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

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017 - Winner Announced

Bampton Classical Opera is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and the runner-up is tenor Wagner Moreira. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category this year, is Keval Shah.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

24 Nov 2012

Bizet’s Carmen at ENO

Drawing on the dark viciousness and bitter malevolence of Prosper Mérimée’s ethnographical novella, Calixto Bieito’s Carmen rejects any notion of flamboyant exoticism and alluring eroticism, and presents us instead with a sordid twilight zone of sexual violence and brutal malice.

Georges Bizet : Carmen

Carmen - Ruxandra Donose; José - Adam Diegel; Escamillo - Leigh Melrose; Micäela - Elizabeth Llewellyn; Zuniga - Graeme Danby; Moralès - Duncan Rock; Frasquita - Rhian Lois; Mercédès - Madeleine Shaw; Dancairo - Geoffery Dolton; Remendado - Alan Rhys-Jenkins; Lillas Pastia - Dean Street; Conductor - Ryan Wigglesworth; Director - Calixto Bieito; Designer - Alfons Flores; Costume Designer - Mercè Paloma; Lighting Designer - Bruno Poet

English National Opera, The Coliseum, London Wigmore Hall, London 21st November 2012

 

In a bare, sandy arena shrouded in dirt and dust, the battle of the sexes assumes a distinctly unpleasant tint as masculine bravura and matey-ness reveal their nastier side: all men are aggressive and sadistic, all women shallow and sexualised, collusive in their subjugation. In an indeterminate 1970s location - which, in an explanatory programme article, Maria M. Delgado terms a ‘border space’ - the only splashes of colour are a dirty Spanish flag (degradingly serving in Act 4 as a beach towel for a sun-seeking bather) and Micäela’s rather ugly hippy shirt: life here is perilous and desperate, and self-serving ruthlessness offers the only hope of survival.

It is a potentially intriguing and insightful concept: but, such deadening violence is by nature static rather than dynamic, and the problem with this at times startlingly discerning and imaginative production is that as it progresses it needs a shot of dramatic drive - rather like the battered Mercedes saloons of Act 3 that require a helpful shove from the band of itinerant migrants to get them rolling into position.

This lack of motion is, paradoxically, intrinsic to what is perhaps Bieito’s most powerful visual symbol - namely, the circular rings which serve as bull-ring, beach and bad-land, and which baldly announce the fatal confinement which Carmen can never evade. When, in Act 4, Lillas Pastia - an Arab marked as an outsider by his trashy bling and white suit - inscribes a white circle on the bare stage, we know unequivocally that the noose is pulling ever tighter around Carmen’s neck. The final image is the most shocking and most revealing: like a bloody carcass, the dead Carmen is dragged across the circle by a remorseless, deadened José - her animalistic intensity irrevocably and pitilessly quenched - as snatches of the toreador’s victory salute announce the latter’s destructive conquest in the bull-ring.

Elsewhere, the circle proves a less effective device, as in the first scene where a rifle-bearing soldier, clad only in boots and underpants, runs repetitively around the stage, his public punishment enforced until his is felled by fatigue. An obvious sign of repressive cruelty: but also a visual distraction, just when we are trying to get our bearings. Do we follow his futile rotations, and miss something of import in the opening moments? Or do we try to ignore him, in which case, why is he there?

Bizet’s Carmen seduces by song and dance. Movement underpins her dangerous power. So, it is unhelpful that here her Habenera is sung initially on the threshold of a telephone box (one of the set designer Alfons Flores’ few props) - is she phoning to taunt a former lover? - and subsequently standing stock still, centre-stage, facing the audience. Arrested and jailed, Carmen uses the slippery lilt of the Seguidilla to entrance and entrap José: the ambiguous modality of Bizet’s music and the physical impulses of the pseudo-gypsy dance prove hypnotically irresistible. But, this Carmen is tied, hands behind back, to a phallic flagpole, and the only gyrations she can venture are some tentative knee-bends - Peter Stringfellow would not be impressed. Similarly, in Act 2, when José arrives at Lillas Pastia’s ‘tavern’ - here a shabby Mercedes love-mobile - Carmen declares that she will dance for his honour and reward: the rhythmic impulse of her song is strongly physical, something which is hard to convey if you are hanging from an open car door.

This lack of motion is most problematic in Act 3: the stage is over-populated by sundry automobiles (admittedly the back seat of one provides a neat hiding place for Micäela) and a crowd of crooks and prostitutes, and there is simply no space for the principals to move. Restricted to the forestage and denied the freedom of corporeal expression, this Carmen is physically impotent, irrevocably diminished.

Bieito is keen to reverse our assumptions and stereotypes. Teasing us in the opening scene with an alluring brunette who, suggestively drawing on her cigarette, wanders nonchalantly through the salivating soldiers, he then presents us with a blonde Carmen dressed in a pencil skirt. In the title role, Ruxandra Donose sings with unfailing warmth; she is precise and technically assured. However, the part seems to lie a little too low for Donose and the necessary earthy, raunchy lustre is lacking. It does not help that her José, Adam Diegel, is a rigid stage partner. After a stiff start, the tightness and unyieldingness in Diegel’s voice did relax somewhat, and he injected genuine feeling and colour into the Act 2 Duet. Yet, there was a tendency for climactic phrases in the upper register to fade shapelessly. Despite his muscular, brawny physique, Diegel’s stilting stage presence severely diminished the emotional tension between the fated couple.

Elizabeth Llewellyn’s Micäela is certainly an outsider, her sparkling blouse and livid blue eye shadow a slightly disconcerting outburst of brightness in this otherwise drab milieu. This Micäela is no innocent; in Act 1, she professes to bring a greeting from José’s mother, but bourgeois sentiment is manifestly and unashamedly discarded when, rather than offering a demure peck on the cheek, she grabs her José in a passionate embrace. José’s subsequent words, “I see the face of my mother”, triggered an unfortunate snigger. Indeed, throughout the ‘prim and proper’ translation is strangely incompatible with the blatant nastiness of Bieito’s conception.

Llewellyn deservedly won the warmest ovation of the evening; her Act 3 aria was potent with passion and commitment. But, although there is not a phrase that is not perfectly shaped, a sound that is not infinitely agreeable, Llewellyn fails to convince dramatically, her feistiness at odds with the pure integrity of her music.

As Mercédès and Frasquita respectively, Madeleine Shaw and Rhian Lois were a formidable double act. But, giving Mercédès a pretty daughter who, luridly and inappropriately attired, is encouraged to join her elders in ‘entertaining the officers’ may further the theme of underage sexual abuse, but seems a questionable motif.
Graeme Danby is strong as a violent, thuggish Zuniga; and Duncan Rock made a fine Corporal Moralès. But, Leigh Melrose’s Escamillo was more self-satisfied local bigwig than adulated hero; he did not have the vocal or dramatic presence required.

The ENO chorus were committed and vibrant, but the lack of subtlety was a little wearing. From the men, there’s just too much groping and grunting: the women’s chorus in Act 1, as they unwind in nicotine-induced relaxation after a hard day in the factory, is disagreeably disrupted by the soldiers’ testosterone-fuelled antics, and it’s no surprise that Act 2 closes with a woman being brutally strung up on the flagstaff, her shrieking on the stake presumably a prelude to gang rape.

During the Entr’acte preceding Act 3 Bieito tries to suggest that underneath the foul vulgarity a compassionate sensitivity lingers: a naked male soldier sways gracefully, his modesty preserved by the enveloping mist, but his elegant intrusion in an otherwise graceless milieu seems merely an opportunity for some gratuitous nudity. Too often the chorus are physically static: the streetwise migrant children do not leap and play, but rather thrust their begging bowls accusingly at the audience; the restless crowd, eager for the pitting of man against bull, press impatiently against a rope which stretches the length of the stage.

Conductor Ryan Wigglesworth coaxed much refinement from his players, the woodwind and horns in particular conversing with the voices with beautiful clarity and a pleasing lack of bombast. Tempo-wise Wigglesworth doesn’t quite get it right though; after a breakneck first six bars, which left his players trailing in his wake, he put on the brakes resulting in a safe but somewhat unscintillating overture. Elsewhere the ensemble between pit and stage was less than satisfactory, although this may improve during the run. In general, the orchestral rhythms need a bit more bite and boldness.
There is much in this production to provoke reflection, and to encourage fresh evaluation of this well-known opera. Bruno Poet’s lighting creates startling, incisive effects.

There are many deft details, as when Carmen defiantly daubs a lipstick heart on a soldier’s breast, or when José slips on Carmen’s shoes as if she is a Barbie doll to be fashioned as he pleases. Likewise, the towering presentation and subsequent defilement and dismantling of the familiar Osborne bull emblem, which once littered the Spanish rural landscape, is a powerful visual gesture, suggesting the inevitable demise of this cruel masculine world, as symbolised by the posturing of the bullring. However, ultimately there is a frustrating lack of sexual frisson, or even emotional connection, between the three protagonists: this is no Ai no corrida.

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):