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

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

A culinary coupling from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

What a treat the London Music Conservatoires serve up for opera-goers each season. After the Royal Academy’s Bizet double-bill of Le docteur Miracle and La tragédie de Carmen, and in advance of the Royal College’s forthcoming pairing of Huw Watkins’ new opera, In the Locked Room, based on a short story by Thomas Hardy, and The Lighthouse by Peter Maxwell Davies, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have delivered a culinary coupling of Paul Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner and Sir Lennox Berkeley’s The Dinner Engagement which the Conservatoire last presented for our delectation in November 2006.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

Iestyn Davies and Fretwork bring about a meeting of the baroque and the modern

‘Music for a while/Shall all your cares beguile’. Standing in shadow, encircled by the five players of the viol consort Fretwork, as the summer storm raged outside Milton Court Concert Hall countertenor Iestyn Davies offered mesmeric reassurance to the capacity audience during this intriguing meeting of the baroque and the modern.

Works by Beethoven and Gerald Barry

As a whole, this concert proved a curious affair. It probably made more sense in the context of Thomas Adès’s series of Beethoven and Barry concerts with the Britten Sinfonia. The idea of a night off from the symphonic Beethoven to turn to chamber works was, in principle, a good one, but the sole Gerald Barry piece here seemed oddly out of place – and not in a productive, provocative way. Even the Beethoven pieces did not really seem to fit together especially well. A lovely performance of the op.16 Quintet nevertheless made the evening worthwhile.

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):