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

Garsington Opera transfers Falstaff from Elizabeth pomp to Edwardian pompousness

Bruno Ravella’s new production of Verdi's Falstaff for Garsington Opera eschews Elizabethan pomp in favour of Edwardian pompousness, and in so doing places incipient, insurgent feminism and the eternal class consciousness of fin de siècle English polite society centre stage.

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

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):