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 Reviews

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

A Falstaff Opera in Shakespeare’s Words: Sir John in Love

Only one Shakespeare play has resulted in three operas that get performed today (whether internationally or primarily in one language-region). Perhaps surprisingly, the play in question is a comedy that is sometimes considered a lesser work by the Bard: The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

20 Jul 2012

Rossini Il viaggio a Reims, Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists programme is celebrating the 10th anniversary of their annual Summer Performance.

Rossini : Il viaggio a Reims



19 July 2012, Royal Opera House, London

 

Normally each summer the current young artists give a programme of semi-staged opera scenes. This year the celebrations called for something bigger and a complete performance of Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims was given, semi-staged, in the main Covent Garden auditorium.

Rossini’s 1825 opera is very much an occasional work, despite being one of his finest compositions. It was commissioned to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in France and has a plot specific to the occasion, a group a aristocrats coming together to travel to Rheims for Charles’s coronation. Rossini did not intend the piece to have a life beyond the first performances in Paris and about half the music found its way into Le Comte d’Ory. It was premiered at the Theatre Italien with some of the greatest voices of the day and has had a modern life, thanks to the strength of Rossini’s music, since the piece’s reconstruction for the 1984 Pesaro Festival.

It is a very unlikely piece, one which would seem destined for the scrap heap of history; it needs 14 soloists, all strong Rossinians, and has plot of elemental simplicity. But Rossini rose to the challenge and showed a wide degree of skill and humour. He used his full dramatic manner to satirise the storm in a teacup that represents the work’s ‘drama’, and then displayed superb skill with the grand ensemble for the 14 soloists.

Covent Garden last performed the work in 1992, with an all-star cast in an eminently forgettable production. Few companies can afford to mount the work properly, and with its plethora of small but demanding roles would seem ideal for a large young cast. The trouble is that everyone needs to be able to perform Rossini stylishly; there is little room for error. Covent Garden assembled a cast which included all of the current Jette Parker Young Artists with a number of returning ones from previous seasons. The conductor, Daniele Rustioni, was an associate conductor of the scheme a few years ago and the concert staging was by Pedro Ribeiro who is a current young artist.

The Royal Opera Orchestra was given a night off and the ENO Orchestra played. The orchestra were placed on stage in a wood panelled acoustic shell which ensured that the sound quality in the auditorium was optimum. The singers were placed in a row in front of the orchestra, they used music and music stands but many were just about off the book and none sang with eyes glued to copy. The result was surprisingly successful and dramatically involving. All sang Rossini’s fioriture creditably, there was no embarrassing flailing about or flabby wobbling round runs. Granted a couple of the bigger voices tended to smudge their runs, but there were few real Rossini specialists here. For example, Corinna was played by Marina Poplavskaya (2005-2007 young artist) who is moving into heavier roles; she has an Elisabeth (Tannhauser) planned.

What also impressed was the discovery that a number of the returning singers, who I had only ever seen in serious roles, had a strong flair for comedy, notably Poplavskaya, Jacques Imbrailo (2006-2008 young aristst) who played Trombonk, Ailish Tynan (2002-2004 young artist) who played Madam Cortese and Matthew Rose (2003-2005) who played Lord Sidney.

Madeleine Pierard (a current Young Artist), as La Contessa di Folleville, got one of the work’s best known numbers, the countess’s large scale tragic aria bewailing the loss of her hats. Pierard did Rossini the compliment of taking the piece entirely seriously, which made it all the more hilarious as Pierard’s stylish roulades cascaded out. Rossini used his grand tragic manner in this aria. Pierard has a big dramatic voice and used it brilliantly. There were moments of harshness at the top, and her fioriture would not stand scrutiny in the recording studio, but she brought style and vibrancy to the piece.

Tynan was on superb form, clearly enjoying herself and making a lovely contribution to all the ensembles, her opening solo displayed some of the finest singing of the evening and a lovely trill. As Madama Cortese (the owner of the inn) laments her inability to get travel to Rheims, Rossini again sends up the genre with an over-elaborate aria which Tynan relished.

Imbrailo did not really get a major solo moment but as the German character he was rather ubiquitous as he seemed to be organising everything. Imbrailo did so with beautiful tone and a wry sense of amusement.

Poplavskaya looked suitably dramatic as the poetess given to rhapsodising. When participating in the main opera, especially in her long scene with Belfiore (Edgaras Montvidas, 2001-2003 Young Artist), she was in fine form. In the two rhapsodies, sung from the rear of the stage with just harp accompaniment, she seemed to be attempting to thin her voice down further than it really wanted to go so that there was some unwanted strain, which was a shame.

Montvidas seemed to be in his element as the rather greasy cavalier, his performance just nicely overdone with a fabulous duet with Poplavskaya. Rose’s Lord Sidney was also in love with Corinna and this gave Rose his long solo moment, full of compressed pomposity and repressed emotion, accompanied by a superb flute solo.

The first half concluded with Don Profondo’s catalogue arias. Lukas Jakobski (2009-2011 Young Artist) gave this a fine comic turn and proved remarkably adept at Rossini’s patter song. Later in the opera he showed himself not averse to using his height for comic purposes when he sang a duet with Tynan.

By this point, Rossini had essentially introduced all the characters. Nearly all had been given a significant display moment, in aria or duet. The interval was placed after Don Profondo’s aria (which is in fact scene 3 of Act 2). This meant that the second half opened with Rossini’s master-stroke. The one major piece of drama in the piece, the lack of horses to take the party to Rheims, brings as a response the gran pezzo concertato a classic Rossinian ensemble, but written for 14 soloists.

There followed one final duet, for the Marquise, Kai Rüütel (2009-2011 Young Artist) and Libenskof, Jin-Hyun Kim (current Young A|rtist). Rüütel has an attractively warm mezzo-soprano voice which she used intelligently and with great charm, though I don’t think that she is a natural Rossini singer. Kim displayed his fine lyric tenor with superb fluency in the fioriture and an ability to take his voice up high with apparent ease. Kim should certainly be an asset in this repertoire.

For the finale, each of the aristocrats sings a National song, which gives Rossini a chance to have fun at other people’s expense. The cast enjoyed themselves and this helped enormously in what is, I think the weakest part of the opera. I worked out that in a large international cast, only Matthew Rose (as Englishman Lord Sidney) was playing his own nationality.

The smaller roles were all well taken. Justina Gringyte (current Young Artist) was a strong Maddalena who impressed enormously in the opening ensemble, Daniel Grice (current Young Artist) was a characterful Antonio, Hanna Hipp (current Young Artist) showed a talent for expressive face pulling as the countess’s maid and Jihoon Kim (current Young Artist) was nicely pretentious with orotund voice as Don Prudenzio

Conductor Daniele Rustioni was extremely hard working. Not only is he a very active conductor, but he was assiduous in cueing singers and ensuring that the complex ensembles stayed on track. He gave the work a lively and infectious bounce and paced it nicely. In the ensembles and the gran pezzo concertato he ensure that not only did things stay on track, but that the music never sagged, ensuring forward momentum without ever seeming driven. This was a brilliant vibrant performance with surprisingly crisp edges. His podium was effectively part of the acting aria and he participated in the action as well.

Jean-Paul Pruna (current Young Artist) played the forte-piano continuo. He was also on stage, but the instrument seemed slightly under powered for my taste, though Pruna’s playing was discreet and effective.

The ENO Orchestra were on good form, giving us some superb solo playing, fine accompaniment, crisp lively playing with fine details. From the opening notes there was something infectious about their performance, perhaps they enjoyed the unfamiliar repertoire or just being in the spot-light on-stage for once, but the players seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the singers and it showed in their playing.

The standard of Rossinian singing was creditably high, particularly from non-specialist singers. All the young voices sang the Rossini with a degree of style, conveyed the humour with the music showing their enjoyment. Aided by Rustioni’s conducting and Ribeiro’s discreetly effective staging this was a sparkling evening in the theatre

Robert Hugill

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):