Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford and Roberto Frontali as Falstaff. [Photo by Robert Millard]
02 Dec 2013

Fat Knight in Los Angeles

In its ongoing celebration of Verdi’s centennial year, the Los Angeles Opera offered a new production of Falstaff, the composer’s last and most brilliant opera — brilliant in every scintillating, sparkling sense of the word.

Fat Knight in Los Angeles

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford and Roberto Frontali as Falstaff

Photos by Robert Millard

 

Verdi, who composed more than twenty operatic tragedies and was a life long student of Shakespeare’s plays (witness his powerful Macbeth and heart wrenching Otello) had previously written only one comedy, Il Giorno di Regno (King for a Day). He wrote it when he was 27, at the very outset of his career, but sadly, immediately after the death of his young wife and infant children, and the work failed. Fifty years passed before he undertook this second comedy. He was 80 when Falstaff opened on February 9th 1893 at La Scala in Milan.

Shakespeare’s fictional Sir John Falstaff, a man bloated in body and spirit, and now immortal, is one of literature’s most renowned comic inventions. He appears in three of Shakespeare’s plays — first, in the histories; Henry IV, part 1 and Henry IV part 2, and later, in the comic Merry Wives of Windsor, which is devoted to his exploits alone. In the Henry plays Falstaff is deceitful, funny, and very smart. As the central character of The Merry Wives of Windsor, he is deceitful, absurd, and the butt of ridicule. The eminent 18th century scholar, Samuel Johnson found “nothing in [Falstaff] that can be esteemed.”. The eminent modern scholar Harold Bloom, considers the early Falstaff one of Shakespeare’s most intelligent characters.

FLS5040.gifLeft to right: Ronnita Nicole Miller as Mistress Quickly, Erica Brookhyser as Meg Page; Ekaterina Sadovnikova as Nannetta; Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford.

Composers Antonio Salieri, Michael Balfe and Otto Nicolai, based operatic works on the comically absurd Falstaff of the Merry Wives . British composers, Sir Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst, and Vaughan Williams emphasized the historical British past in their telling of the fat knight’s adventures. Williams’ score contains British folks songs including “Greensleeves.” Verdi and Boito created a perfectly blended masterpiece — a comic opera set in oak timbered England, that sounds and plays like a manic French farce.

The story: Falstaff sets out to woo two wealthy women — his motives are simple: lust and financial gain. Sad for him, it turns out the women know each other and set out to trick him. They set a trap and succeed in making a fool of him. In fact, they succeed more than once — which should tell you something about Falstaff’s personality. However, there is a happy ending, and the would-be seducer is invited to a feast with the women and their families, including the husband he intended to cuckold.

Falstaff requires an extraordinary cast. Verdi had written a new and different kind of opera, an opera whose music is a perpetual motion of merry deceits. In planning its premiere he turned down singers, even renowned singers, “who express feeling and action by falling asleep on the notes.” This new opera had to be performed by artists who "articulate" and “sing with brio.”

Los Angeles Opera gets high marks for presenting an excellent cast. Baritone Roberto Frontali, properly plumped up as Falstaff, sang with attention to the lyric, as well as humorous aspects of the Falstaff’s music, and with clear articulation. Baritone Marco Caria, who was debuting with the company as the Ford, delivered a passionate rendition of the humorous monologue on women. Robert Brubaker was properly humorous in the thankless tenor role of Dr Caius. Argentine tenor, Juan Francisco Gatell, was a handsome, lithe, but light voiced Fenton in his company debut. Bardolph (Rodell Rosel) and Pistol (Valentin Anikin) were amusingly deceitful rogues.

FLS5059.gifLeft to right: Juan Francisco Gatell as Fenton, Rodell Rosel as Bardolph, Marco Caria as Ford, Valentin Anikin as Pistol and Robert Brubaker as Dr. Caius

Soprano Carmen Giannattasio and mezzo-soprano Erica Brookhyser, as Alice and Meg respectively, were charming schemers. Ekaterina Sadovnikova, a pert soprano, made the snatches of Nannetta’s love music, and her “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” gleam. Ronnita Nicole Miller was properly conspiratorial and panderous as Mistress Quickly. However her mezzo soprano voice lacked the darkness “to function” as Verdi intended, “as the double bass in the women’s quartets”. And speaking of quartets, the extremely difficult ensemble pieces in this opera — the male and female octet and the last glorious fugue, incorporating the entire cast and chorus, were sharp, crisp and joyous.

For this production the opera company engaged British director, Lee Blakely and designer, Adrian Linford. Before the performance began and as scene changes were required, a drop down curtain containing various Shakespearean excerpts referring to Falstaff were a thoughtful touch, which added a sense depth, and I think helped keep audience anchored to the background of the tale. The settings were traditionally, but skimpily, Elizabethan. I found the trap door entrance and exit in the floor of Falstaff’s first act quarters, perhaps to offer the gratuitous information that the impoverished rogue was living an attic, unnecessary and distracting. Clearly, Falstaff couldn’t get through that door. Unfortunately the setting and direction of the last act, the dramatic and musical climax of the opera did not match the magic of its music. The music and libretto call for a sort of midsummer night’s fairy land setting. Shakespeare’s text calls on “fairies”and “elves” to pinch, tease and shake the villainous Falstaff. The words are even more amusing in Boito’s Italian, “pizzica, pizzica, stuzzica, spizzica, spizzica.” Unfortunately, the stage was shallow and essentially bare except for the required oak tree. Falstaff ’s punishment, set front and center on the foreshortened stage with the chorus lined up behind him, and with only a few “un-elfish” and “un-fairy” like creatures “attacking” him, was heavy handed and unconvincing.

Ah, but under James Conlon’s baton, the conducting of the act, in fact, of the entire opera was all “pizzica, stuzzica,” touch and go, light, airy, bouncy and merry as it should be.

Estelle Gilson


Cast and production information:

Dr. Caius: Robert Brubaker; Sir John Falstaff: Roberto Frontali; Bardolph: Rodell Rosel; Pistol: Valentin Anikin; Meg Page: Erica Brookhyser; Alice Ford: Carmen Giannattasio; Mistressuickly: Ronnita Nicole Miller; Nannetta: Ekaterina Sadovnikova; Fenton: Juan Francisco Gatell; Ford: Marco Caria. Conductor: James Conlon. Director: Lee Blakeley. Scenic and Costume Designer: Adrian Linford. Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher. Chorus Master: Grant Gershon.

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):