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

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

11 May 2013

Mulhouse: Rare Britten Well Done

National Opera Company of the Rhine has marked this year’s Benjamin Britten celebration with a remarkably compelling, often gripping new production of the seldom-seen Owen Wingrave.

The pacifist Britten wrote the piece for BBC television in 1971, partly as a response to the lingering Viet Nam War which was still raging. The structure of the dramatic episodes, the cross fades written into the transitions, and the contrasting instrumental sounds in the sparsely-scored work were all a consideration of the medium.

Indeed, my one and only experience with the piece was when PBS broadcast the original production in the early 70’s, when television sound was still rather rudimentary. Now encountering the work live in the theatre, I was not prepared for the rich diversity of the instrumental writing, nor for the sonorous ensemble effects. Britten was, of course, not only a master orchestrator, but quite adept at setting texts to good dramatic effect. He was well-served in Mulhouse by cast, band, and production leadership.

L’Opéra national du Rhin has wisely chosen to feature the excellent young members of their Opera Studio program and if the result is any indication, opera has a promising future in France. The title role is a Big Sing, with lots of it lying in the middle voice, and Laurent Deleuil essayed Owen with a well-schooled baritone that boasted a solid technique wedded to a (not overly) warm tone that had substantial presence. If the very top money notes pushed him to the limit, Mr. Deleuil nevertheless had the full arsenal of gifts necessary to score a considerable success as he anchored the production. Laurent is possessed of an easy, unaffected stage deportment and has very clear diction. If ultimately he didn’t yet quite feel the character’s convictions deep in his gut (especially at the start), this was nonetheless a memorable role assumption.

The towering Sévag Tachdjian gave much pleasure in his commanding turn as schoolmaster Coyle. Mr. Tachdjian’s orotund bass-baritone was passionately deployed and was evenly produced throughout the rangy part. But he needs a little more coaching on his pronunciation, since his somewhat odd-sounding vowels and soft consonants made me wonder at first if he was singing, in English. Handsome Jérémy Duffau was a lanky, coltish Lechmere, and his buzzy lyric tenor was engaged, solid, and fluid. He might check his tendency to appear too balletic in his movements in his embodiment of the young soldier.

Mélanie Moussay proved to be an imperious Miss Wingrave, with a distinguished vocal instrument of unanticipated maturity, resonance and power for one so young. Kristina Bitene combined excellent elocution and a wiry, committed demeanor to make Mrs. Julia a riveting personage in the unfolding drama. She also proved to have a reliable, wide-ranging soprano of pleasant bite and with a rock solid technique. Mmes. Moussay, Bitene, and the evening’s “Kate” made their extended trio “(“He will listen to the house”) a real musical highlight.

And speaking of Kate, Marie Cubaynes had much to offer with her dark-hued mezzo including a consistency and pulsing forward motion that served the opinionated, head-strong lass well. Her final duet with Owen was another highly affecting emotional landmark. Guillaume François proved a real “triple threat” as he took on the three roles of Sir Philip, Narrator, and the Phantom. His promising tenor sported a pleasant, steady tone, even if it had a moment or two in legato passages that were a little rough around the edges. Still, his rendition of the unaccompanied “folk song” was hauntingly beautiful, and very well controlled, especially at opera’s close.

Conductor David Syrus had a remarkable night in the pit, wringing every last variation of color from his talented, small band of musicians. That Maestro Syrus is a noted Britten specialist was self-evident based on the exceptional aural results of this performance. Just listen to the nuanced interweaving of text and orchestra, the gossamer sheen of the signature repeated chords, the rhythmic storm of effects he churns up, the inevitable unfolding of the conversational phrases, the effortless deliberation and weight of the ensembles. This was a wholly mesmerizing night of persuasive music-making.

Stage director Christophe Gayral, in tandem with set and lighting designer Eric Soyer were admirable models of restraint, and their modus operandi of “less is more” paid huge dividends. The set was all black legs, sliding doors, levels, and carefully chosen set pieces. On occasion, it suggested an Advent-calendar approach with insets (and characters) revealed, but only as long as they were pertinent.

The evening opened with a dumb-show, first revealing the boy dropping dead to the floor then effectively blending into a foreshadowing of Owen’s funeral. Especially telling was Kate’s fainting with guilt as she goes to place a rose in the blood red funeral spray (in the form of a cross). Of course, we don’t know any of these characters yet, but the scene cleverly gets us to speculate and anticipate the mysteries to come. Renaud Rubiamo has devised a number of gorgeous still projections and video effects, the most stunning being the requisite hall of portraits that at one point come eerily to life.

The only downside of the night was that the seats were only half-filled for this significant musical-dramatic achievement. But there is another chance to partake of its glories. Owen Wingrave will play two more performances this summer in Strasbourg (4 and 6 July). It would be worth the trip.

James Sohre



Cast and production information:

Owen Wingrave: Laurent Deleuil; Spencer Coyle: Sévag Tachdjian; Lechmere: Jérémy Duffau; Miss Wingrave: Mélanie Moussay; Mrs. Julian: Kristina Bitene; Kate: Marie Cubaynes; Sir Philip, Narrator, Phantom: Guillaume François; Boy Ghost: Victor Collin; Conductor: David Syrus; Stage Director: Christophe Gayral; Set and Lighting Design: Eric Soyer; Costume Design: Cidalia Da Costa; Video Design: Renaud Rubiamo

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):