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

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

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):