Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Macbeth, LA Opera

On Thursday evening October 13, Los Angeles Opera transmitted Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth live from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, in the center of the city, to a pier in Santa Monica and to South Gate Park in Southeastern Los Angeles County. My companion and I saw the opera in High Definition on a twenty-five foot high screen at the park.

COC’d Up Ariodante

Director Richard Jones never met an opera he couldn’t ‘change,’ and Canadian Opera Company’s sumptuously sung Ariodante was a case in point.

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.

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

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.



Gaius Caesar Caligula [Source: Wikipedia]
04 Jun 2012

Detlev Glanert’s Caligula, ENO

Detlev Glanert’s Caligula at the ENO shows how powerful modern opera can be. Caligula was a tyrant, but this opera isn’t sensationalist.

Detlev Glanert: Caligula

Caligula: Peter Coleman-Wright; Caesonia: Yvonne Hioward; Helicon: Christopher Ainslie; Cherea: Pavlo Hunka; Scipio: Carolyn Dobin; Mucius: Brian Galliford; Mereia/Lepidus: Eddie Wade; Livia: Julia Sposen; Poets: Greg Winter; Philip Daggett; Gary Coward; Geraint Hylton; Drusilla: Zoe Hunn. Conductor: Ryan Wigglesworth. Director: Benedict Andrews. Set Designer: Ralph Myers. Costumes: Alice Babidge. Lighting: Jon Clark. English National Opera.The Coliseum; London, 25th May 2012.

Above: Gaius Caesar Caligula [Source: Wikipedia]


Based on the play by Albert Camus, it’s a study of human emotion in extreme situations, expressed in vividly dramatic music.

The opera starts and ends with a scream”, says director Benedict Andrews. It’s primal. This phase in Caligula’s madness is set off by the death of his sister Drusilla, allegedy murdered because she became pregnant by him. It ends with Caligula being killed. Suddenly he shouts “I’m still alive!”. The cycle doesn’t end. Caligula’s madness is universal psychosis.

Camus was writing when Hitler and Stalin were in power. Glanert, despite his jovial personality, doesn’t shirk from the political implications. Indeed, while he was working on this opera, he had Dimitri Shostakovich in mind. Shotsakovich was a dissident who had to compromise toi survive a totalitarian regime. Caligula is mad, and everyone knows it but he has absolute power. His inner circle feed his delusion, but he’s sane enough on some level to despise them for their hypocrisy. Ralph Myers’s set is uncompromising. The audience is confronted by a wall of seats, not unlike a theatre. Perhaps it’s an arena where gladiators kill each other to entertain onlookers. Are the populace any less bloodthirsty than their Emperors? There but for fortune. Caligula looks at himself in the mirror of the moon, which refracts blinding light back at the audience. We can’t not get involved. We’re in the Coliseum, after all! Madmen become tyrants when ordinary people don’t take responsibilty. Incidentally, modern tyrants have used football stadiums to imprison people and do massacres, so the image is even more poignant.

In the middle of this arena there’s a tunnel, a discreet reminder of Caligula’s psycho-sexual confusion. Despite his madness, he’s trying to make sense of his situation. “Loneliness! Loneliness!” he wails, though he knows he can’t escape the ghosts of those he’s killed. What motivates his excesses? He’s compelled to outrage every sensibility. Yet that traps him in a vicious cycle, too. Are his provocations a kind of death wish, to goad his public until they crack?

Glanert’s music builds Caligula’s complex personality. An electronic organ rips through the more refined instruments in the orchestra. Maniacal crescendi, more meticulously orchestrated than their impact might suggest. Ryan Wigglewswoth conducts with the precison this music needs. Like Caligula, all is not in the roar. Caligula’s mind works logically, though his ratiionale is flawed. Some of this music is very beautiful. Caligula knows thw world around him is ugly, which is perhaps why he idolizes the moon. Tender woodwinds make his fantasy as alluring as he thinks it is. But Caligula can’t sustain a line of thought for long. His extreme, unpredictable mood swings are mirrored in the music. The parody burlesque and the silly songs the poets sing add wry humour. If we aren’t humane, even to madmen, we lose the very humanity that stops us becoming tyrants. Gaiety throws grotesque into high relief. When we’re at the heart of the beast, Glanert’s textures are clear. Yet scratching, thudding beats in the percussion build up pressure, and the quiet heart will again explode.

Caligula is a difficult role to sing and Peter Coleman-Weight succeeds well though he doesn’t quite get the craziness that’s in the part. The falsetto screech, for example, could be chillingly dangerous, for it touches a raw nerve in Caligula’s soul. Coleman-Wright is admirable, but he’s too much of the Elder Statesman to express Caligula’s deranged toddler tantrum disintegration. In history, Caesonia was old enough to be Caligula’s mother, and iwho indulged him in his madness. The exchange between Coleman-Wright and Yvonne Howard’s Caesonia could have been much more sinister, though perhaps that might be too unsettling for British audiences. For this same reason, it was probably best that performances all round were good, rather than especially sharp and distinctive. Chritsopher Ainslie sang well, but the part of Helicon wasn’t developed fully. Helicon (a counter tenor to Caligula’s baritone) is a mirror image of his master, and the exchange betweeen them can be more focussed. Pavlo Hunka impressed as Cherea the procurator, as did Carolyn Dobbin’s Scipio and Brian Galliford’s Mucius, and the irrrepressible Eddie Wade filled his two parts well.

But the very fact that Glanert’s Caligula is in London at all is a cause for celebratiuon. British audiences are sadly cut off from continental European music and opera in particular. Caligula is a much more sophisticated opera than Wolfgang Rihm’s Jakob Lenz heard earlier this season, though Rihm wrote that aged only 24. Caligula doesn’t have to be prettied up for British audiences. And much oif the sharpness in the opera is dimmed as a result. This ENO Caligula is much better visually than the production in Frankfurt that keeps getting revived. Benedict Andrews’s clear, unfussy style concentrates on the inherent drama. In Germany, this would be a hit. Glanert’s music is certainly not intimidating. After all, he’s guided by what Hans Werner Henze told him when they first met, that opera should communicate.

Glanert’s music has featured at the Proms eight times, but I can’t remember seeing any of his many operas in this country. Even the operas of Hans Werner Henze are rarities here, though they’re often performed on the Continent. Henze is such an important composer that it’s shocking how little Henze we get here. How can we assess the genre if we don’t hear enough to judge? So Glanert’s Caligula at the ENO is an excellent starting point.

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):