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

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

Composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell have gifted Opera Philadelphia (and by extension, the world) with a crackling and melodious new stage piece, Elizabeth Cree.

Mansfield Park at The Grange

In her 200th anniversary year, in the county of her birth and in which she spent much of her life, and two days after she became the first female writer to feature on a banknote - the new polymer £10 note - Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park made a timely appearance, in operatic form, at The Grange in Hampshire.

Elektra in San Francisco

Among the myriad of artistic innovation during the Kurt Herbert Adler era at San Francisco Opera was the expansion of the War Memorial Opera House pit. Thus there could be 100 players in the pit for this current edition of Strauss’ beloved opera, Elektra!

Turandot in San Francisco

Mega famous L.A. artist David Hockney is no stranger at San Francisco Opera. Of his six designs for opera only the Met’s Parade and Covent Garden’s Die Frau ohne Schatten have not found their way onto the War Memorial stage.

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Robin Tritschler and Julius Drake open
Wigmore Hall's 2017/18 season

It must be a Director’s nightmare. After all the months of planning, co-ordinating and facilitating, you are approaching the opening night of a new concert season, at which one of the world’s leading baritones is due to perform, accompanied by a pianist who is one of the world’s leading chamber musicians. And, then, appendicitis strikes. You have 24 hours to find a replacement vocal soloist or else the expectant patrons will be disappointed.

The Opera Box at the Brunel Museum

The courtly palace may have been opera’s first home but nowadays it gets out and about, popping up in tram-sheds, car-parks, night-clubs, on the beach, even under canal bridges. So, I wasn’t that surprised to find myself following The Opera Box down the shaft of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Thames Tunnel at Rotherhithe for a double bill which brought together the gothic and the farcical.

Proms at Wiltons: Eight Songs for a Mad King

It’s hard to imagine that Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic monologue, Eight Songs for a Mad King, can bear, or needs, any further contextualisation or intensification, so traumatic is its depiction - part public history, part private drama - of the descent into madness of King George III. It is a painful exposure of the fracture which separates the Sovereign King from the human mortal.

Prokofiev: Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution: Gergiev, Mariinsky

Sergei Prokofiev's Cantata for the Twentieth Anniversary of the October Revolution, Op 74, with Valery Gergiev conducting the Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus. One Day That Shook the World to borrow the subtitle from Sergei Eisenstein's epic film October : Ten Days that Shook the World.

A Prom of Transformation and Transcendence: Renée Fleming and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

This Prom was all about places: geographical, physical, pictorial, poetic, psychological. And, as we journeyed through these landscapes of the mind, there was plenty of reminiscence and nostalgia too, not least in Samuel Barber’s depiction of early twentieth-century Tennessee - Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

The Queen's Lace Handkerchief: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

Billed as the ‘First British Performance’ - though it had had a prior, quasi-private outing at the Roxburgh Theatre, Stowe in July - Opera della Luna’s production of Johann Strauss Jnr’s The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief (Das Spitzentuch der Königin) at Wilton’s Music Hall began to sound pretty familiar half-way through the overture (which was played with spark and elegance by conductor Toby Purser’s twelve-piece orchestra).

Glyndebourne perform La clemenza di Tito at the Proms

The advantage of Glyndebourne Opera’s performances at the BBC Proms is that they give us a chance to concentrate on the music making. And there was plenty of high-quality music-making on offer at the Royal Albert Hall on Monday 28 August 2017 when Glyndebourne Opera performed Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito.

Rossini’s Torvaldo e Dorliska in Pesaro

The rare and somewhat interesting Rossini! Torvaldo e Dorliska (1815) comes just after Elisabetta, Regina di Ingleterra (the first of his nineteen operas for Naples) — a huge success, and just before Il barbiere di Siviglia in Rome — a failure.

Jakub Hrůša : Bohemian Reformation Prom

At Prom 56, Jakub Hrůša conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme on the theme of the Hussite Wars and their place in Bohemian culture showing how the Hussite hymn was incorporated into music by Smetana, Martinů, Dvořák, Janáček and Josef Suk.

Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival

South African actor, artist, multimedia artist, film and theater, now opera director William Kentridge has taken the world by storm over the past few years. In my experience The Magic Flute in Brussels, The Return of Ulysses (puppets) in San Francisco, The Nose in Aix, Lulu at the Met, Die Winterreise and his “One Man Show” in Aix. And now Wozzeck at the Salzburg Festival.

Lear at the Salzburg Festival

Undaunted by the bloody majesty of this 1606 Shakespeare tragedy, German composer Aribert Reimann embraced the challenge back in the cold-war era (1970’s). Its Munich premiere was in 1978, a Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production that then traveled to San Francisco in 1981. Of the Munich cast only Helga Dernesch as Goneril appeared in San Francisco.

Ariodante at the Salzburg Ferstival

From time to time felicitous circumstances create impromptu masterpieces, like the Salzburg 2017 Whitsun Festival production of Handel's Ariodante that has continued just now into the 2017 summer festival.

Glimmerglass Being Judgmental

There was a sense of event about the closing performance of Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsberg for days in advance.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

19 Dec 2013

Carmen, Royal Opera

Francesco Zambello’s 2006 Carmen, here revived for the sixth time, seems to have something of an identity crisis: sumptuous spectacle or gritty drama?

Visually, a vibrant palette and slick choreography are the order of the day. The warm hues of designer Tanya McCallin’s looming sets complement the concentrated ochres and rusts of the Sevillians’ attire; in the bright sunlit square (lighting design, Paule Constable), an orange tree and a water conduit add a dash of ‘realism’. Wealthy passers-by stroll nonchalantly; children skip and prance, their comings and goings overseen by the watchful military guard. The choral numbers are meticulously manoeuvred; there is scarcely an urchin’s footstep or whirling parasol that is out of place. It is all very pretty and eye-pleasing, but the overall effect is rather soulless; the participants seem to perform for us, rather than engage with each other.

The same is true of the flamenco dancing in Act 2: the fancy footwork and showmanship (choreographer, Arthur Pita, revived by Sirena Tocco) remind one of a Christmas Nutcracker, designed to please the eyes and ears, without overly troubling the heart and mind.

Given the foregrounding of these highly managed ensemble routines, the omission of the Act 4 chorus at opening of last act is both surprising and a disappointment. And, there are some redundant ‘extras’: if the donkey in Act 1 looked perplexed as to its purpose, the decision to introduce Escamillo on horseback is even more unfathomable. McCallin’s high walls have swung inwards to create the cramped and darkened locale of Lillas Pastia’s inn; there is hardly room to swing the proverbial cat, let alone ride a horse.

Fortunately, Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili, in the title role, offered much recompense. Passionate and committed, Rachvelishvili’s voice is huge, but also mellow and luxurious — although it is stronger at the bottom than the top. She used the sultry, exotic colours of her lower register to dominate the stage. Physically too she emphasised Carmen’s earthy sexuality, acting with untamed abandon, dismissive of moral boundaries, ruthlessly targetting her prey. I’m not sure that we needed to see quite so much leg, or quite so often. Rachvelishvili seemed to spend much of the opera with her skirt hitched up to her hips, legs astride the hapless males who strayed into her clutches; indeed, even when she promised to perform a special dance for Don José, in his honour, this Carmen promptly lay down and bared her flesh. The unalloyed sluttishness was rather overdone and diminished rather than increased her allure.

Carmen rather overwhelmed her José, Robert Alagna, in the first two acts; this gypsy is no ‘victim’ of patriarchal and racial oppression, simply a ‘bad girl’ who destroys her man. Alagna sang with his customary projection — indeed, a little less ‘con belto’ would have been nice at times — but the intonation was disappointingly inconsistent — most lamentably at the pianissimo close of his Act 2 Flower Aria, where Alagna’s tender cadence was marred by flat pitch. The acting was rather perfunctory to begin with but in Act 4 Alagna did begin to convey Don José’s torment, credibly portraying the complexity of the pitiable soldier’s divided affections and self-rebuke.

There was little rapport between Verónica Cangemi’s Micaëla and José: in the opening act, the reunited childhood friends sang side-by-side, clutching hands and facing the audience — again, singing to us, rather than each other. José’s perfunctory kiss — blink and you’ll miss it — suggested he mind was occupied with nostalgic thoughts of his much-missed mother rather than with amorous inclinations. The Argentinian Cangemi struggled technically — the top was insecure and there was some vocal roughness, but ‘Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante’ communicated sincere feeling.

Italian bass-baritone Vito Priante sang well enough, but didn’t make much impact dramatically as Escamillo. A few poses à la toreador astride the table-top do not alone fashion a hero of the bull-ring.

In the secondary roles, baritone Ashley Riches (Moralès) and French bass Nicolas Courjal (Zuniga) made a stronger impression; the latter evinced the masculine power and authoritative presence that both Alagna and Priante at times lacked. Irish mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly (like Riches, a Jette Parker Young Artist) was strong as Mercédès, and she was neatly complemented by Simona Mihai’s bawdy Frasquita.

The ROH Orchestra sounded ragged at times; Daniel Oren’s conducting was somewhat unpredictable — the overture began with breakneck swiftness, before trailing off dispiritingly; the Habanera was sleepily sluggish. In particular, the dancers in the second act seemed disconcerted by the irregular tempo, but throughout stage-to-pit co-ordination was weak. There was some fine individual instrumental playing but the parts didn’t add up to an accomplished whole.

There are several changes of cast to come in this production run, which continues until 9th January, including two more acclaimed Carmens: Anna Caterina Antonacci and Christine Rice. They will have a challenge to match the uninhibited, almost reckless, abandon of Rachvelishvili’s blazing intensity.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Carmen, Anita Rachvelishvili; Don José, Roberto Alagna; Escamillo, Vito Priante; Micaëla, Verónica Cangemi; Frasquita, Simona Mihai; Mercédès, Rachel Kelly; Le Dancaïre,Adrian Clarke; Le Remendado, Stuart Patterson; Zuniga, Nicolas Courjal; Moralès, Ashley Riches; Director, Francesca Zambello; Revival director, Duncan Macfarland; Conductor, Daniel Oren; Designs, Tanya McCallin; Lighting design, Paule Constable; Choreography, Arthur Pita; Revival choreographer, Sirena Tocco; Fight director, Mike Loades; Revival fight director, Natalie Dakin; Royal Opera Chorus; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Monday 16th December 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):