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Jamie Barton at the Wigmore Hall

“Hi! … I’m at the Wigmore Hall!” American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s exuberant excitement at finding herself performing in the world’s premier lieder venue was delightful and infectious. With accompanist James Baillieu, Barton presented what she termed a “love-fest” of some of the duo’s favourite art songs. The programme - Turina, Brahms, Dvořák, Ives, Sibelius - was also surely designed to show-case Barton’s sumptuous and balmy tone, stamina, range and sheer charisma; that is, the qualities which won her the First and Song Prizes at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition.

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.



Dimitri Platanias as Rigoletto [Photo © ROH 2012 / Johan Persson]
12 Apr 2012

International HD Broadcast of Rigoletto by Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House started doing opera and ballet broadcasts before many other houses, and is now expanding its schedule. On April 17th, Verdi’s Rigoletto is being streamed live in over 600 cinemas in 21 countries.

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto

Rigoletto: Dimitri Platanias; Gilda: Ekaterina Siurina; Duke of Mantua: Vittorio Grigolo; Matteo Borsa: Pablo Bemsch; Count Ceprano: Jihoon Kim; Countess Ceprano: Susana Gaspar; Marullo: ZhengZhong Zhou; Count Monterone: Gianfranco Montresor; Giovanna: Elizabeth Sikora; Page: Andrea Hazell; Court Usher: Nigel Cliffe; Maddalena: Christine Rice. Royal Opera Chorus. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner. Stage Director David McVicar. Royal Opera House, London.

Above: Dimitri Platanias as Rigoletto [Photo © ROH 2012 / Johan Persson]


This Rigoletto is the well-known David McVicar production from 2001, but this time the conductor is John Eliot Gardiner. He’s one of the great specialists in baroque and early music. This was not his first Verdi opera, but his first Rigoletto, so he was an inspired choice as conductor. Yet those who know period instrument practice know how rambunctious it can be. Gardiner’s Rigoletto is vigorous, capturing the turbulence of the Renaissance.

Be shocked by the licentiousness you see in the First Act. But McVicar’s not out to titillate, but to make us feel revulsion. For the Duke of Mantua, sex is a weapon, like any other abuse of power. We’re not supposed to approve. Listen to how Gardiner’s tight, disciplined approach challenges the depravity of this Court. At the first performance in this run (review here), Gardiner showed how Verdi builds moral purpose into the orchestra. Gardiner’s strong sense of structure, which undercuts any attempt at sentimentality. Listen out for small details, such as when flutes cut through the broad swath of strings. Small, individual voices that stand up to the mass. Gilda is powerless, but proves to be the most heroic person of all. Verdi tells us this even before she makes her sacrifice. Gardiner’s period background also shows in the way horns, trombones and cimbasso can be used to create 16th century colour even if the instruments are modern. This is a Rigoletto to listen to, as pure music.

Vittorio Grigolo sings the Duke of Mantua. He, too, is a good reason for catching this broadcast, as the emphasis on the Duke, rather than on Rigoletto brings out deeper perspectives on the role and on the opera. Grigolo and Gardiner contrast extremely well, one taunting the other, as should be, in this highly principled interpretation.

Grigolo makes an impact the moment he enters. “Questa o quella” is thrown like a gauntlet. Grigolo has the showmanship to create the Duke, strutting with arrogant machismo. The Duke luxuriates in his flashy image, and Grigolo glories in the flamboyance of his singing. This is no defect, but an accurate reading of the role. Grigolo’s Duke swaggers, for it’s his way of keeping control, of the courtiers and perhaps, of himself. There’s no room for subtlety. Thus, when the Duke falls for Gilda, it’s even more poignant when he almost reveals his inner fragility.

It’s then when Grigolo shows the depth of his characterization. With Gilda, he can play the man he might have been had he not been born to a crown. The duet with Gilda is genuinely tender. In “Ella mi fu rapita”, Grigolo lets the Duke’s mask drop for a moment, singing with genuine tenderness. In many ways this is the heart of the opera for it touches on the Duke’s inner psyche. Yet it’s not something the Duke can be comfortable with. Significantly, Verdi keeps cutting “La donna è mobile” so the sections don’t connect. Gardiner emphasizes the disjoint, for by this stage, the Duke is back to his old tricks, morally disintegrating once more. Grigolo’s voice gradually fades, for now the Duke is running away, blaming everyone but himself. Grigolo is a consummate actor and creates the part better than he’ll get credit for. The problem is that the Duke himself isn’t sympathetic and is a difficult character to portray.

Ekaterina Siurina sings Gilda with great personality, and Dimirtri Platanias sings Rigoletto. American audiences may recognize Matthew Rose, who sings Sparafucile, and ihas appeared at the Met, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Houston and at the Mostly Mozart series in New York. He’s very unusual in that he’s a British singer whose career took off in the United States. This gives him a unique perspective.

Discovered by the British baritone Benjamin Luxon, Rose won a place at the Curtis Istitute and received his early training in Philadelphia. Because the opera faculty at Curtis is compact, unlike London, a singer gets more intensive experience at a fairly early stage. “It was wonderful”, says Rose, because he was able to sing good roles with well established singers. “It was like being on a top football team. When you’re working with stars, it raises your own game”.

Rose speaks of Curtis fondly, but decided to return to Britain where he started again as a Young Artist at the Royal Opera House. Moving back to Europe expanded his repertoire. He made his Royal Opera House debut in 2003 and is also a regular at Glyndebourne. He’s enterprising, too, and runs a music festival in Sussex and plans a Britten series in Berlin next year. He’s worked with the Britten-Pears Foundation. He’s also very experienced in oratorio, and has worked with John Eliot Gardiner many times.

Watch how Rose sings Sparafucile. He’s imposing. While the Duke of Mantua is immoral, Sparafucile is amoral. Rose doesn’t need to invest the part with histrionics. To Sparafucile, murder is a business transaction without emotional meaning. Rose’s detachment is chilling in itself. In his exchanges with Christine Rice’s Maddalena, Rose’s sibilants cut with suppressed sexual violence. They’re not “brother and sister” in the modern sense of the term, but pimp and whore. Rose makes you wonder how Sparafucile came to be who he is. He’s brutal, but is it personality or circumstance?

More people will experience opera on film than will ever attend live performances, so film is an essential part of the business. Filming opera is an art in itself. Whoever directs a film of an opera needs to understand the opera, and also how the cast, production and music express its meaning. Film is the next frontier. Kaspar Holten, the new Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, is a movie buff as well as an opera professional, and directed his Juan (see the review in Opera Today here). But that was a film for it’s own sake, not a film of the opera as such. By far the majority of filmed operas will be attempts to capture live performance as it happens in the theatre. Good opera filming is a skill that requires musical knowledge as well as film technique, and above all, sensitive response to relevant detail. Fortunately, the Royal Opera House has the resources and commitment to do it well. For more information, please see this link to the Royal Opera House cinema page.

Anne Ozorio

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