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

Bartoli a dream Cenerentola in Amsterdam

With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.

Winterreise : a parallel journey

Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.

Anna Bolena in Lisbon

Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.

Oh, What a Night in San Jose

It is difficult to know where to begin to praise the stunning achievement of Opera San Jose’s West Coast premiere of Silent Night.

Billy Budd in Madrid

Like Carmen, Billy Budd is an operatic personage of such breadth and depth that he becomes unique to everyone. This signals that there is no Billy Budd (or Carmen) who will satisfy everyone. And like Carmen, Billy Budd may be indestructible because the opera will always mean something to someone.

A riveting Nixon in China at the Concertgebouw

American composer John Adams turns 70 this year. By way of celebration no less than seven concerts in this season’s NTR ZaterdagMatinee series feature works by Adams, including this concert version of his first opera, Nixon in China.

English song: shadows and reflections

Despite the freshness, passion and directness, and occasional wry quirkiness, of many of the works which formed this lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall - given by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Guy Pomeroy - a shadow lingered over the quiet nostalgia and pastoral eloquence of the quintessentially ‘English’ works performed.

A charming Pirates of Penzance revival at ENO

'Nobody does Gilbert and Sullivan anymore.’ This was the comment from many of my friends when I mentioned the revival of Mike Leigh's 2015 production of The Pirates of Penzance at English National Opera (ENO). Whilst not completely true (English Touring Opera is doing Patience next month), this reflects the way performances of G&S have rather dropped out of the mainstream. That Leigh's production takes the opera on its own terms and does not try to send it up, made it doubly welcome.

A Relevant Madama Butterfly

On Feb 3, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s dramatic opera Madama Butterfly. Sandra Lopez was the naive fifteen-year-old who falls hopelessly in love with the American Naval Officer.

Johan Reuter sings Brahms with Wiener Philharmoniker

In the last of my three day adventure, I headed to Vienna for the Wiener Philharmoniker at the Musikverein (my first time!) for Mahler and Brahms.

Gatti and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Head to Asia

In Amsterdam legend Janine Jansen and the seventh Principal Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw, Daniele Gatti, came together for their first engagement in a ravishing performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto.

Verdi’s Requiem with the Berliner Philharmoniker

I extravagantly scheduled hearing the Berliner, Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Wiener Philharmoniker, to hear these three top orchestra perform their series programmes opening the New Year.

Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher in Lyon

There is no bigger or more prestigious name in avant-garde French theater than Romeo Castellucci (b. 1960), the Italian metteur en scène of this revival of Arthur Honegger’s mystère lyrique, Joan of Arc at the Stake (1938) at the Opéra Nouvel in Lyon.

A New Look at Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio

On January 28, 2017, Los Angeles Opera premiered James Robinson’s nineteen twenties production of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which places the story on the Orient Express. Since Abduction is a work with spoken dialogue like The Magic Flute, the cast sang their music in German and spoke their lines in English.

Giasone in Geneva

Fecund Jason, father of his wife Isifile’s twins and as well father of his seductress Medea’s twins, does indeed have a problem — he prefers to sleep with and wed Medea. In this resurrection of the most famous opera of the seventeenth century he evidently also sleeps with Hercules.

Falstaff in Genoa

A Falstaff that raised-the-bar ever higher, this was a posthumous resurrection of Luca Ronconi’s masterful staging of Verdi’s last opera, the third from last of the 83 operas Ronconi staged during his lifetime (1933-2015). And his third staging of Falstaff following Salzburg in 1993 and Florence in 2006.

Traviata in Seattle

One of Aidan Lang’s first initiatives as artistic director of Seattle Opera was to encourage his board to formulate a “mission statement” for the fifty-year old company. The document produced was clear, simple, and anodyne. Seattle Opera would aim above all to create work appealing both to the emotions and reason of the audience.

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part I: Stölzl’s Psychedelic Parsifal

Deutsche Oper Berlin (DOB) consistently serves up superlatively sung Wagner productions. This Fall, its productions of Philipp Stölzl's Parsifal and Kasper Holten's Lohengrin offered intoxicating musical affairs. Annette Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Peter Seiffert reached for the stars. Even when it comes down to last minute replacements, the casting is topnotch.

Donna abbandonata: Temple Song Series

Donna abbandonata would have been a good title for the first concert of Temple Music’s 2017 Song Series. Indeed, mezzo-soprano Christine Rice seems to be making a habit of playing abandoned women.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Julia Riley as Dorabella and Elizabeth Llewellyn as Fiordiligi [Photo by Fritz Curzon courtesy of Opera Holland Park]
11 Jun 2012

Così fan tutte, Holland Park

Are my expectations too high when it comes to Mozart’s operas in general, and to Così fan tutte in general? Probably. Should they be? Certainly.

W. A. Mozart: Così fan tutte

Fiordiligi: Elizabeth Llewellyn; Dorabella: Julia Riley; Ferrando: Andrew Staples; Guglielmo: Dawid Kimberg; Despina: Joana Seara; Alfonso: Nicholas Garrett. Director: Harry Fehr; Designs: Alex Eales; Lighting: Colin Grenfell. City of London Sinfonia/Thomas Kemp (conductor). Holland Park, London, Friday 8 June 2012.

Above: Julia Riley as Dorabella and Elizabeth Llewellyn as Fiordiligi

Photos by Fritz Curzon courtesy of Opera Holland Park

 

For the problem remains, as I have doubtless said far too many times before, Mozart’s music, and not just his operas, requires but one thing: perfection. It is the most unsparing music of all, with nowhere, but nowhere, to hide. Every note must be considered and sounded both in itself and in connection to every other. Place a wrong or even slightly excessive accent upon a single note and the fault will be glaringly magnified; misjudge a tempo, which is not to say that there is only one ‘correct’ tempo, and the entire apple-cart will be upset. However, conduct Così fan tutte like Sir Colin Davis — or rather, as Sir Colin Davis — and it is an experience that will remain with an audience for the rest of its life, opening doors one had never expected to be there in the first place.

Yes, the comparison is odious, but Thomas Kemp — a name new to me though his biography suggests considerable experience in houses across Europe and beyond — is no Colin Davis. I have heard worse, most obviously from the aggressively ‘authenticke’ brigade; Kemp did not seem actively to be trying to make Mozart’s music sound unpleasant. Nevertheless, on this evidence, he is not a conductor who could claim any particular or even general sympathy with Mozart. The opening bars of the Overture were taken far too fast; thereafter, far too many numbers never hit upon the just tempo. (It is worth repeating at this point that I do not for a moment think there is one ‘correct’ tempo; the trick is to make whatever is chosen sound right, to perform with conviction, sympathy, understanding, and of course, a sense of connection to a greater whole.) ‘Smanie implacibilie’ was breathless in quite the wrong way. Other sections of the score dragged, not so much because they were slow — I doubt that anything was as ravishingly, heart-stoppingly lingering as Davis would so often nowadays present it — but because the tempo seemed arbitrary, applied from without, with little connection to anything else, above all with little or no sense of harmonic motion.

The City of London Sinfonia played decently, though the strings could tend somewhat towards the anonymous. (At least they lacked the acerbic nature of a ‘period’ orchestra.) For the most part, as so often in Mozart, it was the woodwind section that most delighted; there was some fine work indeed here from a number of principals. The kettledrums, however, were often bizarrely prominent, not helped by the employment of hard sticks. Karl Böhm would have rolled in his grave.

Cosi2012-243a.gif(Left-Right) Nicholas Garrett as Alfonso, Elizabeth Llewellyn as Fiordiligi, Andrew Staples as Ferrando, Joana Seara as Despina, Julia Riley as Dorabella and Dawid Kimberg as Guglielmo

Had they been supported by a more sympathetic conductor, the cast of young singers would doubtless have appeared in a stronger light. As it was, there was nothing really to which one could object, but there remained a sense that things might have been better. (Perhaps that will dissipate during the run; first nights are rarely the best time to catch singers in particular.) Elizabeth Llewellyn, whom I admired greatly last year at Holland Park as the Countess, delivered what was probably the strongest performance overall, as Fiordiligi. The beauty of her tone-production could not be gainsaid, though her diction was sometimes, for instance in ‘Per pietà’, occluded. Julia Riley’s Dorabella sometimes lacked focus, though when that was achieved, showed considerable promise. Hers was a forthright portrayal, doubtless in part so as to achieve greater contrast with Fiordiligi, but was it sometimes excessively so? There second act duet between the two veered dangerously close to crudity on Dorabella’s part. Andrew Staples’s tone is very much of the ‘English tenor’ variety. I was not always convinced that this served Ferrando so well, but it is a very difficult role to get right; in other cases, often one ends up thinking the music sounds too close to Puccini. ‘Un’ aura amoroso’ was beautifully sung, though there were times elsewhere when greater presence might have been achieved. Dawid Kimberg’s Guglielmo was blustering, swaggering even, able to call upon considerable vocal reserves. Joana Seara offered a lively Despina, though her tuning sometimes went a little awry. Nicholas Garrett, 2010’s Don Giovanni, presented an intelligent portrayal of Don Alfonso.

What of the production? It was, for the most part, difficult to say anything much about it at all. I do not doubt that it would have pleased self-proclaimed ‘traditionalists’, since the costumes were all impeccably, almost aggressively, ‘period’ — if hardly Neapolitan. Of course, Così is in no sense whatsoever ‘about’ eighteenth-century Naples, but the logic of the literalist position is that it must be. It was difficult to detect in Harry Fehr’s production any idea of what Così might be about, any attempt to probe beneath its painfully beautiful surfaces, or even to celebrate the pain upon the surface. We had a ‘period’ set, ‘period’ costumes, and that was really just about it. There was a nod to directorial cliché in placing an audience on stage, supposedly ‘reacting’ to the events witnessed, but have we not seen that sort of thing far too many times before? Such framing can be interesting, even refreshing: I think, for instance, of Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Serse for ENO. However, if the intention were to highlight the artificiality of the drama — the artificiality is absolutely necessary to permit Mozart’s agonising psychological explorations — then it failed to come across; it appeared instead rather more as an attempt to generate stage ‘business’ in the absence of any other ideas. That is, until, part way through the second act, Fehr suddenly decided to add a few more, which jarred hopelessly given the uninvolving nature of what we had seen hitherto. Ferrando was laughed at by members of the ‘audience’: it might have been movingly cruel, yet here simply came across as an intrusion upon the music. Fiordiligi took off her dress, put on a soldier’s uniform — a very odd, quasi-literalist interpretation of her attempt to persuade herself to find her (erstwhile) lover — and then had that taken off by Ferrando. (No need to worry: there was plenty beneath the dress and the uniform.) Such ‘action’ merely came across as a realisation, too late in the day, that nothing much had happened. This is, of course, an extremely difficult opera to direct, yet Lloyd-Evans barely seemed to have tried.

Mark Berry

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):