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

Saint Louis Butterfly Soars

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis knew to trust the surefire potential of Madame Butterfly, and pretty much stayed out of its way.

Saint Louis: Gordon’s Revised Grapes

If opera is to remain a viable, accessible 21st century art form, it will be largely owing to the commitment of visionary companies like Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Titus Lightens Up in Saint Louis

Mozart’s opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito, performed in English at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis did something I did not think possible.

Il turco in Italia: Garsington Opera

Martin Duncan's production of Rossini's Il turco in Italia debuted in 2011, only the second production to be performed in Garsington Opera's then new home at Wormsley. Revived for the first time on 25 June 2017, David Parry was again conducting with Quirijn de Lang as Selim, Geoffrey Dolton as Don Geronio and Mark Stone as Prosdocimo returning to their roles, plus Sarah Tynan as Fiorilla, Katie Bray as Zaide, Luciano Botelho as Narciso and Jack Swanson as Albazar. Designs were by Francis O'Connor, with lighting by Mark Jonathan and movement by Nick Winston.

Glyndebourne's wartime Ariadne auf Naxos

It’s country-house opera season, and Glyndebourne have decided it’s time for a return of Katharina Thoma’s country-house-set Ariadne auf Naxos, first seen in 2013. Thoma locates Strauss’s opera-about-opera in a 1940s manor house which has been sequestered as a military hospital, neatly alluding to Glyndebourne’s own history when it transformed itself into a centre for evacuees from east London and the Christie children’s nursery became a sick bay.

On Trial in Saint Louis

That Opera Theatre of Saint Louis fearlessly embraces the cutting edge is once again evidenced by their compelling American premiere of The Trial.

A Traditional Rigoletto in Las Vegas

On June 9, 2017, Opera Las Vegas presented a traditional production of Verdi’s Rigoletto conducted by Music Director Gregory Buchalter with a cast headed by veteran baritone Michael Chioldi. A most convincing Rigoletto, Chioldi was a man in psychological pain from the begining of the opera. His fear and his vulnerability to the whims of the nobility were evident in every meaty, well-colored phrase he sang.

Thumbprint, An Amazing Woman Leaves an Indelible Mark

Thumbprint is the story of the young, innocent and illiterate Mukhtar Mai who was assaulted by a group of powerful men. Following the attack, Mukhtar, having supposedly been disgraced, was expected to commit suicide. Instead, she amazed everyone who knew her by going to the police and calling for the arrest of her attackers.

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Pelleas and Melisande by Edmund Blair Leighton [Photo © Williamson Art Gallery & Museum courtesy of BBC]
17 Jul 2012

BBC Prom 3: Pelléas et Mélisande

21st-century opera played on period instruments; a ‘drama-less’ opera; a Dali-esque crimson chaise longue, stranded on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall.

Claude Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

Pelléas: Phillip Addis; Mélisande: Karen Vourc’h; Golaud: Laurent Naouri; Arkel: Sir John Tomlinson; Geneviève: Elodie Méchain; Yniold: Dima Bawab; Shepherd/Doctor: Nahuel Di Pierro. Monteverdi Choir. Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London. Prom 3, Sunday 15 July 2012.

Above: Pelleas and Melisande by Edmund Blair Leighton [Photo © Williamson Art Gallery & Museum courtesy of BBC]

 

Not, one might think, a recipe for success, but this stunning concert performance of Debussy’s enigmatic opera Pelléas et Mélisande under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner repeatedly trounced expectations and preconceptions.

‘Nothing happens’ is one charge sometimes levelled at Pelléas et Mélisande; but while it’s true that literal ‘action’ and physical movement are restrained, the opera matches The Turn of the Screw in its gradual but incessant escalation of emotional intensity to an almost unbearable concentration of passion. And, as in Britten’s opera, it is principally the orchestra which elucidates the affecting and disturbing upsurges of emotion, and their tragic, poignant consequences.

Eliot Gardiner demonstrated a masterly appreciation of the way the subdued sonorities and gentle articulation of period instruments could perfectly convey the shadowy elusiveness and obscurities of Debussy’s score. The instrumental fabric was beautifully blended: orchestral motifs — such as the oboe’s opening arabesques depicting Mélisande’s elusive diffidence — were gracefully etched; delicate, half-whispered gestures, bloomed into swelling torrents of sound. The combination of control and flexibility was impressive as the shifting tonal colours, floating modulations, rhythmic elasticity, half-cadences and flowing, interweaving inner parts conjured a darkly brooding restlessness. The short scenes never seemed fragmented; instead, an air of timelessness was created as we moved from dark forest to enchanted well to gloomy castle. The transition from the second to third scenes in Act 3, as we rose from the subterranean castle vaults to the glaring daylight of the castle terrace was exhilarating.

Initially, the soloists — dressed in standard, modern evening attire — seemed a little unsure whether this was to be a stationary concert performance or a more dynamic semi-staged presentation. Rarefied and enigmatic the opera may be, but detachment and aloofness can be taken too far: it makes little sense for two characters engaged in an intense but hushed exchange of allusive, suggestive remarks to be placed on opposite sides of the stage, or for one to speak to the back of the other. However, movement and gesture gradually became both more natural and more imaginative; this was in no small part due to the engaging physicality and sensuousness of Karen Vourc’h’s Mélisande. Her brief syllables of song as she combed her hair at the window in Act 3 throbbed with impulsive energy and joy. She also revealed here her reserves of vocal strength, which for much of the evening she kept under wrap, preferring to employ a more muted but excited breathless tone to convey Mélisande’s inscrutable vulnerability. In fact, occasionally she seemed a little underpowered in the vast arena, but as one would expect of a native speaker, Vourc’h’s diction was crystal clear and the text elegantly shaped, the deliberate ordinariness of Maeterlinck’s language deepening the obscurity of its meaning.

Canadian baritone, Phillip Addis, was equally at home with the French text; indeed, many of the exceptional cast were first assembled at the Opéra Comique in 2010, and there was a confidence and strong sense of familiarity about the whole performance. Addis was suitably fresh and lithe of voice as a youthful, athletic Pelléas: innocently fervent and bright of tone to begin with, he grew to a fiery outpouring of love in the Act 4 love duet, finding the ideal timbre to negotiate the high range.

Both vocally and physically Laurent Nouri had enormous presence; even when seated he projected consummate authority and self-assurance. His powerful bass-baritone was subtly graded and coloured in a reading that confirmed that it is Golaud as much as the lovers who are tortured by his cruelty.

Sir John Tomlinson’s Arkel was resonant but not without a fitting fragility. Elodie Méchain possesses a pure, ringing contralto, and her lyrical projection of Geneviève’s declamation was truly moving. A gamine, sweet-toned Dima Bawab was convincing as Yniold.

The will be plenty of hyperbole, bombast and bravado during this ‘Olympic’ Promenade season; but, on this evening Eliot Gardiner reminded us of the genuine potency of refined understatement.

Claire Seymour

Click here for streaming audio of this performance.

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):