Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Così Fan Tutte, Hampstead Garden Opera
09 May 2012

My Big Fat American Moustache: A Wartime Così Fan Tutte

An energetic and exceptionally entertaining production of Così fan tutte sung in English and set during World War II, when the Americans often got the girls.

W. A. Mozart: Così Fan Tutte

Ferrando: Zachary Devin; Guglielmo: Henry Manning; Fiordiligi: Maud Millar; Dorabella: Sarah Denbee; Despina: Marion Wyllie; Don Alfonso: Daniel Roddick. Hampstead Garden Opera. Conductor: Dorian Komanoff Bandy. Production Director: Daisy Evans. Artistic Director: Oliver-John Ruthven. Set and Costume Designer: Katherine Heath. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, London, 3 May 2012.

Photos by Laurent Compagnon courtesy of Hampstead Garden Opera

 

Daisy Evans, who directed Così fan tutte for Hampstead Garden Opera, had the wonderfully inspired idea of setting it in Sicily, in October 1943, at the height of the Allies’ Italian campaign. Ferrando and Guglielmo become two young British lieutenants, briefly on leave from the front on the mainland, and Fiordiligi and Dorabella two giddy members of an Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) concert troupe sent out to divert the Allied soldiers. By this historical juncture British and American troops were fighting together, and this provides Ferrando and Guglielmo with a good reason to disguise themselves as Americans. Evans describes the scenario in her “Director’s Note” as “a micro society built far from home with people you’d never normally encounter, where motivation, morals and hope become plastic, changeable and precarious.” It’s all very convincing.

I was reminded of Kenneth Branagh’s sadly underrated cinematic updating of Love’s Labour’s Lost, set in the late 1930s with the threat of war looming over Europe — not least because of the striking parallels between Shakespeare’s very unconventional comedy and Mozart’s opera. In both cases the introduction of the realities of war gives an “edge” to proceedings often represented as unfolding in a dreamy never-never space, while also, paradoxically, somehow justifying any silliness that does not involve mass slaughter.

Evans’s concept works brilliantly in every respect, and I have no hesitation declaring this the most dramatically solid Così I’ve seen. In the original Da Ponte opera, the decision of Ferrando and Guglielmo to disguise themselves as bushily-moustached Albanians who happen to speak perfect Italian is basically farcical, very much like the lovers pretending to be Russians in Love’s Labour’s Lost. One feels they could be from any country, for all that it matters; one cannot imagine the mere fact of their being Albanian adding to their attraction. By contrast, in the Hampstead Garden Opera production the decision of the lovers to impersonate Americans has real point, and the lines about moustaches are actually funnier — at least if you’re British. In seeming to be Americans, Ferrando and Guglielmo are seen to have an immediate advantage over their British counterparts: they are wealthier, better dressed, more confident, gung-ho and “with it.” They have wonderful things like chocolate and nylon stockings, and can advertise their sexual prowess through raunchier modes of dancing. From the moment they first appear it is obvious the “real” Ferrando and Guglielmo are involved in an unequal struggle. Theatrically speaking, too, the old cliché about two countries divided by a common language allows for plenty of fun, in general the attempts at American pronunciation being (I take it) deliberately bad and inconsistent.

A1193.gif(Left to right) Sarah Denbee (Dorabella), Henry Manning (Guglielmo), Zachary Devin (Ferrando), and Maud Millar (Fiordiligi)

The production utilizes an English translation by Martin Fitzpatrick, tweaked here and there to reference the 1940s situation. It is beautifully idiomatic and faithful to the music’s rhythms; this, in combination with the clear articulation of the singers, made it remarkably easy to hear almost every word. And it was worth paying attention, for line after line had the audience indulging not just in polite chortles but unrestrained hilarity. Two examples from Despina: “What do you think your lovers will do on ‘active service’?”; “Eat up the pasta, but leave room for the salami!” Examples of sensitive modernizing include Ferrando and Guglielmo telling Don Alfonso “You’re a bitter old cynic. / You should be in a clinic” and “I think we’ll hit the jackpot.” One line which caught everyone’s attention was Guglielmo’s describing Fiordiligi as a “faithless, double-crossing, deceitful, lying bitch!” While Italian “cagna” does translate as “bitch,” in the original it is merely the last in a string of nouns, some of them rather past their sell-by date. The piling up of adjectives in the English made the b-word far more emphatic; the fact that it seemed more likely to be spoken by Guglielmo’s assumed American character made the rhetorical moment a memorable coup de théâtre.

The thoroughly entertaining and easily accessible dialogue, the irresistible buffoonery surrounding the “American” imposture, the well-judged, hammy performances by the sisters, who gave the general impression of feeling lucky that they had men at all, let alone two each, and the bounce and verve which Hampstead Garden Opera brought to the whole performance, made it difficult to remember that Mozartean opera is often disparaged as an elitist pastime even by people who like Shakespeare, or who will queue in the rain for a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. There was nothing elitist about this production. It was popular Mozart, but not dumbed down Mozart, and in fact more intellectually engaging than many a “classic” production in the original language. (When he directed a landmark Magic Flute in English in 1911, Edward Dent argued that there were no limits to the potential popularity of Mozartean opera in Britain, provided it were performed in good translations — I’m now convinced he was right.) A glance around the utterly unpretentious Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre revealed a very diverse audience of the young and old, fashionable and unfashionable, and (I would guess) very different income levels. A deep and unforced sense of pleasure appeared to be general.

In productions like this, put together on shoestring budgets, goodwill and enthusiasm, it is of course unreasonable to expect the very highest musical standards. But that acknowledged, the level was remarkably high, and one would have needed a fastidious ear or uncompromising “professional” standard to go home feeling unsatisfied. The six principals were all outstanding, and if their singing tended to the robust rather than the subtle, this fitted the generally spirited nature of the production. They all possessed a strong stage presence, displayed fine acting skills, and brought an infectious zest to everything they did.

A4018.gifZachary Devin (Ferrando), Henry Manning (Guglielmo, and Sarah Denbee (Dorabella)

The musical director was Dorian Komanoff Bandy, who has undertaken extensive research into historical performance practices in Mozart’s operas and brings the results to this particular production. I can do no better than quote his own account: “In our production of Così, we see the musical text not as a finished document, but as a starting point. True to 18th-century practices, cadenzas will be fitted to the individual singers, and will vary with each performance. Ornamentation will likewise be mostly unpremeditated. Even my recitative continuo, which I will play on a fortepiano similar to Mozart’s, will be active and pervasive, participating in the dramatic action rather than accompanying it. (Would Mozart, the great showman, have sat idly at the keyboard and strummed chords only at cadences?)” I am not qualified to comment on the historical claims made here, but there was no arguing with the fact that the approach brought the music to life in a way which suited the production perfectly. Komanoff Bandy’s palpable passion for what he was doing matched that of the principals on stage, and he secured some very fine playing from his little orchestra. Tempos were fast, but not excessively so, and the music bristled with energy, conveying a general sense of urgency and agitation appropriate to the unstable wartime scenario. This was not the “Classical” or even the “Romantic” Mozart, but it was an unquestionably theatrical Mozart.

It is worth adding, in conclusion, that Hampstead Garden Opera, founded in 1990, has always had a special affinity for Mozart. In fact the company was established specifically with a view to performing his operas, and though they have gone on to explore the works of many other composers, they have kept returning to Mozart. But in the past they have focused mainly on Don Giovanni, Figaro, and The Magic Flute. This is only the second time they have presented Così fan tutte, making it all the more praiseworthy that they have pulled off such a bold and successful reinterpretation.

David Chandler

Cast

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):