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

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

18 Sep 2013

Le nozze di Figaro, Royal Opera House

Although this is their fifth outing, Tanya McCallin’s sets for David McVicar’s Le Nozze di Figaro remain a sumptuous feast for the eyes.

W A Mozart : Le nozze di Figaro

A review by Claire Seymour

 

The polished floor, scrubbed so assiduously by the long-suffering servant upon whom the curtain rises, gleams and glistens — despite the heavy footfall of domestics bustling about their business under the watchful gaze of an imperious housekeeper. The chandeliers glint and sparkle, under Paule Constable’s beautiful lighting; there are some breath-taking moments such as the twilight transition between the final two Acts, as the interior of the chateau imperceptibly metamorphoses into an enchanted nocturnal garden. Costumes are similarly eye-catching and visually there is scarcely an anachronistic note — indeed, McCallin could probably teach the producers of Downton Abbey a thing or two about period detail.

It’s a shame, then, that the shine seems to have been wiped off the drama itself, for this was a rather lacklustre and untidy performance of an opera which should fizz and glide along effortlessly.

Things got off to a messy start, with both Luca Pisaroni (Figaro) and Lucy Crowe (Susanna) uncomfortably behind Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s beat in the opening numbers. Also, while both are experienced in their respective roles, there was a lack of frisson between them and they didn’t make for a convincing pair of nearly-weds. One might have put the hitches at the start down to first-night jitters, but matters didn’t really improve and the general ensemble and cohesion between stage and pit were ragged throughout the evening — Eliot Gardiner did not seem inclined to wait for his singers.

The absence of dramatic spark was a pervasive weakness — and a real problem in an opera dominated by action-packed ensembles. Although the servants buzzed about frenetically, the principals often seemed rather listless and lacking in dramatic authority. McCallin’s slickly sliding sets juxtapose the elegant luxury of the aristocrats’ chambers with the threadbare sparseness of the servants’ garrets, and these crossing interfaces reveal the co-dependence of the two worlds, for the opera is all about interaction — between the classes and the genders. Here, however, the intersecting dramatic threads were only loosely woven.

Pisaroni was a tall, handsome Figaro; he has a weighty voice across the range, a glossy tone, a pleasing legato and a relaxed delivery. However, while ‘Se vuol ballare’ was injected with real anger and indignation, in general the sound was rather uniform; more variety would have better conveyed the crafty quick-wittedness of the ever-resourceful valet.

Lucy Crowe matched her fiancé for fury and ferocity in Act 1; not afraid to act with her voice, she was vivacious in the recitatives. Perhaps she sometimes erred too far on the side of feistiness; in later Acts she allowed the fun and ingenuity of the guileful servant to rise to the fore, and as a consequence her voice took on a softer more charming hue. Although Crowe strayed a little sharp in the closing passages of the Act 2 Finale, her last-act serenade was poised and pure.

Christopher Maltman’s Count Almaviva is a thoroughly unpleasant autocrat, conscious of his power and not reticent in using it to intimidate his wife and servants alike. Maltman snarled through some of the Count’s more aggressive moments; his Act 3 vengeance aria was particularly coarse. But, though the Count may be a selfish cad and a bullying egoist, surely he must have some charm too — otherwise, why would the Countess forgive him?

Swedish soprano Maria Bengtsson seemed somewhat nervous at the start of ‘Porgi amor’ — the first lines of the aria were noticeably lacking in consonants; perhaps she felt overly exposed by the light, crisp textures conjured by Eliot Gardiner. She did warm up vocally though and by the end of Act 2 found a richer, fuller sound; ‘Dove sono’ was characterised by a joyful glow, especially at the top, and Bengtsson demonstrated a tender, alluring piano. But, dramatically she remained slightly diffident which diminished the impact of the recitatives, most noticeably in the marvellously convoluted Finale to Act 2.

Renata Pokupić was credibly pubescent in mannerism, but her Cherubino coped surprisingly coolly with the trials and tribulations of love — where was the teenage torment, the agony of pubescent passion? Pokupić, too, began a little hesitantly in ‘Non so più’, but she subsequently revealed a well-shaped, sweet-toned mezzo lyricism and ‘Voi che sapete’ deserved its warm applause.

Helene Schneiderman gave a superb performance as Marcellina, striking just the right balance between comedy and caricature, and between malice — spitefully kicking over Susanna’s basket of clean washing —and mischief, playfully cavorting with Bartolo on Figaro’s bed.

Carlos Chausson made heavy work of Bartolo’s ‘La vendetta’, which was somewhat ponderous and humourless — if you can hear the individual words in the patter, it’s too slow. As the oleaginous music-master, Don Basilio, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt sang with an apt dash of derision but did not make the most of the opportunities for preening narcissism. Alasdair Elliott and Lynton Black were solid as Don Curzio and Antonio respectively. Mary Bevan, making her Royal Opera House debut, was a fine, technically assured Barbarina.

Things crackled along in the pit, with Eliot Gardiner keeping the tempos brisk and the textures crisp, but even this couldn’t overcome the muting effect of — excepting the aggression of Maltman’s brutal Count — the low-key dramatic interplay on stage. This revival comes just eighteenth months since the last staging in spring 2012; and the production will be seen again in May next year. Given that there were a fair number of empty seats at this opening night, one wonders whether this Figaro needs a bit of a rest, in order to revive its comic energy and effervescence.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Figaro, Luca Pisaroni; Susanna, Lucy Crowe; Cherubino, Renata Pokupić; Count Almaviva, Christopher Maltman; Countess Almaviva, Maria Bengtsson; Bartolo, Carlos Chausson; Marcellina, Helene Schneiderman; Don Basilio, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt; Don Curzio, Alasdair Elliott, Antonio; Lynton Black; Barbarina, Mary Bevan; David McVicar, director; Tanya McCallin, designer; Paule Constable, lighting designer; Leah Hausman, movement director; John Eliot Gardiner, conductor; Royal Opera House Chorus; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Monday 16th September 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):