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

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

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.

New from Opera Rara : Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe

Two new recordings from highly acclaimed specialists Opera Rara - Gounod La Colombe and Donizetti Le Duc d'Albe.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Jul 2012

Verdi Falstaff Opera Holland Park

“It is as sunny as the composer’s garden at Busetto, clear as crystal in construction, tender and explosive by turns, humorous and witty without a touch of extravagance or a note of vulgarity.” So wrote Charles Stanford on the occasion of the first performance of Verdi’s final opera, in 1893.

Giuseppe Verdi : Falstaff

Sir John Falstaff: Olafur Sigurdarson, Ford:George von Bergen, Alice Ford: Linda Richardson, Meg Page: Carolyn Dobbin, Mistress Quickly: Carole Wilson, Nannetta: Rhona McKail, Fenton:Benjamin Hulett, Dr Caius:Christopher Turner, Bardolfo: Brian Galliford, Pistola: Simon Wilding. Opera Holland Park Chorus, City of London Sinfonia, Conductor :Peter Robinson, Director: Annilese Miskimmon, Designer: Nicky Shaw, Lighting Designer:Mark Jonathan.

20 July 2012, Opera Holland Park, London.

 

Director Annilese Miskimmon certainly aimed for unclouded comedy and ceaseless zest in an uproarious production of Falstaff at Opera Holland Park, which nevertheless did not always avoid hyperbole or kitsch.

During a pacy Prelude, designer Nicky Shaw’s simple wooden huts spun deftly to reveal a mock-Tudor interior: not a bawdy tavern but a 1920s care home for the war-wounded. Invalids in striped pyjamas staggered about on crutches and were whizzed in wheelchairs by efficient nurses, while a medal-bestrewn Sir John held court centre-stage, throwing his weight around - quite literally - and verbally abusing the long-suffering Pistol and Bardolf (Simon Wilding and Brian Galliford respectively).

I may be being overly fastidious, but given the significant casualties resulting from recent overseas conflicts, I for one didn’t find hobbling amputees and wheelchair capers particularly amusing; and, in any case, once is enough - a gag repeated is a gag diluted. However, having introduced this particular ‘angle’, director Annilese Miskimmon somewhat inexplicably did not choose to pursue it further. By Scene 2 the convalescence period was over and we were transported to a 1950s village fete, all jubilee bunting, jelly mounds and Victoria sponges. It was more Albert Herring than Elizabethan escapade: church spire, cricket whites, boy scouts, surplices, plodding policeman … just about every stereotype was represented. Even Ford found himself cast as the village rector with his own clerical chorus.

The hurly-burly of Act 2 Scene 2 - when a preening, cock-sure Falstaff arrives for his assignation with Alice - took place in a floral bedroom typical of a 1950s farce, with the requisite hiding nooks, fresh-faced lovers, duplicitous housewives, indignant husbands and a shameless old lecher. The action was lightning quick, with some delightfully detailed direction: from Falstaff’s ungainly arrival, head-first via the window, the busy exits and entrances were neatly handled.

But then, in Act 3, as the plot hatched by the women unfolds, we were whisked off again, now to the glades of Windsor Forest. Mark Jonathan’s atmospheric lighting cast an eerie translucent glow, as cricket whites were swapped for faery fineries. It was almost back to Britten-land again, as the fantasy of sham spirits evoked the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, before we returned to a world of maypoles and flags - just about everyone seemed to get tied up in knots of red, white and blue at some point - for the final scene, which, after the preceding comic exuberances seemed rather static. During the final fugue the chorus, bundled in bunting by Falstaff, seemed unsure of what they should be doing and, occasionally, singing, and the zip rather went out of things.

Despite the lack of clarity and consistency in Miskimmon’s direction, there was much to admire and many moments of comic hilarity. She was aided by a uniformly strong cast, led by Olafur Sigurdarson - an OHP veteran, who having previously taken the title roles in Rigoletto and Macbeth now turned his hand from tragedy to buffo. Sigurdarson was the physical and vocal epicentre of this performance; his full-blooded bellow suggested the immensity of Falstaff’s pomposity and self-importance, and also the warm generosity underlying the bluff blustering. Although he lost the pitch at times, particularly in the opening scene, this was a fully committed, rumbustious performance; vocally and physical agile, his exploits included hanging like a sail from the four-poster, and even a carefree cartwheel of glee of some accomplishment!

Such exuberance, and Sigurdarson’s strong musical presence, enlivened the whole production, often to very amusing effect. But, one can have too much of a good thing. Miskimmon did not acknowledge the more serious undercurrents of the opera, and the unalleviated merriment, mayhem and madness became a little wearing. For, in forging his libretto Boito assimilated material from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and from Henry IV: his Falstaff is not simply the coarse clown of the former, but retains some of the qualities of the Falstaff of the history play. Here there was little sense of Falstaff’s ‘stateliness’, his sense of his own social superiority and entitlement - he is a ‘Sir’ after all - and thus no recognition of his tragic decline.

Still, there were some fine musical performances, not least from Carole Wilson, a knowing Mistress Quickly, whose rich, rounded voice conveyed the pragmatist’s years of wisdom and experience (but, why was she dressed as a nun during conversations with Falstaff?).

Linda Richardson was a lively Alice, proving herself a strong character actress. At times, a delightfully suggestive blossoming of the voice made it clear that this Mrs Ford would not be averse to an amorous adventure or two. Carolyn Dobbin was similarly focused and strong as Meg. Although the opening scenes were a little unsettled, perhaps not to be unexpected on an opening night, by the unaccompanied quartet of Act 1 Scene 2 the complicated ensemble writing was crystal clear.

As Ford, George van Bergen, despite projecting a firm, focused musical line, struggled to stamp his presence on the role; his famous monologue to Jealousy was accurate but lacked menace, his voice insufficiently fierce. Ford’s duet with Falstaff in Act 2 Scene 1 - some of the finest music of the opera - was well sung, but the final simultaneous exit of the two men through the door again lacked the necessary tension.

Benjamin Hulett, looking like an overgrown schoolboy in his knee-length shorts and striped cap, was a superb Fenton. He has just the right ardent ‘ping’ to suggest over-enthusiastic youthful passion, and his yearning solo and subsequent duet with Rhona McKail (Nanetta) were among the highlights of the evening; the pathos of old man in his final years writing such tender, innocent music is truly affecting. As the evening progressed McKail overcame an initial tendency to sing sharp, and revealed a beautifully pure and touching tone.

Peter Robinson, conducting the City of London Sinfonia, brought out the Beethovian qualities of the score, particularly its tapestry of motifs. Textures were crisp and clear, from the woodwind trills during Sir John’s monologue on Honour to the staccato brass in the old rogue’s soliloquy of self-satisfaction, “Va vecchio John”, which built to an exultant conclusion. Verdian ‘labels’ such as Mistress Quickly’s curtsey were effectively shaped; there was some joyful woodwind playing in Act 1 Scene 2, accompanying the mischievous mirth of the Merry Wives and some fleet string spiccatos at start of bedroom scene. The small forces often garnered a surprisingly full tone, but while precise and attentive to detail, the rather restrained overall approach was a little at odds with the unruly larks onstage.

Whatever my misgivings, the audience were clearly entertained and highly appreciative, giving Sigurdarson in particular a roaring ovation. But, despite the fun and frolics - and the strong individual performances - the parts did not really add up to a coherent, or sufficiently nuanced, whole. This production is certainly a jolly jape but does not really present the insights into human nature that Verdi, and Shakespeare, offer: that all men and women, regardless of status or wisdom, may be foolish even ridiculous, but they are still deserving of both love and pity.

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):