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 Performances

Kaufmann's first Otello: Royal Opera House, London

Out of the blackness, Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s Otello explodes into being with a violent gesture of fury. Not the tempest raging in the pit - though Antonio Pappano conjures a terrifying maelstrom from the ROH Orchestra and the enlarged ROH Chorus hurls a blood-curdling battering-ram of sound into the auditorium. Rather, Warner offers a spot-lit emblem of frustrated malice and wrath, as a lone soldier fiercely hurls a Venetian mask to the ground.

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Patrizia Ciofi as Isabelle and Bryan Hymel as Robert [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of the Royal Opera House]
23 Dec 2012

Subject: Aimez-vous Meyerbeer?

Well, so many don’t nowadays, it appears to me, judging by the critical reception of Robert le Diable at the ROH. Rum-ti-tum? We recall Macbeth, Rigoletto, Trov and even Trav being characterised thus, popular fare but risible or blush- making, yet those works now command the highest respect.

Subject: Aimez-vous Meyerbeer?

A review by Kenneth Brown

Above: Patrizia Ciofi as Isabelle and Bryan Hymel as Robert

Photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of the Royal Opera House

 

True, Meyerbeer lacks the high melodic genius of Verdi, whose every work is both obviously his yet paradoxically also has its own unique sound world; but I think the problem is not that. We are out of sympathy with the social world for which such works were conceived.

BC20121203_RobertLeDiable_8.gifMarina Poplavskaya as Alice and John Relyea as Bertram

Long, leisurely five-acters? Plots elevated to the level of the hieratic? Above all comfortable plushness, with little apparent intellectual bite? All that suited opera audiences of the time, but something more is needed for survival, and you don’t have to listen very hard to discern it. Skill in the construction of a theatre piece, to start with: how different do the two long scenes between Bertram/Raimbaut and Bertram/Alice sound, for instance, reflecting Bertram’s manipulation of each of these victims and their differing reactions (no pushover, she); how each character is delineated through the music, their unfolding scenas certainly not generic as is the libretto; how atmospheric are the orchestral passages, even though perhaps some might long for Weber.

All this would go for naught, of course, without a fine performance. Do you ever have that feeling, when the lights dim and the first notes arise, that all will be well this evening, and there is nowhere else you would rather be? It was that way on Saturday last, softly bathed in pellucid sound (Daniel Oren conducting) perfectly judged for the auditorium, without that muddiness that often tells you you’re in for a sticky ride; above all the singers had the measure of the style: to my ear French display opera has a certain chic restraint, without the glitz of its Italian counterpart, and whilst Damrau would have been starrier, Ciofi (yes, an Italian) was most touching, every cadence perfectly placed. Poplavskaya excelled herself, with an unusual combination of staunchness and thrilling ease; Hymel paid Meyerbeer the compliment of taking him seriously, and was utterly believable in the role, which he made seem child’s play to sing; Relyea has been seriously undervalued, and Jean-Francois Borras was a delightful new discovery for me. And the Chorus excelled themselves.

RobertLeDiable_1180.gifA scene from Robert le Diable

Which brings me to Laurent Pelly’s production. When it comes to the chorus, modern directors seem to model themselves on Eisenstein. Here there is a difference: Pelly’s chorus is sometimes Greek, hovering en masse, but always in articulated geometrical forms — think Pina Bausch dance, where we see individuals impelled however to move in unison. So in Act 1 we see the knights tightly choreographed but moving like lava when the occasion demands; later they assume a diamond formation, as if grouped in a giant boardgame. Sounds odd, maybe, but it has the effect of throwing the main characters into individual relief, and aiding the flow of the plot.

The nuns’ music surprised me (I must have been confusing them with Casanova’s); it is hard to guess what the original movement must have been, but the costumes were closely modelled on lithographs of that time, the music perhaps self-indulgently long and unvaried, the dancers nicely distinguished even if all in the same plight. Only ten, on this big space? I thought; but then the whole chorus flooded on, swamping the stage, even more deshabilles, and equally frantic, in a splendid coup de théâtre. Costumes might well have been taken from contemporary miniatures; settings from prints of the time (the stage department excelled itself in their manipulation).

I came away elated, thinking that the composer had achieved an integrated piece of work on a high level, with that afterglow you get following a really good meal. I guess that’s what the original audiences felt too. Will Meyerbeer catch on? Don’t put money on it. Maybe you have to be a bourgeois Marxist to like it?!

Kenneth Brown

Click here for additional production information.

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):