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

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

‘Schiff’s Surprise’: Haydn

Many of the ingredients for a memorable concert were there, or so they initially seemed to be. Alas, ultimately what we learned more clearly than anything else was that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new Principal Artist, András Schiff, is no conductor.

Recital of French song from Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

It came as quite a surprise throughout much of the first half of this recital of French song, that it was the piano-playing of Susan Manoff that made the greater impression upon me than the singing of Véronique Gens.

Pelléas et Mélisande: Glyndebourne Festival Opera

What might have been? Such was a thought that came to my mind more than once during this, the premiere of Glyndebourne’s new Pelléas et Mélisande. What might have been if Stefan Herheim had not changed his Konzept so late in the day? (I had actually forgotten about that until reminded during the interval, yet had already began to wonder whether the production had been, especially for him, unusually rushed.)

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

There is something very Danish about this Don Giovanni. It isn’t just that the director, Kasper Holten is a Dane, it’s also that the existential, moral and psychological questions Holten asks point to Kierkegaard who wrote of the fusion of the erotic and demonic in this opera in his work Either/Or (1843). However, I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered a production of Don Giovanni - even Bieito’s notorious one for ENO - where Mozart comes off as second best.

Superb Schoenberg Gurrelieder - Salonen, Philharmonia, London

Schoenberg Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall, with Esa-Pekka Salonen, demonstrating how well the Philharmonia Orchestra has absorbed Schoenberg's idiom. A blazing performance, formidably dramatic, executed with stunning assurance. Salonen has made his mark on the Philharmonia through in-depth explorations of the 20th century repertoire he loves so well.

An ambitious double-bill by the Royal College of Music

London may have been basking in the golden glow of summer sunshine this week, but things have been darkly gothic on the capital’s opera scene.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Verdi standing
10 Jul 2013

Macbeth, Blackheath Halls

Since its inception in 2006, the annual community opera at Blackheath Halls has become a favourite fixture in the local summer calendar.

Macbeth, Blackheath Halls

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Verdi standing

 

Children from nearby primary schools, avid amateur singers and actors from the local community and the instrumentalists of the Blackheath Halls Orchestra are joined by a cast of stellar professionals and young soloists from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; the standards reached are remarkably high and the experience, for performers and audience, alike richly rewarding.

Previous years have seen the community ensemble adopt the guise of Spanish bandits (Carmen, 2007), Parisian freethinkers (La Bohème, 2008), pastoral nymphs (Orpheus and Eurydice, 2009) and Russian serfs (Eugene Onegin, 2011). This year it was all witchery and warfare, as director Christopher Rolls unveiled a fast-paced, thrilling production of Verdi’s Macbeth, transferring Shakespeare’s tragic drama of self-destructive deceit and ambition to the Machiavellian manoeuvrings of a modern-day battlefield and banquet room.

This was an effective shift - and presumably shrewd financially too, cutting down considerably on the chorus’s costume costs. Similarly, electing for a ‘Gothic minimalist’ approach to the staging allowed the well-known story - played in the round - to unfold directly and without distraction. A deep darkness embraced the Hall, creating an apt sense of intimacy; the crimson velvet of the stage curtain, illuminated now and then by beams of blood-red light (Lighting Designer, Mark Howland), intimated the violent evil at the heart of the drama.

In the centre of the black-carpeted floor stood a circular raised dais (Designer Oliver Townsend), which would later become the platform for a series of murders and deaths, the visual repetitions suggesting an unbreakable pattern of betrayal and violence.

Throughout, the community chorus was in fine voice: confident, alert and well-coordinated, they had clearly been well-drilled by the director, his assistant Natalie Katsou and Musical Director, Nicholas Jenkins. If the white-draped witches initially lacked a little menace and bite, the war-worn combatants were convincingly wrecked and weary from their military exertions, and the banqueting aristocrats, celebrating their new leader’s prowess and good fortune sang with a gleam which matched their glossy black ball-gowns.

Quentin Hayes was a tense, introverted Macbeth; compact of physique, he prowled the floor first with proud majesty, then suspicious apprehension. Dark of tone, his baritone swelled impressively at moments of intense anger and despair. Miriam Murphy was his ruthless Queen, and she brought all her experience of the role to bear (she has previously sung Lady Macbeth at Opera Holland Park and the Royal Opera House), presenting a focused, controlled study of callous calculation and mental disintegration. Powerful but never strident, Murphy negotiated the wide-ranging compass with ease, displaying an even focus across the registers. At the top she was potent and incisive, conveying the persuasive confidence of Lady Macbeth; in the lower depths she revealed an appealing smoky timbre which hinted at inner emotions kept in check by a rigid self-will.

Matthew Rose was a superb Banquo, serious and sincere. Convincingly destroyed by disillusionment as Macbeth’s malicious scheme unfolded, Rose’s final aria was troubling and moving. Susanna Buckle (Lady-in-Waiting) and Simon Dyer (Doctor) provided a sensitive commentary during the somnambulant Queen’s disintegration, while Thomas Drew was a vibrant, positive Malcolm. All three have been or are students at Trinity Laban, where Rose will himself become a visiting teacher later this year.

Making up the strong cast were Charne Rochford, a clear, ringing Macduff, and Tony Brewer as King Duncan. Assaulted off-stage, this King surprised his alarmed subjects, appearing blood-soaked upon on the stage before staggering the length of the Hall to collapse in death throes upon the dais at the end of Act 1. Unfortunately, this necessitated a ‘resurrection’, and his subsequent slow walk from the auditorium was one of the few moments when the mood of sombre intensity slipped.

Nicholas Jenkins led his players through a rousing reading of the score and gave constant encouragement and clear direction to the entire cast. If the intonation wasn’t always spot on, then the summer heat and crowded venue were probably partly to blame. The small string forces were sometimes overwhelmed, but played with precision; and there were some lovely solos from clarinet, bassoon and piccolo.

This community project was launched by General Manager, Keith Murray, and is driven by the passion and invention of Rose Ballantyne. In this ‘age of austerity’, such ventures are undoubtedly a long way down funding bodies’ list of priorities, and it takes considerable energy and commitment to get a project like this off the ground, let alone to attain such tremendous standards of professionalism year upon year. For the members of the adult and children’s choruses, the experience will have been immensely edifying and invigorating, and perhaps for some, life-changing. No doubt, they are already looking forward to next year.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Macbeth: Quentin Hayes; Lady Macbeth: Miriam Murphy; Banquo: Matthew Rose; Macduff: Charne Rochford; Malcolm: Thomas Drew; Lad-in-Waiting: Susanna Buckle; Doctor: Simon Dyer; Servant: Andrew Crozier; Assassin: David Calpan; Herald: George Lusty; King Duncan: Tony Brewer; Director: Christophe Rolls; Designer: Oliver Townsend; Musical Director: Nicholas Jenkins; Halls Chorus and Orchestra. Blackheath Halls Opera, London, Tuesday, 9th 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):