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

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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

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):