Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.



L'elisir d'amore, Opera Holland Park
17 Jul 2013

L’elisir d’amore, Opera Holland Park

Pia Furtado’s production of Donizetti’s gentle rom-com, L’elisir d’amore, opens in the greenhouse-laboratory of a sunflower factory — all steel trolleys and agronomic apparatus.

L’elisir d’amore, Opera Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above image by Opera Holland Park


A rather prosaic setting for this tender tale of amorous affection, one might think, but in fact the backdrop of infinite fields of golden-headed sunflowers aspiring eagerly towards the fresh azure above, was a neat complement to the scorching summer sun outside.

Back in the factory, the workers busied themselves with seeds, samples and solutions, clad in trademark royal-blue industrial overalls, overseen by two advertising trailers bearing the portrait of the sunflower-goddess, Adina, amid a sunny pastoral paradise. Ordering the workers back to work, the boss herself overlooked the sneaky entry of a ragged brigand, one Dr Dulcamara, who proceeded to pilfer the pods and potions for his own chemical cocktails.

An interesting start, but sadly, despite designer Leslie Travers’ appealing vistas, one which didn’t really add up and quickly ran out of steam. By Act 2, with the ‘peasants’ stripped of their boiler suits and arrayed in their finery for the wedding of Belcore and Adina, the sunflowers seemed pretty irrelevant and the tray-laden trolleys, clumped together centre-stage, a redundant intrusion.

The charm of the work lies in its perfect balance of tenderness and wit, and both were somewhat lacking in this production. Only when Nemorino suggestively sponged the larger-than-life mascot-Adina — an endearing moment of naïve, dreamy wish-fulfilment — was a chuckle raised. Elsewhere the comedy — goose-stepping soldiers, some ‘racy’ goings-on in the trailer — was too slapstick, at times Monty Python-esque, and didn’t allow the humanity of the characters to shine through. The Holland Park Chorus, although accurate and well-marshalled, lacked the brightness of tone that was such an invigorating force in the season’s earlier production of The Pearl Fishers. There was little sense of a community of friends and fellows having fun, and too often the chorus were arranged in static clusters. Even the final chorus, when the opportunistic Dulcamara coolly cashes in on the success of his miracle medicine, was rather muted and restrained.

The sluggish tempi adopted by conductor Steven Higgins didn’t help matters. Higgins was practical and precise, and the players of the City of London Sinfonia performed, as they have done throughout the season, with customary clarity and a sure sense of a well-turned phrase. But Higgins used large gestures when small ones would have been more efficient, and didn’t quite pull off the Rossinian crescendo-accelerando, often labouring in four beats in a bar when slipping into two would have spurred things along more swiftly and slickly.

Fortunately a saviour was at hand, in the form of Sarah Tynan’s wonderful Adina. Following two recent, stellar turns in the role at English National Opera, Tynan is a total natural as the capricious minx with an essentially good heart. Factory owner or foreman, it wasn’t quite clear, but she was certainly master of the proceedings, the absolute star of the show. Coolly confident, there was not a note or nuance that was not fully in her command and, although Furtado seemed to have offered little direction, Tynan used every shade of her luscious soprano to sparkling dramatic effect, her voice agile, vibrant and unfailingly sweet.

She was well-matched by Aldo Do Toro as Nemorino. Returning to Holland Park after his well-received performance in a darker Donizettian mode, as Edgardo in Lucia, Do Toro once again revealed a warm, well-focused tenor, well-equipped to rise to the heights with no sense of strain. Simple and trusting, moving easily about the stage, he was an engaging and lovable dolt although, despite the pseudo-scientific interventions of Dulcamara, there was not much chemistry between Do Toro and Tynan.

Paradoxically, when things needed to settle back and unwind more languidly, Steven Higgins hurried along. Do Toro’s lines were smooth and well-shaped in the sentimental ‘Una furtive lagrima’, but he needed a few moments of relaxed expansion to do full justice to the Italianate lyricism.

Baritone George von Bergen was a consistent Belcore. One of the troops, as opposed to the commanding officer, this Belcore was more bluff and bluster than military might, but in his Act 1 aria, ‘Come Paride vezzoso’, von Bergen demonstrated a resonant lower register. An overly heavy vibrato occasionally marred the focus though, dulling the brightness and diminishing the impression of Belcore’s swaggering self-adulation. Rosalind Coad was a characterful Giannetta with an aptly mischievous tint to her voice.

Which brings us to the calculating chancer whose medicinal machinations are honoured in the opera’s title. Standing in at short notice for the indisposed Richard Burkhard, Geoffrey Dolton presented an idiosyncratic, but not wholly successful, interpretation of Dulcamara, far removed from the usual glib self-publicist and confident conman. Low-key, preferring to skulk in the shadows than parade in the spotlight, Dolton sang competently but rather blandly; assuming that the factory workers had a little scientific nous at their disposal, being familiar with tinctures to ‘make the garden grow’, it was hard to believe that they would be duped by Dulcamara’s rather lacklustre sales-pitch, ‘Udite, udite, o rustici’ (the anachronistic term ‘peasants’ being typical of the disappointing surtitles which also at times took considerable liberties with the libretto).

Dolton’s duet with Tynan, ‘Io son ricco e tu sei bella’, is intended to wow the wedding-feast guests and should be a show-stopping party-piece, but on this occasion there was little festive fizz; with his light and flexible baritone, Dolton can despatch Donizetti’s decorative flounces, but his voice does not really have the weight for this role. He was probably hampered too by Furtado’s sometimes underwhelming direction, particularly in Act 2, but this was a shame for an ironically masterful Dulcamara can convince us all that the tale is more than mere barmy nonsense.

L’elisir d’amore continues in rep until 3 August — go for Tynan’s dazzling Adina alone.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production information:

Adina, Sarah Tynan; Nemorino, Aldo Di Toro; Belcore, George von Bergen; Dulcamara, Geoffrey Dolton; Giannetta, Rosalind Cold; Director, Pia Furtado; Designer, Leslie Travers; Lighting Designer, Colin Grenfell; Conductor, Steven Higgins; City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park Chorus. Opera Holland Park, Tuesday, 16th July 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):