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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

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):