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

Mahler Songs : Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from Giasone [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]
07 Oct 2013

Giasone, ETO

Once again, one can only applaud English Touring Opera’s sense of adventure — and commitment. Its autumn season comprises three Venetian operas: L’incoronazione di Poppea, Giasone, and Agrippina, all in translation.

Giasone, ETO

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Scene from Giasone [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]

 

Francesco Cavalli’s Giasone, or Jason, offered perhaps the most enticing prospect: an opera whose historical importance can hardly be gainsaid, and yet which we rarely have chance to hear. Giasone came more or less in the middle of the astonishing period from 1639 to 1666, in which Cavalli composed no fewer than forty operas. This drama musicale to a libretto by the Florentine poet, Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, their only such collaboration, was the tenth and the most popular of Cavalli’s stage works, indeed the most frequently performed of all seventeenth-century operas. Ellen Rosand’s New Grove entry lists, following the first, 1649 carnival performance at Venice’s Teatro San Cassione, possible performances in Milan as soon as 1649 and 1650 and in Lucca in 1650; moreover, published libretti attest to revivals, as Rosand’s list continues, in 1650 (Florence), 1651 (Bologna), 1652 (Florence), 1655 (Piacenza), 1658 (Vicenza), 1659 (Ferrara and Viterbo), 1660 (Milan and Velletri), 1661 (Naples), 1663 (Perugia), 1665 (Ancona), 1666 (Brescia), 1667 (Naples), 1671 (Rome, as Il novello Giasone, edited by Stradella), 1672 (Naples), 1673 (Bologna), 1676 (Rome, again as Il novello Giasone), 1678 (Reggio), 1685 (Genoa, as Il trionfo d’Amor delle vendette) and 1690 (Brescia, as Medea in Colco). Given that the history of seventeenth-century opera is often far more the history of libretti than music, a surprisingly large number of those performances have bequeathed scores to us. It may even have reached Vienna, and though we know nothing of this particular opera having reached English shores, a score of Cavalli’s Erismena in English translation suggests some degree of knowledge of the Venetian master’s œuvre. Such, at any rate, was the fame of Giasone, that it also became a rare example of an opera inspiring a play rather than the other way around.

ETO’s production is severely cut, lasting just over two hours (including an interval), offering slightly less than half of the work, if one judges by the duration (3 hours, 55 minutes) of the recording by René Jacobs (so far as I am aware the only such recording). There were times when I could not help but wonder how much we might have benefited from hearing more, not simply in musical terms, but also in terms of progression of the plot and development of characters. By the same token, however, dramatic continuity was for the most part admirably maintained; one experienced far more than a mere ‘taste’. We should also do well to remind ourselves that the concept of the musical work with respect to the seventeenth century is unstable and problematical. We are not dealing with Tristan und Isolde here. One loses something in translation, too, no doubt, but Ronald Eyre’s version proves admirable: rich in vocabulary, as Anthony Hose’s programme appreciation noted, and in wit.

Such would go for nothing, of course, without performances to match. I cannot deny my preference for modern instruments. However, if I may try to leave that upon one side, not least in light of the sad impossibility of today hearing seventeenth-century-repertoire so performed, the Old Street Band offered a generally spirited account, intermittent sourness in the strings notwithstanding. Continuo playing was for the most part colourful without veering into exhibitionism, Joseph McHardy’s direction of ensemble from the harpsichord well-paced and alert both to shifts and continuity in register — that ever-fascinating relationship between aria, recitative, and what comes in between. As Raymond Leppard once put it, Cavalli, ‘of all his contemporaries, never lost sight of the early ideals of recitative as a form of intensely heightened speech which, more than the aria, formed the basis for operatic effectiveness. And at his best, although in a different way from Monteverdi, his arias and ariosos grow out of and merge into the recitative-like jewels set in a crown, but not separate from it.’ And in Rosand’s words, this time in the programme, the arias of Giasone, ‘are specifically justified by the dramatic circumstances: rather than undermining verisimilitude, they promote it.’Both of those observations fitted very well with my experience in the theatre, no mean feat.

The singers must also take a great deal of credit for that. Clint van der Linde pulled off very well the tricky task of portraying a compromised, even at times weak, character without vocal compromise or weakness. Indeed, his countertenor Giasone offered a fascinating blend of vocal strength and character fragility. Hannah Pedley and Catrine Kirkman proved just as successful as his twin loves, Medea and Isifile: credible characters of flesh and blood, emotionally as well as dramatically convincing. The travesty role — always popular in Venetian opera of this time — of Delfa offered another opportunity for a countertenor to shine, in this case Michal Czerniawski. Piotr Lempa displayed to good effect his deep bass as Oreste, though some of his vowels went a little awry. Peter Aisher, a Royal College of Music student, was a late replacement for an ailing Stuart Hancock as Apollo and Demo; he took a little time to get into his stride, the Prologue being somewhat barked, but as time went on, showed considerable musical and theatrical ability.

Ted Huffman’s production mostly lets the action speak for itself. I was not quite convinced by the mishmash of styles in terms of designs, whilst appreciating his aim ‘to create a world that is neither classical nor contemporary, but rater an invented world, constructed from recognisable historical elements’. Abstraction might have worked better in that case, for inevitably one begins to wonder why someone is dressed in clothes of a certain period and someone else in those of another. Yet such matters do not really distract, and the conversion of Samal Blak’s set for the first act into that for the second proves both economical and dramatically effective. The decay of Lemnos during the absence of the ‘hero’ and the waiting of his wife is instantly, powerfully conveyed. Stage direction is for the most part keenly observed, the balance between comedy and darker emotion well handled. Documentation is excellent too, the programme offering a general essay by Guy Dammann, as well as individual pieces on the three operas of the season.

ETO’s autumn tour takes in London, Rochester, Snape, Malvern, Crediton, Bath, Harrogate, Durham, Newcastle, Buxton, Sheffield, Warwick, Cambridge, and Exeter. Click here for details.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Giasone: Clint van der Linde; Medea: Hannah Pedley; Isifile: Catrine Kirkman; Ercole: Andrew Slater; Apollo/Demo: Peter Aisher; Deifa: Michal Czerniawski; Egeo: John-Colyn Gyeantey; Oreste: Piotr Lempa. Director: Ted Huffman; Samal Blak (designs); Ace McCarron (lighting). Old Street Band/Joseph McHardy (conductor). Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London, Friday 4 October 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):