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

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Full cast of The Importance of Being Earnest [Photo © ROH / Stephen Cummiskey]
18 Jun 2013

The Importance of Being Earnest, Covent Garden

The Importance of Being Earnest , Gerald Barry’s fifth opera, was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Barbican, and was first performed in concert, Thomas Adès conducting the London premiere.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Covent Garden

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Full cast of The Importance of Being Earnest [Photo © ROH / Stephen Cummiskey]

 

This production marks the first London staging, though the honour of the first staging went to Nancy’s Opéra national de Lorraine. It may be considered a resounding success, perhaps all the more surprising given the paucity of worthwhile comic operas. (The inability of stage directors to distinguish between the comic and comedy as a form is one of the greatest banes of an opera-goer’s life, but let us leave that on one side for the moment.)

Barry may have studied with Stockhausen but it is his study with Mauricio Kagel that comes to mind here, in the work’s anarchic — though, in its compositional control decidedly not anarchistic — irreverence. An almost Dadaistic sensibility perhaps also brings to mind the Ligeti of Aventures and Nouvelles aventures; smashing of plates, forty of them, must surely offer a reference, perhaps even an hommage. Humour arises not just from Wilde’s play and what Barry does with or to it, but also from the interaction of ‘action’ and music, seemingly autonomous, until one has decided that it is definitely is, at which point it tempts one to think that it might have something in common with the text after all. Parody, for instance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, whether its opening or the ‘Ode to Joy’, and of Auld Lang Syne, almost inevitably recalls Peter Maxwell Davies, but I am not sure that the method is actually so very similar. For one thing, it seems more to be the tunes themselves that in some strange sense are forming the drama; words at times follow Auld Lang Syne rather than vice versa, resulting in a cyclical process one might — or might not — consider to be a parody of serialism. (I did, but I have no idea whether that were intended.) Stravinskian motor-rhythms power the music along, until it stops — or are they still doing so? And just occasionally, the poster-paint aggression — or is it an affectionate parody thereof? — seems to melt into something more tender. But is that merely wish-fulfilment on the spectator’s part? Is the joke on the audience?

Ramin Gray’s production seems to operate in a similar or at least parallel fashion. There are interactions, for instance when the loudspeaker music plays from Algernon’s iPhone. And the action is cut, stopped, made to continue according to some ticking imperative. Moments impress, stick in the memory, for instance the case of co-ordinated tea-drinking. One begins to ask what they ‘mean’, but already knows or at least fears that one is asking the wrong question. Surrealism, or something like it, becomes genuinely funny. Or is it that the funny becomes genuinely surreal? Modern dress works well, banishing any thought that period ‘absurdity’ might heighten the farce, if that be what it is. For disjuncture, by its very nature, continues to bring us up short. Alienation, in work and in staging, both distances and yet brings us tantalisingly close. For, despite or even on account of the artificiality, one senses a deep humanity lying somewhere beneath. (Perhaps like Wilde; perhaps not.)

The Britten Sinfonia under Tim Murray proves at least an equal partner to the madness. Brashly rhythmic, lovingly precise, this is an estimable performance throughout from an ensemble whose versatility seems yet to extend itself with every year. That the players are called upon to shout and to stamp their feet almost seems expected. Paul Curievici impresses with great musicality as Jack Worthing, or whatever we want to call him, Benedict Nelson a bluff foil as Algie. Hilary Summers, surely as versatile an artist as the Britten Sinfonia, makes excellent use of her contralto range and tone as Miss Prism, with a splendidly complementary stage gawkiness. Stephanie Marshall’s Gwendolen and Ida Falk Winland’s Cecily shine on the mezzo and soprano fronts, the former often warmly lyrical, the latter seemingly effortless in the aggressively higher reaches of her range. Simon Wilding’s Lane and Merriman offer a nice hint of rebellion, nevertheless handsomely despatched. Meanwhile, Lady Bracknell is played by a bass, not in drag but in a suitably ghastly barrister pinstripe; Alan Ewing rises to the occasion, and somehow seems more real than much of the chaos around him. The cast, as the cliché has it, proves more than the sum of its parts, as is the performance as a whole, however awkward that fitting together or clashing of those parts may be.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

John Worthing: Paul Curievici; Revd Canon Chasuble: Geoffrey Dolton; Lady Brachnell: Alan Ewing; Gwendolen Fairfax: Stephanie Marshall; Algernon Moncrieff: Benedict Nelson; Miss Prism: Hilary Summers; Lane/Merriman: Simon Wilding; Cecily: Ida Falk WInland. Director: Ramin Gray; Associate Designer: Ben Clark (after an idea by Johannes Schütz); Lighting: Franz Peter David; Costumes: Christina Cunningham. Britten Sinfonia/Tim Murray. Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Monday 17 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):