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

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Madama Butterfly, Opera Holland Park
14 Jun 2013

Madama Butterfly, Opera Holland Park

There is a sense in which it all began in London, Puccini having been seized in 1900 with the idea of an opera on this subject after watching David Belasco’s play here.

Madama Butterfly, Opera Holland Park

A review by Mark Berry

 

London, in the guise of Opera Holland Park, certainly repaid the favour on this occasion. Not only, vile weather notwithstanding, did it aid my already rapid thawing towards Puccini; it offered a production and performance which, considered as a whole, were probably the finest I have yet seen at Holland Park.

It was certainly a relief to be spared the vulgarity of a Zeffirelli-like production. Paul Higgins’s staging and Neil Irish’s designs were not abstract, but they were (at least by some standards) relatively spare, offering a space in which the action may unfold rather than overwhelming it. The screens at the back of the stage both facilitate comings and goings and offer a welcome impression of Japanese or at least Orientalist stylisation; likewise the costumes are ‘faithful’ to time and place, without becoming an end in themselves. The American flag is as noticeable on stage as it is in Puccini’s score, perhaps a little less, but the effect in both is as much exotic as straightforwardly anti-imperialist. I cannot help but wish that Puccini had been a little more restrained in his use both of the ghastly Star Spangled Banner and those too-obvious pentatonicisms, but at least he, like the staging, is relatively even-handed. (I suppose we should remind ourselves that what has become wearily commonplace for us was still very much new musical territory not so long after the celebrated Paris exhibitions.) Higgins also reminds us and holds in our mind that Cio-Cio-San is a dancer, Namiko Gahier-Ogawa’s movement working well in context. Nothing peripheral, however, is permitted to obscure the central tragedy: a signal achievement from which many directors could learn.

That also depends, of course, on a convincing assumption of the title role. Anne Sophie Duprels offered something rather more than merely convincing; she inhabited the role completely, offering a rounded portrayal in dramatic and vocal terms alike. Not a single false note, in any sense, was struck, and one sympathised to a degree beyond the expectations engendered by what can often seem a silly role. Butterfly’s delusion, then, convinced at least as much as her attraction. There was strength without steel, nobility without hauteur. Joseph Wolverton’s Pinkerton occasionally sounded a little too Italianate in the pejorative sense, and proved somewhat lacking in stage presence; still, with the American flag on his side, perhaps he did not need them. Chloe Hinton offered hints of something far more in the role of his wife, but given the nature of that role, they could be little more than that. Patricia Orr, however, impressed greatly as a wise Suzuki, beautiful and graceful of voice and movement. David Stephenson’s Sharpless likewise made much, though never too much, of words and music. The suitors’ and other smaller roles were all well taken.

The chorus sang and acted creditably throughout, clearly well trained. I was surprised by how little I missed the sound of a larger orchestra, the losses proving largely cosmetic rather than fundamental. Indeed, one heard in the City of London Sinfonia’s performance (strings 8.6.4.4.2) a great deal more of the inner workings — more than once I found myself recalling aspects of Die Meistersinger — than one might in a larger-scaled, conventional account. (That is not to claim that I think chamber orchestras should become the norm, but simply to note that, given a high enough level of performance, virtue can arise from necessity.) Manlio Benzi shrewdly marshalled his forces, imparting dramatic tension throughout and steering as clear as might reasonably have been expected from sentimentality.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Butterfly: Anne Sophie Duprels; Pinkerton: Joseph Wolverton; Suzuki: Patricia Orr; Sharpless: David Stephenson; Goro: Robert Burt; Kate Pinkerton: Chloe Hinton; Bonze: Barnaby Rea; Prince Yamadori: John Lofthouse; The Imperial Commissioner: Alistair Sutherland; Butterfly’s Mother: Lindsay Bramley; The Aunt: Loretta Hopkins; The Cousin: Maud Millar; Yakuside: Nathan Morrison; Sorrow: Ben Bristow. Director: Paul Higgins; Designer: Neil Irish; Lighting: Richard Howell; Movement: Namiko Gahier-Ogawa. Opera Holland Park Chorus (chorus master: Holly Mathieson); City of London Sinfonia/ Manlio Benzi (conductor). Holland Park, London, Wednesday 12 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):