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

Don Carlo in Marseille

First mounted in 2015 at the Opéra National de Bordeaux this splendid Don Carlo production took stage just now at the Opéra de Marseille with a completely different cast and conductor. This Marseille edition achieved an artistic stature rarely found hereabouts, or anywhere.

Diamanda Galás: Savagery and Opulence

Unconventional to the last, Diamanda Galás tore through her Barbican concert on Monday evening with a torrential force that shattered the inertia and passivity of the modern song recital. This was operatic activism, pure and simple. Dressed in metallic, shimmering black she moved rather stately across the stage to her piano - but there was nothing stately about what unfolded during the next 90 minutes.

Schubert Wanderer Songs - Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

A summit reached at the end of a long journey: Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau at the Wigmore Hall, as the two-year Complete Schubert Song series draws to a close. Unmistakably a high point in the whole traverse. A well-planned programme of much-loved songs performed exceptionally well, with less well known repertoire presented with intelligent flourish.

La Bohème in San Francisco

In 2008 it was the electrifying conducting of Nicola Luisotti and the famed Mimì of Angela Gheorghiu, in 2014 it was the riveting portrayals of Michael Fabbiano’s Rodolfo and Alexey Markov’s Marcelo. Now, in 2017, it is the high Italian style of Erika Grimaldi’s Mimì — and just about everything else!

A heart-rending Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera

Katie Mitchell’s 1998 Welsh National Opera production of Janáček’s first mature opera, Jenůfa, is a good choice for Grange Park Opera’s first season at its new home, West Horsley Place. Revived by Robin Tebbutt, Mitchell and designer Vicki Mortimer’s 1930s urban setting emphasises the opera’s lack of sentimentality and subjectivism, and this stark realism is further enhanced by the narrow horseshoe design of architect Wasfi Kani’s ‘Theatre in the Woods’ whose towering walls and narrow width seem to add further to the weight of oppression which constricts the lives of the inhabitants.

Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera

“I am nearer to the greatest secrets of the next world than I am to the smallest secrets of those eyes!” So despairs Golaud, enflamed by jealousy, suspicious of his mysterious wife Mélisande’s love for his half-brother Pelléas. Michael Boyd’s thought-provoking new production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at Garsington Opera certainly ponders plentiful secrets: of the conscience, of the subconscious, of the soul. But, with his designer Tom Piper, Boyd brings the opera’s dreams and mysteries into landscapes that are lit, symbolically and figuratively, with precision.

Carmen: The Grange Festival

The Grange Festival, artistic director Michael Chance, has opened at Northington Grange giving everyone a chance to see what changes have arisen from this change of festival at the old location. For our first visit we caught the opening night of Annabel Arden's new production of Bizet's Carmen on Sunday 11 June 2017. Conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the cast included Na'ama Goldman as Carmen, Leonardo Capalbo as Don Jose, Shelley Jackson as Micaela and Phillip Rhodes as Escamillo. There were also two extra characters, Aicha Kossoko and Tonderai Munyevu as Commere and Compere. Designs were by Joanna Parker (costume co-designer Ilona Karas) with video by Dick Straker, lighting by Peter Mumford. Thankfully, the opera comique version of the opera was used, with dialogue by Meredith Oakes.

Don Giovanni in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera revved up its 2011 production of Don Giovanni with a new directorial team and a new conductor. And a blue-chip cast.

Dutch National Opera puts on a spellbinding Marian Vespers

A body lies in half-shadow, surrounded by an expectant gathering. Our Father is intoned in Gregorian chant. The solo voices bloom into a chorus with a joyful flourish of brass.

Into the Wood: A Midsummer Night's Dream at Snape Maltings

‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where Oxlips and the nodding Violet grows.’ In her new production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Netia Jones takes us deep into the canopied groves of Oberon’s forest, luring us into the nocturnal embrace of the wood with a heady ‘physick’ of disorientating visual charms.

Rigoletto in San Francisco

Every once in a while a warhorse redefines itself. This happened last night in San Francisco when Rigoletto propelled itself into the ranks of the great masterpieces of opera as theater — the likes of Falstaff and Tristan and Rossini’s Otello.

My Fair Lady at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In its spring musical production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady Lyric Opera of Chicago has put together an ensemble which does ample justice to the wit and lyrical beauty of the well-known score.

Henze: Elegie für junge Liebende

Hans Werner Henze’s compositions include ten fine symphonies, various large choral and religious works, fourteen ballets (among them one, Undine, that ranks the greatest of modern times), numerous prominent film scores, and hundreds of additional works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo instruments or voice. Yet he considered himself, above all, a composer of opera.

Werther at Manitoba Opera

If opera ultimately is about bel canto, then one need not look any further than Manitoba Opera’s company premiere of Massenet’s Werther, its lushly scored portrait of an artist as a young man that also showcased a particularly strong cast of principal artists. Notably, all were also marking their own role debuts, as well as this production being the first Massenet opera staged by organization in its 44-year history.

Seattle: A seamlessly symphonic L’enfant

Seattle Symphony’s “semi-staged” presentation of L’enfant et les sortilèges was my third encounter with Ravel’s 1925 one-act “opera.” It was incomparably the most theatrical, though the least elaborate by far.

Der Rosenkavalier: Welsh National Opera in Cardiff

Olivia Fuchs' new production of Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is a co-production between Welsh National Opera and Theater Magdeburg. The production debuted in Magdeburg last year and now Welsh National Opera is presenting the production as part of its Summer season, the company's first Der Rosenkavalier since 1990 (when the cast included Rita Cullis as the Marschallin and Amanda Roocroft making her role debut as Sophie).

Don Giovanni takes to the waves at Investec Opera Holland Park

There’s no reason why Oliver Platt’s imaginative ‘concept’ for this new production of Don Giovanni at Investec Opera Holland Park shouldn’t work very well. Designer Neil Irish has reconstructed a deck of RMS Queen Mary - the Cunard-White Star Line’s flag-ship cruiser during the 1930s, that golden age of trans-Atlantic cruising. Spanning the entire width of the OHP stage, the deck is lined with port-holed cabin doors - perfect hideaways for one of the Don’s hasty romantic dalliances.

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Semele: star-dust and sparkle at Garsington Opera

To open the 2017 season at Garsington Opera, director Annilese Miskimmon and designer Nicky Shaw offer a visually beautifully new production of Handel's Semele in which comic ribaldry and celestial feuding converge and are transfigured into star-dust.

La rondine at Investec Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park's 2017 season opened on 1 June 2017 with Martin Lloyd-Evans's new production of Puccini's La Rondine, designed by takis, with lighting by Mark Howland and choreography by Steve Elias. Elizabeth Llewellyn was Magda with Matteo Lippi as Ruggero, Tereza Gevorgyan as Lisette, Stephen Aviss as Prunier and David Stephenson as Rambaldo, Matthew Kofi Waldren conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

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):