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

The Rose and the Ring

Published in 1855 as an entertainment for his two daughters, William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Rose and the Ring is a burlesque fairy-tale whose plot — to the author’s wilful delight, perhaps — defies summation and elucidation.

The Lighthouse at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle

What more fitting memorial for composer Peter Maxwell Davies (d. 03/14/2016) than a splendid performance of The Lighthouse, the third of his eight works for the stage.

King’s Consort at Wigmore Hall

I suspect that many of those at the Wigmore Hall for The King’s Consort’s performance of the La Senna festeggiante (The Rejoicing Seine) were lured by the cachet of ‘Antonio Vivaldi’ and further enticed by the notion of a lover’s serenade at which the generic term ‘serenata’ seems to hint.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2016

Having enjoyed superb singing by a young cast of soloists in Classical Opera’s UK premiere of Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso the previous evening, I was delighted that the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final at the Wigmore Hall confirmed the strength and depth of talent possessed by the young singers studying in and emerging from our academies and conservatoires.

Pacific Opera Project Recreates Mozart and Salieri Contest

On February 7, 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria had brand new one-act operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri performed in the Schönbrunn Palace’s Orangery.

Powerful chemistry in La Cenerentola in Cologne

Those poor opera lovers in Cologne have a never ending problem with the city’s opera house. Together with the rest of city, the construction of the new opera house is mired in political incompetence.

Tannhäuser: Royal Opera House, London

London remains starved of Wagner. This season, its major companies offer but two works, Tannhäuser from the Royal Opera and Tristan from ENO.

The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf

Dmitry Bertman’s hilarious staging of Rimsky-Korsakov’s political sex-comedy The Golden Cockerel in Düsseldorf.

San Diego Opera Presents a Tragic Madama Butterfly

On April 16, 2016, San Diego Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s sixth opera, Madama Butterfly, in an intriguing production by Garnett Bruce. Roberto Oswald’s scenery included the usual Japanese styled house with many sliding doors and walls. On either side, however, were blooming cherry trees with rough trunks and gnarled branches that looked as though they had been growing on the property for a hundred years.

Simon Rattle conducts Tristan und Isolde

New Co-Production Tristan und Isolde with Metropolitan: Simon Rattle and Westbroek electrify Treliński’s Opera-Noir.

San Jose’s Smooth Streetcar Ride

In an operatic world crowded with sure-fire bread and butter repertoire, Opera San Jose has boldly chosen to lavish a new production on a dark horse, Andre Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Five Reviews of Regina at Maryland Opera Studio

These are five very different reviews by students at the University of Maryland on its Opera Studio production of Regina — an interesting, informative and entertaining read . . .

Three Cheers for the English Touring Opera

‘Remember me, the one who is Pia;/ Siena made me, Maremma undid me.’ The speaker is Pia de’ Tolomei. She appears in a brief episode of Dante’s Divine Comedy (Purgatorio V, 130-136) which was the source for Gaetano Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei - by way of Bartolomeo Sestini’s verse-novella of 1825.

Andriessen's De Materie at the Park Avenue Armory

"The large measure of formalism which forms the basis of De Materie does not in itself offer any guarantee that the work will be beautiful," says Dutch composer Louis Andriessen of his four-movement opera.

Falstaff Makes a Big Splash in Phoenix

On April 1, 2016, Arizona Opera presented Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) and Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) in Phoenix. Although Boito based most of his libretto on Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, he used material from Henry IV as well. Verdi wrote the music when he was close to the age of eighty. He was concerned about his ability at that advanced age, but he was immensely pleased with Boito’s text and decided to compose his second comedy, despite the fact that his first, Un giorno di regno, had not been successful.

Svadba in San Francisco

The brand new SF Opera Lab opened last month with artist William Kentridge’s staged Schubert Winterreise. Its second production just now, Svadba-Wedding — an a cappella opera for six female voices — unabashedly exposes the space in a different, non-theatrical configuration.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Handel : Elpidia - Opera Settecento

Roll up! A new opera by Handel is to be performed, L’Elpidia overo li rivali generosi. It is based upon a libretto by Apostolo Zeno with music by Leonardo Vinci - excepting a couple of arias by Giuseppe Orlandini and, additionally, two from Antonio Lotti’s Teofane (which the star bass, Giuseppe Maria Boschi , on bringing with him from the Dresden production of 1719).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

A scene from Mansfield Park [Photo by Laurent Compagnon]
30 May 2013

Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park

Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park, with libretto by his regular collaborator Alasdair Middleton, has the remarkable distinction of being the first completed operatic adaptation of any Jane Austen novel to be staged.

Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park

A review by David Chandler

Above: A scene from Mansfield Park [Photo by Laurent Compagnon]

 

Given the enormous international popularity of Austen's novels, one must conclude that there is something very antithetical to operatic adaptation about them for this to be the case. Though they were inspired, to some extent, by plays, they also felicitously manipulate novelistic conventions with no obvious stage correlatives. Many key scenes turn on the reader's awareness of deep feelings completely at odds with the triviality of the conversation. It is difficult to recreate this effect in the theatre, and perhaps hardest of all in opera, a medium generically disposed to seek out and amplify any whiff of a strong passion.

Mansfield Park strikes me as just about the hardest of the Austen novels to adapt for stage presentation, yet Benjamin Britten and Ronald Duncan began work on an abandoned operatic version in 1946, and one wonders whether Britten found the particular musical resonance in this novel that Jonathan Dove did ("When I first read Mansfield Park … I heard music. … [that] certainly didn't happen when I read other novels by Jane Austen"). Britten decided to compose Albert Herring instead. Over six decades later, Dove's version was commissioned by Heritage Opera and specially designed, delightfully, for performance in what the British call "stately homes," with four-hand piano accompaniment. The premiere was at Boughton House, Northamptonshire, in 2011. The Hampstead Garden Opera production is the first presentation of the work in a more conventional theatrical space, with the intimate Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre attractively transformed into a Regency drawing room.

Anyone who has read the novel will have some idea of the formidable difficulties involved in adapting Mansfield Park for the stage. It has a large cast of significant characters, but the actions of those characters are, for the most part, mediated to the reader through the consciousness of Fanny, the quietest, shyest and (her detractors would add) most annoyingly prim of Austen's heroines. In the opera Fanny is much less central, not necessarily to the detriment of the story, for many literary critics have agreed with Marilyn Butler that "at the centre Fanny is impossible." But with Fanny reduced in importance, Mr. Rushworth (here imagined as an amiable clown rather than Austen's boorish dupe) considerably enlarged, and Maria with him, the opera does suffer from the want of a clear central narrative. It asks us to be interested in the romantic fates of no less than seven young people (Fanny, Edmund, Maria, Julia, Rushworth and the two Crawfords) and attempts to present as much of their entangled stories as possible in the course of about two hours. Henry Crawford becomes the central character in terms of the plot, but he seemed insufficiently developed for such dramatic responsibly, though William Morgan did a very good job with the part as written.

Adapting any classic novel for representation in some other media is admittedly often an ungrateful enterprise, with some critics as irate at excessive fidelity as others are at the lack of it. But Mansfield Park the opera did feel over-full of story. Bruno Ravella, the director of the Hampstead production, must be congratulated for keeping the action coherent, and skillfully managing a great deal of stage movement in a small space, though anyone who had not read the novel, or the very full summary in the program, would still have struggled to follow the plot, especially in the early stages. I couldn't help thinking that a more streamlined libretto focused on the central quartet of Fanny, Edmund and the Crawfords would have worked better, and given the music more room to breathe. As things stand, there is a great deal of bustle and movement, especially in the first and longest of the two acts (culminating in Henry Crawford's statement that he intends to win Fanny's love), very much at odds with the novel's frequent emphasis on long evenings passing slowly as Lady Bertram snoozes on the sofa. The second act unfolds at a gentler pace, but it is hard to escape the feeling that much of the complex emotional wrapping up is rushed.

Dove's sparkling score propels the action forward with great energy. The sound of the piano is particularly appropriate to the drawing room, and sometimes there are direct echoes of the musical world of Austen's England - the sort of music one might expect in a BBC Austen adaptation. For the most part, though, the music aims to be dramatic rather than a period pastiche, and anyone acquainted with Dove's earlier operas, such as Flight, will quickly recognize his distinctive style, especially in the extended ensemble scenes where the music really takes wing. The three older characters, the kind but stern Sir Thomas, the languid Lady Bertram, and the spiteful busybody Mrs. Norris are strongly characterized in the music and were vividly brought to life in the Hampstead production by David Danson, Michelle Juneo and Madeleine Bradbury Rance respectively. The seven young people emerged less firmly individuated, and Mary Crawford, in particular, though Philippa Murray made her sing delectably, seemed too much like the Bertram girls to explain why Edmund found her so very special.

Fanny, of course, represents a special problem, and one not altogether satisfactorily solved. She is the heroine; but she is also the most silent character in the novel. In the opera she is revealed as the heroine primarily by the strength of the feelings she expresses, but this gave her the impression of trying not to burst much of the time, and she seemed rather blustery when she did sing out. Eleanor Minney gave me the impression of struggling with the role, though it may just be that there is an impossible contradiction between Austen's story and the nature of opera here.

Altogether, Dove's Mansfield Park is a brave and enjoyable attempt at creating a Jane Austen opera, though it reveals, too, why the operatic possibilities in her novels have gone so long unexplored. The potent appeal of her name obviously carries the hope that people not ordinarily inclined to go to see new operas will want to see this one, and there is an intrinsic fascination in seeing what can be done, operatically, with a novel like Mansfield Park. But the great strength of Dove's opera, as with much of his music, lies in what it offers the performers. Dove has written of his desire to write "a chamber-opera that really deserved the title," and Mansfield Park is certainly that, beautifully judged in its musical demands. It offers ten meaty, intelligent roles that allow of a good deal of individual interpretation, with at least seven of those tailor-made for young singers (and Madeleine Bradbury Rance as Mrs. Norris showed just how convincingly a talented young actress could assume one of the other roles). For a company like Hampstead Garden Opera, short of space and resources, but big on enthusiasm and commitment to nurturing the careers of young singers, it was an excellent choice, and I was delighted to learn that the ten performances, of which I saw the last, had all sold out.

It seemed to me that Dove and Middleton positioned their opera somewhere between comedy and drama, leaving directors to push it in one direction or the other, or indeed to stick to the middle. The Hampstead performance tended to the comic side, and there were plentiful laughs, especially at the childishness of William Davies's Mr. Rushworth, who perhaps stole the show a little too much. By contrast, Edmund Bertram, the most serious-minded of Austen's ideal men, performed by Dominic Sedgwick, often seemed too much in the background, though in the final scenes, as he denounces Mary Crawford and offers his love to Fanny, Sedgwick delivered some of the finest singing of the afternoon. As with all the Hampstead Garden Opera productions I have seen, everything bounced along with tremendous zest and the piano accompaniment provided by Yau Cheng and Lana Bode was absolutely thrilling, so musically rich that Mansfield Park should persuade other composers to explore the possibilities of chamber opera with four-hand piano.

David Chandler


Cast and production information:

Fanny Price: Eleanor Minney; Sir Thomas Bertram: David Danson; Lady Bertram: Michelle Jueno; Edmund Bertram: Dominic Sedgwick; Maria Bertram: Charlotte Richardson; Julia Bertram: Freya Jacklin; Aunt Norris: Madeleine Bradbury Rance; Henry Crawford: William Morgan; Mary Crawford: Philippa Murray; Mr. Rushworth: William Davies. Production Director: Bruno Ravella. Music Director: Oliver-John Ruthven. Pianists: Yau Cheng and Lana Bode. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, London, 28 April 2013 (matinee).

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):