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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

Fortieth Anniversary Gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro

Earlier this month I reported from the Macerata Opera Festival – a largely Italian affair frequented by few foreigners. One week later I attended the 40th anniversary gala of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, about 100 km north in the same region of Le Marche and a prominent stop on the international circuit. One one hears much English, French, German and Japanese, and the printed program features a long list of non-Italian financial sponsors.

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):