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

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

Roberto Devereux in Genova

Radvanovsky in New York, Devia in Genoa — Donizetti queens are indeed in the news! Just now in Genoa Mariella Devia was the Elizabeth I for her beloved Roberto Devereux in a new trilogy of Donizetti queens (Maria Stuarda and Anne Bolena) directed by baritone Alfonso Antoniozzi.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera

‘All men become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.’ ‘Is that clever?’ ‘It is perfectly phrased!’

Mahler’s Third, Concertgebouw

Evolving in Mahler’s Third: Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic’s impressive adaption to the Concertgebouw

La Juive in Lyon

Though all big opera is called grand opera, French grand opera itself is a very specific genre. It is an ephemeral style not at all easy to bring to life. For example . . .

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

John Dee [Source: Wikipedia]
26 Jun 2012

Dr Dee, ENO

First staged at Manchester’s 2011 international festival, Dr Dee is a theatrical work based on the life of Renaissance cosmographer and charlatan, John Dee.

Damon Albarn and Rufus Norris: Dr Dee

John Dee: Paul Hilton; Katherine, Dee’s daughter: Anna Dennis; Kelley/Bishop: Christopher Robson; Walsingham: Steven Page; Elizabeth / Spirit: Melanie Pappenheim; Young Dee: Rebecca Sutherland; Young Katherine: Victoria Couper; Jane: Clemmie Sveaas. Musicians: Damon Albarn (vocals, guitar, harmonium); Ann Allen (reeds, recorders); Tony Allen (drums); Liam Byrne (viol); Mamadou diabate (kora); David Hatcher (reeds, recorders, viol); Arngeir Hauksson (lute, hurdy-gurdy); William Lyons (reeds, recorders); Mike Smith (keyboards). Co-creator/Composer: Damon Albarn. Co-creator/Director: Rufus Norris. Conductor: Stephen Higgins. Orchestra of English National Opera. Set Designer: Paul Atkinson. Costume Designer: Katrina Lindsay. Lighting Designer: Paule Constable. Video Designer: Lysander Ashton. Sound Designer: Paul Arditti.

Above: John Dee [Source: Wikipedia]

 

A polymath whose knowledge and skill brought him political and financial reward and renown, but whose over-reaching ambition and fascination with alchemy and the occult brought about his downfall, Dr Dee is a good choice of operatic subject — and, as a celebration of man’s creative powers and a warning of the dangers of hubris, a fitting subject also for the Cultural Olympiad.

The libretto is episodic, as we witness Dee’s early studies and book collecting, his commission to identify the most auspicious coronation date for Gloriana, his love affair with Jane, a lady-in-waiting at the court, and his first steps into occult practices as he attempts to translate the Enochian language — literally the language of the angels. While the basic scenarios are made clear, often by visual aspects and the staging of the scene, the specifics of action, character and relationship are not sufficiently defined, reducing the potential dramatic tension as Dee’s pride and ambition lead him ever closer to conflicts with his faith and love, and ultimately to a fatal fall from grace.

There is much stylisation of image and choreography, often engaging but sometimes repetitive. Birdsong provides a frame, an aural evocation of the pastoral. A wordless pageant of embodiments of England and Englishness, accompanied by Albarn’s lyrical if rather shapeless pop vocals, traverses the raised gantry which houses Albarn’s musicians: a Doc-Martined, crimson-Mohicaned 70s punk is followed by a bowler-hatter 50s gent; Emily Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale, Wellington give way to Morris Dancers, as we move deeper into the past, culminating with the appearance Dr Dee himself. Such strategies can serve as economical and effective focusing devices. But why does each character in turn fling him/herself backwards from the gantry, pantomime style? A nudge towards English self-deprecation and irony, perhaps? Several flags of St. George flutter at the far end of the gantry: they later transform into the billowing sails which carry Dr Dee on his overseas missions, but initially they look like optimistic relics from Euro 2012.

There is no doubting Albarn’s genuine engagement with the eclectic idioms and musical sources which are juxtaposed in the score. Easy pop blends into pastiche Renaissance dance and song; African rhythms interrupt folk-derived modality. 16th and 21st centuries are juxtaposed and integrated; and, it’s true to say that the movement between them is pretty seamless. But, unfortunately, this is not generally because of formal dexterity but rather because the only thing that really distinguishes the idioms is instrumental colour and the odd harmonic ‘tint’ -a brief false relation or a tierce de Picardie. The melodic and harmonic language is unvarying and limited: progressions are repetitive and fairly stable, melodic phrases narrow in compass and confined in contour. Rhythmic repetitions cast a minimalist hue over the various musical shades. The result is that there is little dynamic drive within the music itself, and the work relies on vibrant choreography and technical effects for its forward momentum.

The voices are amplified (probably necessarily so, given the size and nature of the accompanying forces), with the result that they lose some of their individual character, and seem rather disembodied. Although there is some confident, focused singing from Anna Dennis, Katherine (Dee’s daughter) and Steven Pagel as Walsingham, only Christopher Robson — as Dee’s dark nemesis, Bishop John Kelley — demonstrated the ability to use the voice with real dramatic impact, faintly recalling Benjamin’s Britten vengeful, other-worldly Oberon. Paul Hilton works hard and with some success to impose himself musically and dramatically upon the action.

Despite this rather negative account, I would not deny that there are some impressive visual motifs and virtuosic dramatic climaxes. The technical team have created some pyrotechnic wizardry of which Dr Dee would himself be proud: strikingly animated geometrical, algebraic and cosmographical light-shows which conjure up the mythical expanse and thrilling enchantment of the Doctor’s knowledge and creativity. Set-pieces are similarly imposing: Elizabeth I is raised aloft, her gleaming golden dress, an icon of the Golden Age, draped like a gilded curtain, embracing and inspiring her kingdom.

But, effective motifs are sometimes over-laboured. Thus the concertina-like books which superbly suggest Dee’s thirst and capacity for limitless knowledge, are born in flight by the ensemble and literally seem to dance around the stage in the opening scene; but the passage is overly long, the routines endlessly repeated, underpinned by similarly repetitive harmonic patterns, as the books become larger — screens, carpets, walls. The simple motif gains nothing from such elongation and magnification.

Albarn has explained that while he was happy with the Manchester performance, “It’s never a problem to reassess because we have never said, ‘This is it’. And if it doesn’t work we can return or go down another path…But it will never be finished. I would sincerely like to have it translated into French, that’s my next ambition.” There’s certainly nothing wrong with revisiting and revising, but it feels to me that this work, which was still evolving 10 days before the ENO first night, wanders down rather too many paths without having a clear sense of the final destination.

Claire Seymour

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):