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

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital

Audiences will have the chance to feel part of a new opera inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poems with an innovative 360-degree simulated experience of Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital from midday, Wednesday 8th November.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

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):