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

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May 1594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

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.”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Nicola Alaimo as Guillaume Tell, Eugénie Warnier as Jemmy and Koor van De Nederlandse Opera [Photo by Ruth Walz courtesy of De Nederlandse Opera]
06 Feb 2013

Amsterdam: Tell Hits a Bulls Eye

With a visually beautiful and dramatically honest staging, Netherlands Opera has made as compelling a case as I would imagine possible for Rossini’s grand opera Guillaume Tell.

Amsterdam: Tell Hits a Bulls Eye

A review by James Sohre

Above: Nicola Alaimo as Guillaume Tell, Eugénie Warnier as Jemmy and Koor van De Nederlandse Opera

Photos by Ruth Walz courtesy of De Nederlandse Opera

 

For starters they have gifted us with a cast that could hardly be bettered (and vocal excellence is always a great place to start). Nicola Alaimo is appropriately larger-than-life in the title role. His warm, sympathetic baritone regales the ear with outpourings of luscious tone one minute, and forceful dramatic outbursts the next. Mr. Alaimo has a suave delivery married to a solid technique and his mellifluous, even vocal production dominated the performance as any great Tell must.

As Arnold, tenor John Osborn was a revelation. Mr. Osborn could not only effortlessly nail the extreme, exposed high notes of the role, but could also spin out vibrant, meaty phrases in the middle and upper middle voice. Every moment of his performance was informed with an assured musicality, and John boasts an absolute command of Rossinian style. What his instrument may lack in the heft of a Gedda or a Pavarotti, he more than makes up for with the sheen and utter lack of effort in his distinguished vocalizing. An impressive achievement.

Marina Rebeka was a thrilling Mathilde who beautifully complemented her tenor in Rossini’s memorable duets. Her supple, limpid soprano was capable of a wide range of expressive effects. Floated high notes, soaring phrases, throbbing fortes, and considerable ‘weight’ when needed were all part of Ms. Rebeka’s superlative vocal arsenal. Singly, Mr. Osborn and Ms. Rebeka were remarkably fine; together they were nigh unto perfection.

Christian Van Horn was overpowering as the scene-stealing ‘baddie’ Gesler, thanks to his snarling, sneering, super-sized bass. Roberto Acccurso makes an equally solid impression as Leuthold with mellow, refined singing. The ill-fated Melchtal was well served by Patrick Bolleire, who made the most of his stage time offering a powerful, controlled, characterful performance.

Eugénie Warnier not only made a solid contribution in her solo moments as Jemmy, but also contributed mightily to the many ensembles, her cleanly-produced, cutting soprano lilting out over the massed forces. Vincent Ordonneau was a solid Rodolphe, Mikeldi Atxalandabaso impressed with his brief turn as Ruodi, and Helena Rasker deployed her soft-grained mezzo to maximum effect as Hedwige.

It should be mentioned that the outstanding cast performed the French version with overall good diction and idiomatic delivery. The feel of the piece certainly changes from the more straight forward Italian version, owing to the more covered French vowels and the muted elisions.

The splendid Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra was ably conducted by Paolo Carignani, who commanded his forces with a sure hand. The fail-safe, world-famous overture scored every musical point, and Maestro Carignani was in masterful control of every musical moment. So why was I feeling that his reading was occasionally, well, perfunctory? I am sure that Paolo’s scholarship and understanding of the score are thorough and commendable, however, there were ‘buttons’ of arias that didn’t quite land, and tempi of ensembles that didn’t quite ‘breathe.’ It must be said he partnered the soloists well, and maintained awesome control of Eberhard Friedrich’s meticulously prepared, huge chorus.

Tell_DNO_01.gifMarina Rebeka as Mathilde and John Osborn as Arnold Melcthal

It is hard to find anything much to quibble about with the haunting, luminous physical production with its stylized evocation of Swiss locales and heritage. Set designer George Tsypin, never a slave to representational realism, has devised a highly effective playing environment of considerable imagination. A huge frame of a ship, more an interior schematic if you will, hangs above the stage, filling it, and serving as a practical bridge that at one point accommodates a large chorus. On the stage floor two reddish rocky out- croppings flank the stage right and left, and are tracked to move center, or depart offstage.

The backdrop begins as a blue textured drop evoking the lake, pulled downstage at the bottom to suggest a sort of ramp to the heavens. This morphs throughout the show, often re-appearing with huge slits of “light” that suggest arrows, or turbulence, or even contributing to the production team’s concept that the four seasons are suggested by the successive acts. To that end the finale is bathed in a lustrous golden glow suggesting the sunrise and perfectly complementing the repatriation of Switzerland. The excellent, moody lighting was the work of designer Jean Kalman.

Mr. Tsypin created the village with the addition of three, two-story cottages that were de-constructed down to the natural wood frame. An advocate of natural materials, his depiction of a pasture has three sets of clouds, seemingly composed of pairs of cloud-shaped rock. Livestock are grazing, but they are floated upstage left, upside down on an oval slab of “grass,” ditto a stag in the mountainous ‘escape’ scene. George’s eye-pleasing and heartfelt artistry also manages to provide plenty of playing levels, and boy, does director Pierre Audi know how to use them!

Mr. Audi is one of my favorites because, first and foremost, he works to internalize the characters, and he develops meaningful, plot-driven relationships. He blocks with the goal of making the piece and its emotions accessible, and places the singers in the most advantageous positions to communicate to the audience. And even when moving large forces around the stage, he knows how to focus the attention on the principals. Do you know just how rare a gift this is on European opera stages?

The huge, complicated choral scene in which Gesler debases the Swiss villagers was a model of careful organization. The dance corps was not just the usual diversion, as Kim Brandstrup choreographed a highly dramatic scenario that had two haughty ruling class women terrorize the town folk into submission with riding crops. The simple folk dance the chorus performed earlier in the piece now becomes a tool for their humiliation as the invaders forced them to dance and ‘celebrate,’ clearly against their will.

Also significantly responsible for the night’s success, Andrea Schmid-Futterer created handsome costumes that visually defined the various factions, imposing yet more dramatic clarity and increasing visual appeal. Her attractive attire for Mathilde was especially accomplished.

Guillaume Tell is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, whose public generally likes their scenery Alpine-kitschy and cuckoo clock ‘realistic.’ At this Dutch premiere at least, the audience embraced and cheered this striking and original imagery, totally winning stagecraft, and top tier musical execution. Performances of this daunting piece come along so seldom that it nice to report the creative team at Netherlands Opera more than met every Rossinian challenge.

James Sohre



Cast and Production Information

Guillaume Tell: Nicola Alaimo; Arnold Melchtal: John Osborn; Walther Furst: Marco Spotti; Melchtal: Patrick Bolleire; Jemmy: Eugénie Warnier; Gesler: Christian Van Horn; Rodolphe: Vincent Ordonneau; Ruodi: Mikeldi Atxalandabaso; Leuthold: Roberto Accurso; Mathilde: Marina Rebeka; Hedwige: Helena Rasker; Chasseur: Julian Hartman; Conductor: Paolo Carignani; Director: Pierre Audi; Set Design George Tsypin; Costume Design: Andrea Schmid-Futterer; Lighting Design: Jean Kalman; Choreographer: Kim Brandstrup; Chorus Master: Eberhard Friedrich

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):