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

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

Garsington's Douglas Boyd on Strauss and Skating Rinks

‘On August 3, 1941, the day that Capriccio was finished, 682 Jews were killed in Chernovtsy, Romania; 1,500 in Jelgava, Latvia; and several hundred in Stanisławów, Ukraine. On October 28, 1942, the day of the opera’s premiere in Munich, the first convoy of Jews from Theresienstadt arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau, and 90 percent of them went to the gas chamber.’

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Grands motets de Lalande

Majesté, a new recording by Le Poème Harmonique, led by Vincent Dumestre, of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726) new from Alpha Classics. Le Poème Harmonique are regular visitors to London, appreciated for the variety of their programes. On Friday this week, (11/5) they'll be at St John's Smith Square as part of the London Festival of Baroque, with a programme titled "At the World's Courts".

Perpetual Night - Early English Baroque, Ensemble Correspondances

New from Harmonia Mundi, Perpetual Night. a superb recording of ayres and songs from the 17th century, by Ensemble Correspondances with Sébastien Daucé and Lucile Richardot. Ensemble Correspondances are among the foremost exponents of the music of Versailles and the French royalty, so it's good to hear them turn to the music of the Stuart court.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Maria Callas: Tosca 1964: A film by Holger Preusse

When I reviewed Tosca at Covent Garden in January this year for Opera Today, Maria Callas’s 1964 Royal Opera House performance was still fresh in my mind. This is a recording I have grown up with and which, despite its flaws, is one of the greatest operatic statements - a glorious production which Zeffirelli finally agreed to staging, etched in gothic black and white film (albeit just Act II), with Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi, if not always as vocally commanding as they once were, acting out their roles like no one has before, or since.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

01 Aug 2012

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Opera Holland Park, London

This was unquestionably the best all-round performance I have yet seen from Opera Holland Park, staging and musical performances alike often putting august metropolitan houses from around the world to shame.

Peter Illych Tchaikovsky : Eigene Onegin op 24

Eugene Onegin: Mark Stone; Tatiana: Anna Leese; Lensky: Peter Auty; Olga: Hannah Pedley; Mme Larina: Anne Mason; Filipievna: Elizabeth Sikora; Prince Gremin: Graeme Broadbent; Triquet: Patrick Mundy; Zaretsky/Captain: Barnaby Rea. Daniel Slater (director); Leslie Travers (set designs); Mark Jonathan (lighting); Denni Sayers (choreography); Opera Holland Park Chorus (chorus master: Kelvin Lim); City of London Sinfonia/Alexander Polianichko (conductor)

231st July 2012, Opera Holland Park, London

 

Where musical direction has sometimes proved variable, in Alexander Polianichko, OHP had recruited a fine Tchaikovsky conductor. (His reading of Cherevichki at the Royal Opera House was the first time I encountered his work.) Polianichko clearly felt at ease with the score and communicated that ease freely. Tempi and transitions were all well handled, nothing especially drawing attention to itself, the drama progressing ‘naturally’ from the musical ebb and flow - though, as we all know, it takes a great deal of art to conceal art. This might not have been the searing drama I heard Daniel Barenboim bring to Tchaikovsky’s opera in Berlin, but it served the work very well. It would be vain to suggest that the City of London Sinfonia would not have benefited from a greater number of strings - and there was room in the pit - but a chamber-orchestral performance worked far better than I had expected, noticeably better, indeed, than it had for Mozart or Beethoven, which suggests that the conductor and the performers on the night were at least as important as actual numbers. Certainly the strings played with cultivation and commitment. If they were sometimes overshadowed by some ravishing woodwind playing, the problem of balancing was not their fault.

Daniel Slater’s production was manifestly superior in every respect to the lifeless, Made-for-the-Met offering Deborah Warner foisted upon the Coliseum earlier this season. It will be interesting to see how Slater’s staging compares with the new production Kasper Holten is preparing for Covent Garden, since during a couple of conversations I had with Holten earlier this year, he mentioned the importance of memory to his conception of the work. (I think I can give that away at least, since it is not really giving anything away!)

That certainly shine through in Slater’s understanding too, Onegin a ghostly, dream-like figure often watching when he was not participating. Leslie Travers’s set - which might, and I mean this as a compliment - work equally well for an intelligent production of Der Rosenkavalier, evoke faded grandeur, the end of a line, aristocratic furniture upended, reminding us that Onegin was an outsider both chronologically as well as temperamentally. The third act, five years later, is set during the early years of the Revolution, the Polonaise treated as an opportunity for temporal relocation, young Soviet soldiers rearranging the stage, laying out a red carpet for (General?) Gremin and his well-connected wife, and, most touchingly, the nurse Filipievna snuffing out the candles from the Larinas’ chandelier.

It rises again, in fine post-revolutionary fettle, seemingly powered by newer, electric means, putting one inevitably in mind of Lenin’s equation of communism as Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country. I wondered at first how the new, Leninist setting would benefit the work, but was entirely won over, for the point was not so much the Leninist setting - though might that not also be an interesting idea: Onegin as Bolshevik, soon disaffected? - as the passing of time. There is nothing wrong, of course, with that being expressed as originally envisaged, but Tsarist St Petersburg is not in itself the point any more than Leningrad might be.

Books play an important role too. When we meet Tatiana, she is very much engrossed in her book (Richardson, presumably), something of a plain-Jane in contrast to the flightier Olga. Her mother, of course, counsels her - whether it be wisely is another matter - that she had to grow out of the fictions her youthful reading engendered, in order to live in the real world. The replacement of the Larinas’ library by an all-red set of books - suggesting, perhaps, a Progress Publishers’ collected edition, even though that fabled firm would not be founded until 1931? - again provides an excellent visual shorthand for the changed circumstances of the third act. Tatiana’s frustration is powerfully represented by her sweeping those books from the shelves.

In many respects, I felt that Slater’s staging brought Tchaikovsky’s opera, or at least its central character, closer to Pushkin’s ‘original’ than is usually the case. For not only is Onegin an outsider, he is filled with restlessness, and one has a very clear sense of him journeying from one scene to the next, much as in Pushkin’s lyric narrative. There is one loss here - though this is far from confined to this particular staging - in that there is relatively little room for Tchaikovsky’s homoeroticism, intentional or otherwise. Still, no staging of an interesting work will be able to deal with every concrete aspect, let alone with every dramatic possibility. This was the only staging I can recall seeing in the theatre to compare with Steven Pimlott’s bizarrely underrated production for the Royal Opera.

Mark Stone presented an Onegin handsome of tone as well as presence, aloof, restless, tormented without the slightest hint of exaggeration. Anna Leese was an excellent foil as Tatiana, her portrayal as intelligent, as dramatically progressive, as it was moving. Hannah Pedley’s Olga was pleasingly rich-toned, without detriment to her relative flightiness as a character (especially in this production). Whilst Peter Auty’s Lensky was well received, I found his performance and Patrick Mundy’s Triquet the only real disappointments in the cast, both somewhat coarse of timbre, the former in particular often sounding as if he would be happier singing Puccini. Otherwise, there was much to enjoy in the finely etched Mme Larina and Filipievna of Anne Mason and Elizabeth Sikora respectively, and in the less-geriatricly-portrayed-than-usual Gremin of Graeme Broadbent. The choral singing was excellent, an ideal match of clarity and weight, testament surely to excellent training from chorus master, Kelvin Lim. A memorable evening indeed.

Mark Berry

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):