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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

Handel's first 'Israelite oratorio': Esther at the London Handel Festival

It’s sometimes suggested that it was the simultaneous decline of the popularity of Italian opera seria among Georgian audiences and, in consequence, of the fortunes of Handel’s Royal Academy King’s Theatre, that led the composer to turn his hand to oratorio in English, the genre which would endear him to the hearts of the nation.

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):