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

Ed Lyon as Hippolytus [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2013]
02 Jul 2013

Rameau Hippolyte et Aricie, Glyndebourne

Glyndebourne revitalizes Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie. Baroque tastes were extravagant. Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil, and his successor Louis XV, epitomized the aesthetic: audacity, not gentility, vigour, not timidity.

Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, Glyndebourne

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Ed Lyon as Hippolytus [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2013]

 

When Hippolyte et Aricie was premiered in 1733, it was considered radically inventive. So it's appropriate that Glyndebourne should present Rameau with the same spirit of adventure. William Christie has shown many times before that baroque thrives on daring and panache.

Thus the Prologue in this production starts with a shock calculated to shake things up. Diana, the Goddess is in a refrigerator. But she's the Goddess of frigidity. Why not show her in a Frigidaire? She has a frigid, rigid mindset. For her, feelings should be sealed in air-tight compartments. So Diana comes out of the freezer cabinet. Her colours are those of frost, and the pale moon. Nature, though, is having nothing of artificial cool. In the egg compartment, Cupid is breaking out of a shell, challenging Diana with bright hues and joyously lively song.

Hippolyte, the son of Theseus is in love with Aricie, who has dedicated herself to the service of Diana, the Virgin Queen. Hippolyte's stepmother, Phaedra, lusts after him. Ironically, her husband Theseus is off saving a friend who has committed adultery with the wife of Pluto, Lord of the Underworld. We enter l'Enfer, where hell fire reigns: the reverse of the refrigerator, where overheated workings splutter in darkness and dirt. Is death more colourful than Diana's sterile temple? The denizens of the Underworld have merrier dances. A group of Flies.with elaborate wings, pirouette gleefully. Decay is part of the cycle of Nature. Without it, no rebirth. Theseus calls on his father, Neptune, for help and escapes. The Parques (The Fates) warn "Tu sors de l’infernal Empire, pour trouver les Enfers chez toi."

Rameau writes a tempest into his music, which even now, when we're used to extreme music, is strikingly dramatic. At Glyndebourne, we get strobe lights, Rameau's audiences, who loved mechanical special effects, would have been thrilled by electricity. Neptune is the God of the Ocean, so his minions are "matelots". At Glyndebourne, they appear as a chorus of French sailors. This is perfectly in keeping with the music. Rameau adapts a hornpipe jig. It's meant to be gay (in the old sense of the word) "Tous les cœurs sont matelots ; On quitte le repos : On vole sur les flots;"

Theseus blames his son for his wife's infidelity. Hippolyte follows Aricie into Diana's world. A dead stag hangs from the rafters. Diana, despite her disdain for passion, is also the Goddess of the Hunt, and an agent of death Aricie is initiated into the cult by being blooded. It's not gruesome, though, for Rameau's sense of elegance precludes overt barbarism. At Glyndebourne, Diana's followers are seen in hunting reds, the men's wigs oddly peaked as if they were foxes. Hippolyte disappears in a puff of smoke, presumably dead. Phaedra dies, too. This time, the Underworld is depicted as a morgue, pointedly designed like Diana's chilled-out Temple. But Hippolyte is no more dead than Theseus was when he went into hell. The lovers are reunited happily ever after. In this production, the ghost of Phaedra appears to observe proceedings. It's a nice touch, which fits in with the mood of healing and kindness. No grand showpiece arias here. Instead, the exquisite "Rossignols amoureux" a delicate air for soprano accompanied only by flute, exceptionally beautifully played by a soloist in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Ed Lyon sang Hippolyte, fresh and youthful but no ingénue. Lyon's voice is assertive, suggesting strength in the character beyond the restraints of the text. That's perceptive. With his genes, Hippolyte is no wimp. Christiane Karg sang Aricie with charm and energy. Katharine Watson sang Diana, and Ana Quintans sang a vivacious Cupid. Emmanuelle de Negri sings the crucial Nightingale Song in the guise of a shepherdess. We know that Cupid has triumphed. François Lis was a magnificently characterful Pluto/Jupiter, well supported by Loïc Felix's Tisiphone. Sarah Connolly (Phaedra) and Stéphane Degout (Theseus) were exceptional, wonderfully assured singing and stage presence.

Together with Lis, Connolly and Degout (one of the finest French singers of his generation) sang their parts in the Paris production last year with Emmanuelle Haïm, where the set was a reconstruction of what the opera might have looked like in 1733. That was important because it clearly showed the cast in costumes that were "modern" at the time. Rameau wasn't depicting Greeks or Greek Gods but archetypes in a setting his own audiences could relate to. So much for the notion of period specificity.

True period authenticity is fascinating, for me, anyway. But it doesn't necessarily do much for modern audiences, who might find the succession of dances less easy to take. The Glyndebourne production, directed by Jonathan Kent, with designs by Paul Brown, doesn't actually "update", to use the much misused term, but treats the opera as something fresh and exciting, as it might have seemed to audiences nearly 300 years ago Like the cycle of Nature, life goes on when things renew. The humour is entirely appropriate, and the dances are brightly characterized. One other good moment: when Sarah Connolly descends off the stage as Phaedra preparing to die, the auditorium goes completely dark for much longer than usual. She's such a big star that audiences expect an exit as dramatic as that. She doesn't get to sing any more, but the memory lingers on.

Most credit, however, to William Christie. What animated, vivid playing he draws from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. How the singers seem inspired by his enthusiasm! He's visionary. He understand the baroque and its aesthetic so well that he can teach us a great deal about the idiom. His Rameau Les Indes Galantes (preserved on DVD) is an education. Christie brings out the vivacious, almost anarchic vigour that is at the heart of French baroque. He's worked with Jonathan Kent before (Purcell Fairy Queen, Glyndebourne). My companion said "If this is good enough for Bill Christie, it's good enough for me". By sheer coincidence we bumped into Christie himself a few minutes later, and told him. He beamed. "That's the sort of feedback I like to hear!". I hope it helped to make his day. Certainly, with this performance, he made mine.

Anne Ozorio


Listen to Hippolyte et Aricie podcast

Click here for cast and production information

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):