Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Dolora Zajick Premieres Composition

At a concert in the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in San Jose, California, on August 22, 2014, a few selections preceded the piece the audience had been waiting for: the world premiere of Dolora Zajick’s brand new composition, an opera scene entitled Roads to Zion.

Santa Fe Opera Presents Huang Ruo's Sun Yat-sen

By emphasizing the love between Sun Yat-sen and Soong Ching-ling, Ruo showed us the human side of this universally revered modern Chinese leader. Writer Lindsley Miyoshi has quoted the composer as saying that the opera is “about four kinds of love.” It speaks of affection between friends, between parents and children, between lovers, and between patriots and their country.

Britten War Requiem - Andris Nelsons, CBSO, BBC Prom 47

In light of the 2012 half-centenary of the premiere in the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, the 2013 centennial celebrations of the composer’s own birth, and this year’s commemorations of the commencement of WW1, it is perhaps not surprising that the War Requiem - a work which was long in gestation and which might be seen as a summation of the composer’s musical, political and personal concerns - has been fairly frequently programmed of late. And, given the large, multifarious forces required, the potent juxtaposition of searing English poetry and liturgical Latin, and the profound resonances of the circumstances of the work’s commission and premiere, it would be hard to find a performance, as William Mann declared following the premiere, which was not a ‘momentous occasion’.

Santa Fe Opera Presents an Imaginative Carmen

Santa Fe opera has presented Carmen in various productions since 1961. This year’s version by Stephen Lawless takes place during the recent past in Northern Mexico near the United States border. The performance on August 6, 2014, featured Ana Maria Martinez as a monumentally sexy Gypsy who was part of a drug smuggling group.

Elgar Sea Pictures : Alice Coote, Mark Elder Prom 31

Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra persuasively balanced passion and poetry in this absorbing Promenade concert. Elder’s tempi were fairly relaxed but the result was spaciousness rather than ponderousness, with phrases given breadth and substance, and rich orchestral colours permitted to make startling dramatic impact.

Berio Sinfonia, Shostakovich, BBC Proms

Although far from perfect, the performance of Berio’s Sinfonia in the first half of this concert was certainly its high-point; indeed, I rather wish that I had left at the interval, given the tedium induced by Shostakovich’s interminable Fourth Symphony. Still, such was the programme Semyon Bychkov had been intended to conduct. Alas, illness had forced him to withdraw, to be replaced at short notice by Vasily Petrenko.

Four countertenors : Handel Rinaldo Glyndebourne

Handel's Rinaldo was first performed in 1711 at London's King's Theatre. Handel's first opera for London was designed to delight and entertain, combining good tunes, great singing with a rollicking good story. Robert Carsen's 2011 production of the opera for Glyndebourne reflected this with its tongue-in-cheek Harry Potter meets St Trinian's staging.

Santa Fe Opera Presents The Impresario and Le Rossignol

On August 7, 2014, the Santa Fe Opera presented a double bill of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Impresario and Igor Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). The Impresario deals with the casting of an opera and Le Rossignol tells the well-known fairy tale about the plain gray bird with an exquisite song.

Barber in the Beehive State

Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre has gifted opera enthusiasts with a thrilling Barber, and I don’t mean . . . of Seville.

Stravinsky : Oedipus Rex, BBC Proms

In typical Proms fashion, BBC Prom 28 saw Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex performed in an eclectic programme which started with Beethoven's Egmont Overture and also featured Electric Preludes by the contemporary Australian composer Brett Dean. Sakari Oramo,was making the first of his Proms appearances this year, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus.

Santa Fe Opera Presents a Passionate Fidelio

Santa Fe Opera presented Beethoven’s Fidelio for the first time in 2014. Since the sides of the opera house are open, the audience watched the sun redden the low hanging clouds and set below the Sangre de Cristo mountains while Chief Conductor Harry Bicket led the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra in the rousing overture. At the same time, Alex Penda as the title character readied herself for the ordeal to come as she endeavored to rescue her unjustly imprisoned husband.

Rameau Grand Motets, BBC Proms

Best of the season so far! William Christie and Les Arts Florissants performed Rameau Grand Motets at late night Prom 17.

Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission.

Count Ory, Dead Man Walking
and La traviata in Des Moines

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I [Photo © ROH / Clive Barda]
22 Jun 2013

Britten’s Gloriana, Covent Garden

A glance at the ROH programme which accompanies this new production of Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana reveals a striking number of ‘role débuts’; evidence that, since its Coronation-commissioned revelation in 1953, this opera has had a relatively quiet 60 years - hyperbolically announced as ‘one of the great disasters of operatic history’ at its troubled opening.

Britten’s Gloriana, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I

Photos © ROH / Clive Barda

 

Now, in 2013, as our reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, celebrates a lifetime devoted to her realm, director Richard Jones transports us back to the beginning, to a village hall - the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh? - reconstructing (deconstructing?) the opening night of the opera which announced a new Elizabethan age with a re-visitation of the first regal Elizabeth’s glories and shortcomings.

Initially we are confronted with the simple exterior of a theatre. A dignitary paces impatiently beneath the royal crest and flag which adorns the façade, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the royal party; Queen and consort enter, slightly bemused by the cultural offering bestowed in their honour. The ‘fourth wall’ is lifted to reveal an unsophisticated platform; prompter, janitor, curtain hoister and bell-ringer loiter with anticipation in the wings. The orchestral prologue commences, visually illustrated by a perfectly choreographed reverse parade through British monarchical history - faultlessly in keeping with current Conservative-party educational policy - until we arrive at the first age of Elizabethan magnificence and mal-contentment. In a brisk sweep - reminiscent of the gallery of ancestral portraits illuminated by the Prologue to Owen Wingrave - Richard Jones makes a virtue of the opera’s potential cause for irritation - its whimsicality and twee ‘Merrie England-ishness’.

Henceforth, all sentimental, mawkish, am-dram naff-ness is viewed through a knowingly ironic filter - which, in fact, perfectly complements the parodies and self-parodies of Britten’s score. Thus, the Act 1 joust presents a pantomime horse, dipping and diving, as a disgruntled Earl of Essex (Toby Spence) enviously espies the equestrian triumphs of Lord Mountjoy (Mark Stone) - soon to be reveal resplendent in eye-watering Queen-Bee zig-zags - by peering over a mock-brick wall at the ceremonial contest. As the imperial Elizabeth progresses through her realm, the various venues which receive the regal company are signposted by a gaggle of grey-uniformed public school-boys, whose thrust-aloft placards announce our successive locations.

Ultz’s designs and the eye-watering complementary colour schemes of Mimi Jordan Sherin’s lighting scheme emphasise both power and transience, from the outsized wooden throne placed centre-stage, to the iconographical pictorialism of the inner chamber - all skulls, scrolls, leather-bound learned manuscripts and lutes.

Amid this symbolic landscape, the cast are uniformly outstanding in presenting a narrative of conflicting loyalties and self-destructive betrayals.

At the heart of it all is Susan Bullock’s Gloriana, magnificently divine yet painfully human, every word of text used with intelligence and creativity to simultaneously win our sympathies and earn our censures. Exposed in Act 3 by Essex’s untimely and improper arrival and intrusion, balding, dishevelled and defenceless, she retains an essential dignity. Lonely and unaided, bullied by the unequivocal pronouncements of her courtiers into signing the death warrant of her paramour, Bullock’s Gloriana agonisingly disintegrates, much like Grimes or Vere; all that remains to console are fragments and memories, as the curtain which slowly closes on the isolated monarch announces her alienation and mortality. The spoken text powerfully announces her diminution and creative diminishment and defeat.

GLORIANA-130617_2002.gifKate Royal as Lady Rich, Toby Spence as Essex, Patricia Bardon as Countess of Essex, Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy

Toby Spence makes a credibly sympathetic figure of the solipsistic Essex, full of a vigorous vitality which is undermined by maudlin melancholy. After serious health concerns, Spence is almost back to his best. Albeit weak and unpredictable, Essex’s devotion to the Queen is not in doubt. By turns tender, ebullient and defiant, Spence’s Essex is petulant, querulous but also truthful, winning our heart with his delicately expressive, self-revelatory second lute song, ‘Happy were we’, while arousing our distrust by - a theatrical masterstroke by Jones - surreptitiously and presumptuously usurping the unoccupied throne, when the royal party has departed after the ceremonial entertainments which close Act 2. The rapid blackout exacerbates our unease regarding his audacious intentions.

It is quite a trial for the singers to bring credibility and roundedness to librettist William Plomer’s rather one-dimension ‘puppets’, but the cast rises impressively to the challenge. Jeremy Carpenter’s Lord Cecil is the emblem of gravity and stateliness; the guarded confidence between the Queen and her ‘trusty elf’ is complemented by a Machiavellian manipulation, most particularly in the Act 3 ‘Cecil’s Warning’, as the influential Lord cunningly persuades his monarch to repel her former devotee.

Mark Stone’s Lord Mountjoy is buoyantly self-congratulatory; yet, casting pride aside, he pleads sincerely for his rival, before Frances Devereux, Essex’s sister, (Patricia Bardon) gently but futilely beseeches the Queen to show clemency and compassion. Kate Royal is a convincing Lady Penelope Rich - opinionated yet without fraudulence, pleading desperately for leniency for Essex before a hostile and unforgiving monarch, before succumbing to more histrionic outpourings in the Epilogue. In the cameo role of the Blind Ballad-singer, Brindley Sherratt is ironically Beckmesserian.

There is no evading the fact that Britten’s episodic second Act lacks dramatic momentum. The pastiche, albeit clever and effortless, serves to flatter its creator’s facility rather than to further the drama (the former is foregrounded by, for example, the harpist’s visibility in the wings during the lute songs). The lengthy sequence of theatrical rituals and dances, while flamboyantly stylistic, are ultimately static and somewhat sterile. In this context, the villagers’ vegetable mosaic, designed to celebrate regal fruitfulness and profligacy, is appropriately humdrum.

Yet, Jones’ presentation of the masque of Time and Concord is, as rudimentary moon and sun are heaved aloft from the wings, elementary but honest; similarly, Lucy Burge’s choreography produces stylised but touching performances from dancers Lake Laoutaris-Smith and Giulia Pazzaglia. The choral dances which end the Act are vigorous and energising, Spence et al matching the lusty leaps and bounds of the professional athletes.

Off-stage or on-stage, the ROH chorus are splendidly resplendent and resonant. The idolatrous ‘Green leaves are we’ chorus which permeates the score is heartfelt and warming. Conductor Paul Daniel is well-served by his woodwind players, whose expressive nuances communicates the underlying drama with virtuosity and insight, just as the whole instrumental ensemble conjures both bright majesty in the scenes of public ceremony and dark unrest when their dynamic surges represented the inner turbulences of the troubled Queen.

Jones has totally captured the antagonistic energies of this opera. Unease and imbalance characterise both dynamic relationships and structural organisation, as public and private are opposed but never reconciled. Condemned as ‘not a Great Britten’ at its first appearance, Jones convinces us that - despite its flaws - this is a Glorious Gloriana.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Earl of Essex: Toby Spence; Henry Cuffe: Benjamin Bevan; Lord Mountjoy: Mark Stone; Elizabeth I: Susan Bullock; Sir Walter Raleigh: Clive Bayley; Sir Robert Cecil: Jeremy Carpenter; Recorder of Norwich: Jeremy White; Spirit of the Masque: Andrew Tortise; Time: Lake Laoutaris-Smith’ Concord: Ciulia Pazzaglia; Penelope Lady Rich: Kate Royal; Frances Devereux: Patricia Bardon; Blind Ballad Singer: Brindley Sherratt; Conductor: Paul Daniel; Director: Richard Jones; Designs: Ultz; Lighting Design: Mimi Jordan Sherin; Choreography: Lucy Burge. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Thursday 20th June 2013

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):