Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

San Diego Opera presents Adams’ Riveting Nixon in China

Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.

Ars Minerva presents Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra in San Francisco

It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.

An Ideal Cast in Chicago’s Tannhäuser

Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.

Madame Butterfly, Royal Opera

Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.

Tosca in Marseille

Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.

Poetry beyond words — Nash Ensemble, Wigmore Hall

The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.

Arizona Opera Presents Magritte Style Magic Flute

On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.

Henry Purcell: A Retrospective

There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.

Die Meistersinger and The Indian Queen
at the ENO

It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.

Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland, Barbican, London

Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?

Welsh National Opera: The Magic Flute and Hansel and Gretel

Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.

Double bill at Guildhall

Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.

LA Opera: Barber of Seville

Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Wigmore Hall

Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me … I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.

Eine florentinische Tragödie and I pagliacci in Monte-Carlo

An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.

Carmen, Pacific Symphony

On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO

Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.

San Diego Opera presents an excellent Don Giovanni

On Friday February 20, 2015, San Diego Opera presented Mozart’s Don Giovanni in a production by Nicholas Muni originally seen at Cincinnati Opera.

Tosca at Chicago Lyric

In a production first seen in Houston several years ago, and now revised by its director John Caird, Puccini’s Tosca has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago with two casts, partially different, scheduled into March of the present season.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mary Bevan as Galatea [Photo by Rob Coles]
30 Jul 2013

Something Rotten in the State of Arcady?

One can only imagine the small-ad: “exquisite small italianate water garden wishes to meet pastoral “little opera” in intimate setting, small cast and orchestra ideal, with music of delightful poise and accessibility.

Something Rotten in the State of Arcady?

A review by Sue Loder

Above: Mary Bevan as Galatea

Photos by Rob Coles

 

Nymphs and shepherds preferred. Giants only by invitation”. However, as with small ads, you don’t always get what you expect.........of which more anon.

The second surprise about Iford Arts’ current sell-out run of Handel’s Acis & Galatea is that they haven’t presented it since way back in the year 2000 - and if ever a place called out for a certain production it is the pastoral paradise that is Iford Manor with its garden designed by Peto and mock-classical cloister micro-theatre. Handel showed early his skills at word-painting, even in the “foreign” language of English, and the elegantly melodic lines must have equally perfectly suited the piece’s first performance at Cannons, Edgware, the country home of James Brydges, later 1st Duke of Chandos, for whom he wrote the music for Acis in the year 1717-18.

Much has been written about the origins of the libretto (John Gay, with contributions by Alexander Pope and others) and how in fact the story is a mix of myth and fabrication which has caught the public’s imagination down through the centuries. No other Handel opera has been so constantly on the stage and in the repertory. In his lifetime alone it is recorded that Acis was performed no less than fifty times - an amazing number for those days. Of course the length (a modest 90 minutes or so), small forces required (4 or 5 soloists depending on version, with equally small chorus), and little in the way of big scene-changes might have contributed to this longevity and popularity but I doubt they were the deciding factors. The sheer beauty of Handel’s melting melodies and hummable tunes must be of equal importance as the many tuneful arias follow fast upon each other with little in the way of recitative.

The Sunday night performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company and soloists certainly did not disappoint, even if the English weather kept everyone on their toes - after all, bubbling brooks need to be replenished even in Arcady and the River Frome is close by a garden full of its own tumbling waters. As before here, the tiny performance space brought out the best in terms of creativity and imagination on the part of director Pia Furtado and designer Georgia Lowe and this is where the evening took an unexpected turn: yes, there were elegant costumes suggesting 18th century pastoral fun and games with silk stockings, masks and frock coats - but why does sensible, pragmatic Damon (bit of kill-joy usually) have his faced glittered like a New Romantic of the 1980s? And why is he the only one wearing bright red among a throng of cream and white? And why is one of the elegantly dressed ladies of the chorus obviously a man in drag? And why does Galatea, our demi-goddess water sprite, appear caged like a pole dancer in a sleazy “gentlemen’s” club? As the story of poor Acis’ doomed love progresses we realise that this production isn’t going to give us that nice warm cuddly feeling come the end that we might expect. No, Furtado’s vision is very different and refreshingly so. In this version of Arcady there’s something rather nasty lurking in the river bank and it isn’t just that wicked lustful giant Polythemus; no, it’s all choreographed like a sex-show in the aforementioned club and although poor helpless Galatea manages to transform the dead Acis into a little stream, that’s about all she can do - for in the final scene she is returned to her gilded cage to be ogled and pawed over once again. Is this a post-feminist statement? Or just a witty imaginative take on a very old story? Come the end, after applause long and loud for the excellent cast and musicians, each member of the audience seemed to have a different view and maybe that’s exactly what was intended.

Ben Hulett as Acis, Chris Turner as Damon.gifBen Hulett as Acis and Chris Turner as Damon

Galatea was sung by the excellent young soprano Mary Bevan who used her agile voice with confidence and colour, and indeed some powerful emotion such as in “must I my Acis still bemoan....” whilst nimbly leaping in and out of wells, in various degrees of undress. If we missed some of the more technical demands which Handel places on his soprano - the trills in her opening aria “Hush, ye pretty warbling quire” - were somewhat lacking, this talented young performer made up for it with affecting characterisation and smooth production.

Tenor Ben Hulett is another young British singer on the way up and the role of Acis certainly showed off his range with some limpidly elegant singing at the top of his voice which nailed the essence of Handel’s writing for this most sympathetic of characters. His “Love in her eyes sits playing” was a bewitching moment, but the darker elements of his voice also worked well in the second half. Like Bevan, he is due to make his debut at the Royal Opera House soon and with singing like this, he should make a real impact in the lighter repertory.

Our not-so-friendly giant Polythemus was beautifully cast in the form of bass Lukas Jakobski whose impressive frame of six feet plus several inches and shaven head brought the required dramatic impact onto the scene. He nicely caught the essence of giant-ness with a rolling wide-spread gait and slowed-down body movements whilst his rich bass coped nimbly with the faster passages such as that old favourite of Victorian parlours “O ruddier than the cherry”.

Last but not least of the soloists was our slightly surprising Damon, ably sung by tenor Christopher Turner with some interesting stage business not usually associated with this role - one got the idea that he was perhaps some kind of Master of Ceremonies in this over-heated erotic world of myth and legend, rather than just the voice of reason. The idea certainly worked well and suggested an interesting alternative structure for the drama. His “Consider, fond shepherd” was particularly well-sung and in its inflections suggested more than an entirely altruistic motive.

The chorus and dancers, seven in total, made excellent use of the tiny space available and only occasionally seemed to overwhelm the soloists physically - there’s a finite limit at Iford as to how many bodies can work effectively in that cloister. They all worked and sang well as a company, coping efficiently with the fast costume changes imposed on poor Galatea (mainly stripping off her clothes it seemed), nipping in and out of the exits as required and only occasionally treading on any feet incautiously left out by patrons.

Christian Curnyn has had a good year with award-winning recordings, and his Early Opera Company goes from strength to strength both here and abroad with composers as varied as Monteverdi, Mozart, Britten, Cavalli and of course Handel. Working with a force so much smaller than normal here at Iford must be both a challenge and a delight, and it shows. Handel’s music is second nature of course to this band but Curnyn never lets that familiarity roll over into routine - lively and detailed playing is expected and achieved.

This was certainly an Acis & Galatea to remember and as the gardens emptied, and lights dimmed in the little cloister, the only sound left was that of the “gentle murm’ring stream” below, winding through the pastures of Wiltshire. And maybe the sound of a weeping water-sprite, back again in her gilded cage.

Sue Loder


G.F. Handel: Acis & Galatea. A New Iford Festival Opera Production. Libretto: John Gay. Sung in English. Iford Festival Opera, England. July 28th 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):