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

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. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

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. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

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.

Gergiev : Janáček 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. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

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.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alan Held as Simone and Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca in the Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy Alan Held as Simone and Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca in the Canadian Opera Company production of <em>A Florentine Tragedy</em> [Photo by Chris Hutcheson courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]
01 May 2012

Two from Florence

The double bill of Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy with Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, currently being presented by the Canadian Opera Company, is a marriage made in heaven, a pair of complementary opposites who seem to belong together.

Alexander Zemlinsky: A Florentine Tragedy — Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi

Click here for cast and other production information.

Above: Alan Held as Simone and Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca in the Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy [Photo by Chris Hutcheson courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]

 

They’re alike in some key ways…

  • Both operas are set in Florence
  • They are roughly contemporary in composition from around 1917-1918
  • Both operas have plots driven by avarice and disparities of wealth

Yet even so, …

  • Zemlinsky is not well-known, while Puccini is arguably the most popular composer of the 20th Century
  • A Florentine Tragedy is dark, while Gianni Schicchi is a comic masterpiece
  • Notwithstanding the date of composition, Zemlinsky’s music is often dissonant and disturbing, whereas Puccini’s occasional dissonances are usually zany rather than disturbing, and serve to set up the luscious melodies he spins. But Zemlinsky does offer a few wonderful climaxes.

Conducted by Andrew Davis, I believe this is the largest COC orchestral complement we’ve seen in a long time, at least in the Zemlinsky. Huge as the assembled forces may have been for most of the work, Davis held them delicately in check, swelling only occasionally, particularly at the volcanic conclusion. The Zemlinsky work sounds a lot like Richard Strauss, with the expressionist flair we find from operas such as Elektra or Salome.

Wilson Chin’s set design captured these two very distinct worlds, allowing them to cohere wonderfully as a satisfying evening of opera. The dark work (called a “tragedy” but maybe not so tragic) unfolds as a love triangle on a big bare stage, while the light comedy takes place in a cramped space full of junk. Although they’re different the worlds of both are so preoccupied with property and materialism that it’s manifested in the physical environment of the set.

Bass-baritone Alan Held had a busy night. As Simone in the tragedy he’s singing a great deal, much of it in a high register, followed by the role of Gianni Schicchi, which isn’t much easier, also lying high. The teutonic style of the Zemlinsky seems to be a better fit for Held’s voice than the Italianate comedy, although true to his name he more than held his own.

        

florentine-COC_02.gif(l - r) Gun-Brit Barkmin as Bianca, Michael König as Guido Bardi and Alan Held as Simone (background) in the Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy, 2012. [Photo by Michael Cooper courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]

While I laughed throughout the Puccini I enjoyed the dark opera more. For me it’s a brand-new work, full of wonderful moments, luscious orchestral sonorities, unexpected emotional turns, and a wonderful concluding five minutes. Director Catherine Malfitano is to be congratulated for shaping this complex and ambiguous work successfully. Bianca, Simone’s wife, is shown with her husband in an oversize portrait centre stage (you can see it in the photo) with her husband’s hand in a controlling position on her neck. In their first encounter he gently seizes her -if that isn’t a complete oxymoron—by the back of the neck. While this may seem obvious, the story is anything but. Held’s physical presence is threatening even though he is subservient to the Prince, who is busily cuckolding his subject right in Simone’s own home.

Gun-Brit Barkmin makes a wonderfully complex Bianca, surrendering to Michael König’s Prince, yet seemingly in thrall to her husband’s complex dominance. It should be no surprise that this twisted tale comes to us from Oscar Wilde. Malfitano’s conclusion to A Florentine Tragedy provided a wonderful echo of the cloak from one of the original Puccini triptych, namely Il Tabarro ; where the cloak in the Puccini shocker conceals a dead body, in this case the cloak leads to an unexpectedly loving and sensual embrace.

florentine-COC_03.gifA scene from the Canadian Opera Company production of Gianni Schicchi, 2012. [Photo by Michael Cooper courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]

While I found the Puccini a huge relief after the darkness of Zemlinsky, I wasn’t sure about the updating. Instead of Medieval Florence we get something closer to Jersey Shore: which is apt I suppose considering that Malfitano is both American and Italian. Sometimes the updating was very good, as for instance when René Barbera as Rinuccio sang his big paean to Florence from atop a pile of junk. I worried for his safety -and no this isn’t to be mistaken for Spiderman—with the young tenor perched easily twenty feet above the stage floor. I reminded myself that while the set appeared rickety of course it was carefully constructed to support him. Overall I found that the modernization made the show warm & fuzzy rather than edgy, defusing some of the laughter that the opera can sometimes generate. It’s still lots of fun though and especially delightful after the Zemlinsky.

Barbera’s singing was one of the highlights of the evening, along with the Lauretta of Simone Osborne, singing “Oh mio babbino caro”. I felt Davis was channelling Toscanini, imbuing the operas with wonderful pace & verve, but also sometimes challenging the singers to perhaps sing faster than they might have wished.

florentine-COC_04.gif(l - r) Simone Osborne as Lauretta, René Barbera as Rinuccio and Alan Held as Gianni Schicchi in the Canadian Opera Company production of Gianni Schicchi, 2012. [Photo by Michael Cooper courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]

Held, Barbera & Osborne make a loveable family unit, in this crowd-pleaser of an opera. I hope no one is scared off by the opera composed by a guy whose name starts with a Z. This double bill deserves to score well with the Toronto audience.

The Canadian Opera Company production of A Florentine Tragedy andGianni Schicchi continue at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto until May 25th.

Leslie Barcza

This review first appeared at barczablog. It is reprinted with the author’s permission.

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):