Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Iain Patterson as Don Giovanni and Sarah Redgwick as Donna Elvira [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]
23 Oct 2012

Don Giovanni at ENO

Some especially puerile, needlessly irritating, marketing, involving pictures of condom packets — oddly chosen in so many ways, since few people find contraceptive especially erotic, and Don Giovanni would seem an unlikely candidate to have employed them — had attended the run-up to this revival of Rufus Norris’s production of Don Giovanni.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Il dissoluto punito, ossia Don Giovanni (KV 527)

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Iain Patterson as Don Giovanni and Sarah Redgwick as Donna Elvira

Photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera

 

In 2010, it registered as the worst staging I had ever seen: a fiercely contested category, when one considers that it includes Francesca Zambello’s mindless farrago across Covent Garden at the Royal Opera — now, may the Commendatore be thanked, consigned to the flames of Hell. (Kasper Holten, Director of Opera, is said to have insisted, having viewed it in horror, that the sets be destroyed, lest it never return.) There were grounds for the odd glimmer of hope; Norris was said to have revised the production in the face of its well-nigh universal mauling from critics and other audience members alike. Yet the marketing did little to allay one’s fears, especially when reading the bizarre description on ENO’s website of a ‘riveting romp [that] follows the last twenty-four hours in the life of the legendary Lothario’. Something really ought to be done about whomever is involved in publicising productions; for, irrespective of the quality of what we see on stage, they more often than not end up sounding merely ludicrous: in this case, more Carry On Seville than one of the greatest musical dramas in the repertory. Even if one were willing thus to disparage Da Ponte — and I am certainly not — does Mozart’s re-telling of the Fall in any sense characterised by the phrase ‘riveting romp’?

Don-Giovanni02.gifIain Patterson as Don Giovanni and Darren Jeffery as Leporello

How, then, had Norris’s revisions turned out? Early on, I felt there was a degree of improvement. The weird obsession with electricity — certainly not of the musical variety — had gone, but not to be replaced by anything else. Certain but only certain of the most bizarre impositions had gone, or been weeded out, yet not always thoroughly enough. For instance, there was a strange remnant of the already strange moment when, towards the end of the Act Two sextet, people began to strip off, when Don Ottavio — an ‘uptight fiancé’, according to the company website — carefully removed his shoes and socks. No one reacted, and a few minutes later — I think, during Donna Anna’a ‘Non mi dir’ — he put them back on again. Otherwise, the hideous sets and other designs remain as they were, though one might claim a degree of contemporary ‘relevance’ in that Don Giovanni’s dated ‘leisure wear’ now brings with it unfortunate resonances of the late Jimmy Saville. Alas, nothing is made of the similarity. The flat designed as if by a teenage girl, full of hearts and pink balloons, remains; as does the building that resembles a community centre. Leporello still appears to be a tramp. There are no discernible attempts to reflect Da Ponte’s, let alone Mozart’s, careful societal distinctions and there is no sign whatsoever that anyone has understood that Don Giovanni is a religious drama or it is nothing. Norris has clearly opted for ‘nothing’.

There is, believe it or not, a villain perhaps more pernicious still. Jeremy Sams’s dreadful, attention-seeking English translation does its best to live up to the ‘riveting romp’ description. A few, very loud, members of the audience did their best to disrupt what little ‘action’ there was by laughing uproariously after every single line: the very instance of a rhyme is intrinsically hilarious to some, it would seem. A catalogue of Sams’s sins — sin has gone by the board in the drama itself — would take far longer than Leporello’s aria. But I no more understand why the countries in that aria should be transformed into months — ‘ma in Ispagna’ becomes ‘March and April’ — than I do why Zerlina was singing about owning a pharmacy in ‘Vedrai carino,’ or whatever it became in this ‘version’. It is barely a translation, but nor is it any sense a reimagination along the brilliant lines of the recent gay Don Giovanni at Heaven; it merely caters towards those with no more elevated thoughts than Zerlina going down on her knees, about which we are informed time and time again, lest anyone should have missed such ‘humour’. The lack of respect accorded to Da Ponte borders upon the sickening.

Edward Gardner led a watered-down Harnoncourt-style performance. At first it might even have seemed exciting, but it soon became wearing, mistaking the aggressively loud for the dramatically potent. Where was the repose, let alone the well-nigh unbearable beauty, in Mozart’s score? A peculiar ‘version’ was employed, in that Elvira retained both her arias, whereas Ottavio only had his in the first act. On stage, Prague remains preferable every time, despite the painful musical losses its adoption entails; sadly, few conductors seem to bother.

Iain Paterson remains bizarrely miscast in the title role, entirely bereft of charisma. Darren Jeffery’s Leporello was bluff and dull in tone. (How one longed for Erwin Schrott — in either role, or both!) Katherine Broderick was too often shrill and squally as Donna Anna, and her stage presence was less then convincing, shuffling on and off, without so much as a hint of seria imperiousness. Her ‘uptight fiancé’ was sung well enough, by Ben Johnson, though to my ears, his instrument is too much of an ‘English tenor’ to sound at home in Mozart. Sarah Redgwick’s Elvira was probably the best of the bunch, perhaps alongside Matthew Best’s Commendatore, but anyone would have struggled in this production, with these words. Elvira more or less managed to seem a credible character, thanks to Redgwick’s impressive acting skills, quite an achievement in the circumstances. Sarah Tynan made little impression either way as Zerlina, though she had far more of a voice than the dry-, even feeble-toned Masetto of John Molloy: surely another instance of miscasting.

ENO had a viscerally exciting production, genuinely daring, almost worthy of Giovanni’s kinetic energy. It seems quite incomprehensible why anyone should have elected to ditch the coke-fuelled orgiastic extravagance of Calixto Bieito — now there is a properly Catholic sensibility — for Rufus Norris. whose lukewarm response at the curtain calls was more genuinely amusing than anything we had seen or heard on stage. Maybe the contraceptive imagery was judicious after all.

Mark Berry


Cast and Production:

Don Giovanni: Iain Paterson; Leporello: Darren Jeffery; Donna Anna: Katherine Broderick; Don Ottavio: Ben Johnson; Donna Elvira: Sarah Redwick; Commendatore: Matthew Best; Zerlina: Sarah Tynan; Masetto: John Molloy. Director: Rufus Norris; Set designs: Ian MacNeil; Costumes: Nicky Gillibrand; Lighting: Paul Anderson; Movement: Jonathan Lunn; Projections: Finn Ross. Orchestra and Chorus of the English National Opera (chorus master: Martin Fitzpatrick)/Edward Gardner (conductor). The Coliseum, London, Wednesday 17 October

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):