bigot, and her brother equally rigid, but Leonora has greater depth of personality. Jeffers smoulders, caressing the low tessitura, soaring to crescendi and extended high passages. Forceful voice, well applied technique. Jeffers is a born diva, but her powers come from within, fuelled by intelligence and understanding of how music shapes role. Leonora is resourceful — who would chose to be a hermit in a monastery — but she can’t escape Fate. If Fate can destroy someone as strong as Jeffers’s Leonora, there’s no hope for anyone else. Verdi’s “Fate” motif flows throughout the music, sometimes seductive and subtle, but relentless. It surges in the big strings sections, weighted down by celli and basses. But when Jeffers sings Leonora the crucial aria “Pace, Pace”, she’s accompanied by harps, for she’s alone with God. Dramatic sopranos like Gweneth-Ann Jeffers are rare — why don’t we hear her more often in this country? She’s a resource we should appreciate.

Don Alvaro is a long and taxing part, but without staging, the voice is more exposed and has to carry the drama. Peter Auty was more impressive than he was two years ago. In this performance there’s an aria cut from later editions, which commands, as the notes say, “high tessitura and neurotic tension”. Auty threw himself into the spirit, singing with a heroism that captures Don Alvaro’s personality. No matter how hard Don Alvaro tries, Fate will destroy him. Dying early is no escape. Pehaps Don Alvaro will suffer more if he has to find redemption. Certainly, Verdi’s emphasis on spiritual rigour is blunted if Don Alvaro simply drops dead. The role isn’t meant to be easy, and Auty understood the poignancy, rewarded by audience applause. Auty’s young, by no means a bland “English tenor” and has a lot of potential.

The plot pivots around Leonora and Don Alvaro but Verdi expands the idea of Fate in many ways. Don Carlo (Robert Poulton) doesn’t think, or even feel much love for his sister. He’s programmed like an automaton, a manifestation of Fate as obsessive compulsive non-empathy. The part’s against Poulton, though he sings well. But Don Carlo is killed because he doesn’t even question things. Significantly, Verdi writes other characters to extend the concept of Fate. He didn’t write Preziosilla (Antonia Sotgiu) simply for colour. She’s not “gypsy slut” but represents something much more sinister. She is much more Mefistofele than Carmen, for she goads the soldiers on. “Rataplan, Rataplan” can be macabre, a Dance of Death, but here it was genteel, the COG Chorus and The Imperial Male Voice Choir singing with enthusiasm, taken in by Fate in the guise of provocateur.

Significantly, Verdi develops the monastic roles. The peasants suffer poverty and war, yet do nothing to change their fate. Fra Melitone (Donald Maxwell) has some insight, but rails at the peasants for being poor because they have too many children. (Celibates don’t understand). Melitone is also the gatekeeper and rule enforcer, a benign version of Don Carlo. Maxwell’s too nice to be nasty, but creates the comic aspects of the part very well. Il Padre Guardiano (Brindley Sherratt) on the other hand is a figure as powerful as Leonora herself, with dispassionate objectivity.

“Charity” he keeps telling Fra Melitone, meaning charitable feelings not free food. This kind of charity is exactly what Don Carlo and his father don’t understand. So they become tools of fate and die without having learned anything about life. Sherratt’s Guardiano is magnificent, utterly authoritative. Perhaps he realizes that Padre Guardiano is the voice of God, or at least, some superior, all-merciful being who might have to the power to thwart Fate. Notice how Verdi writes the part for the same voice type as the the Marchese di Calatrava (Richard Wiegold). The two men are polar opposites. Sherratt sings with such resonance that you sense the character’s emotional and spiritual depth. No wonder Leonora confides in him. Moreover, he breaks rules, letting her into the monastery. In the ending where Don Alvaro doesn’t die, Padre Guardino plays a pivotal role, implying that there are other values than revenge and pig headedness. Everyone dies in the end, but if you live properly, Fate doesn’t win. Leonora has learned this, which is why she finds a kind of apotheosis in death. God has shown her mercy.

Minor roles add spark to any opera, but much depends on who is singing them. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing Paul Curievici (Trabucco) again. He’s so involved with the opera that his face expresses what’s going on even when he’s just listening. Intuitive expressiveness like this is a gift that can’t be taught. This is the sign of someone who really act, from his soul outwards. He’s extremely young, so another talent to listen out for. I last heard him in the GSMD Poulenc Dialogues des Carmelites. In La forza del destino, he gets to sing a lot more, and does that well, too.

Robert Newton conducted the Chelsea Opera Orchestra and Deborah Miles-Johnson was chorus master. Three more Chelsea Opera Productions coming up this year — Donizetti Maria Padilla on 27 May, Massenet Don Quichotte on 25 November conducted by ROH chorus master, Renato Balsadonna. More details on the COG website.

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):