Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

Tosca in San Francisco

Yet another Tosca is hardly exciting news, if news at all. The current five performances have come just two years after SFO alternated divas Angela Gheorghiu and Patricia Racette in the title role.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

The Firework-Maker's Daughter [Source: Wikipedia]
04 Apr 2013

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, London

The Opera Group’s latest event, The Firework-maker’s Daughter by David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell is currently on tour and arrived at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre last night (3 April 2013).

David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell: The Firework-Maker’s Daughter

A review by Robert Hugill

Click here for cast and production information

 

Composer David Bruce, whose previous operatic experience includes works for Tete a Tete, and librettist Glyn Maxwell (poet, novelist and author of three other operatic librettos) have created an operatic fable based on Philip Pullman’s book for children, The Firework-Maker’s Daughter. It is a typical quest fable, with Lila (Mary Bevan), the daughter of firework maker Lalchand (Wyn Pencarreg) going in quest of the mystical Royal Sulphur to help her make fireworks, because her father won’t teach her. She is helped by her friends, love sick elephant Hamlet (James Laing) and his keeper Chulak (Amar Muchhala) and there is a comic villain, Rambashi (Andrew Slater). As with all good quest fables, she learns that what she needed was what she had after all, her own courage and talent, and learns the value of friendship. Geoffrey Paterson conducted the instrumental ensemble, Chroma.

James Fulljames and designer Dick Bird along with the puppeteers Steve Tiplady and Sally Todd from Indefinite Articles created a magical production which produces brilliant effects (including fireworks) from very little. The two puppeteers were part of the hard working cast, taking the role of supers. Virtually all the effects were created with simple equipment, two over-head projectors featured heavily. They used a combination of effects, notably combing projection with shadow puppetry, but also involving the live cast in the shadow projection. The story culminates in a firework display competition, which was the cue for a series of dazzling visual effects.

Bird’s costumes were highly imaginative, with James Laing, playing Hamlet the white elephant, complete with elephant headdress and a very mobile (and very funny) trunk, but they combined this with projected visual effects to create Hamlet’s huge body — Hamlet is white so he has been covered with adverts! All the cast wore headdresses of some sort, which helped define the characters and as most singers played two or three roles, ensured that you always knew who was whom on stage. Most of the cast played multiple roles, and some even helped the puppeteers with the projections. James Laing doubled as the voice of the Goddess, Andrew Slater played both Rambashi and the King’s Elephant Keeper and Wyn Pencarreg played the King.

There was no fixed set, the instrumental ensemble were ranged round the back of the stage with lanterns above them, and the cast brought on everything they needed in boxes (plus a screen descending periodically from the flies). This wasn’t a production that could be done anywhere, it needed a theatre, but it was brilliantly conceived to be highly portable and not rely on anything too fancy. The result was mesmerising, a simply brilliant piece of theatre which mixed a wide variety of media into a charming and dazzling whole. No wonder the audience was pleased.

Bruce’s nine-person instrumental ensemble included an interesting mix of instruments (violin, bass, flute, clarinet, horn, accordion, harp and two percussionist), with a large amount of tuned percussion (plus one or two imaginative touches such as crumpling plastic bags). His sound world evoked Java, gamelan and the East (the rough location of the production), without being slavish. His orchestrations were magical and the sound world highly evocative.

Vocally there were some good set pieces, a rather jolly and catchy song for the pirates and some beautiful solos for Mary Bevan as Lila, including her gorgeous final incantation which was a long wordless cantilena. The result was very creditable and effective, but there were too many moments when the music seemed useful rather than really catching fire. From my perspective I felt that the biggest weakness was the recitative, this seemed to jog along quite comfortably without ever quite being memorable. This was when I felt the lack of a child companion to ask. I thought the work would have been stronger if they’d used spoken dialogue with instrumental under lay.

The piece rather ran out of steam towards the end. The firework competition was done like a game show, with a profoundly annoying host played by Andrew Slater, but then I’m not a watcher of such TV shows as the X-Factor.

With a production which was so strong, so brilliant, the score could quite easily have been edgier. Bruce’s writing was magical at times, but never challenging and seemed simply a little too comfortably well made. There were moments when the music need to raise the emotional temperature, make your spine tingle and it just didn’t quite; there was too much concern to be easy and accessible. I have seen Bruce’s work with Tete a Tete and it was fun and quirky. I hope that he gets chance to re-visit this work to give the music a little more personality, perhaps he should stop worrying about whether or not it was written for children.

I cannot praise the cast too highly, both for their dramatic and musical performances. Not every new opera can have been blessed with such strong musical presentation. Bevan was simply superb as Lila, which was quite a big role being on-stage for much of the time. Bruce’s high writing didn’t phase her and she always sounded beautiful, with a lovely sense of line. Laing was delightfully deadpan as Hamlet, and nicely expressive in his love-sick moments. Pencarreg was a sympathetic but tough father, keeping the character appealing and Amar Muchhala made Chulak very much cheeky, streetwise but appealing. It was Andrew Slater who got all the plumb comic moments, and he showed himself a fine comic.

The instrumental ensemble under Geoffrey Paterson produced a sequence of gorgeous sounds and fitted into the total theatrical ensemble with aplomb.

Ultimately, I thought that anyone attending this would be entertained, magically delighted and even mesmerised, but not challenged in any way. I am not entirely certain whether Bruce and Maxwell convinced me that this needed to be an opera

Robert Hugill

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):