Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

La Bohème, Manitoba

Manitoba Opera’s first production in nine years of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème still stirs the heart and inspires tears with its tragic tale of bohemian artists living — and loving — in 1840s Paris.

Arizona Opera Presents Don Pasquale in Tucson

On April 12, 2014, Arizona Opera opened its series of performances of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in Tucson. Chuck Hudson’s production of this opera combined Commedia dell’arte with Hollywood movie history.

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

L-R:  Nicholas Sharratt (Paris), Grant Doyle (Hector), Roderick Earle (Priam), Simon Gfeller (Chorus), Johnny Herford (Chorus), Adrian Dwyer (Hermes), Charne Rochford (Achilles), Andrew Slater (Old Man). [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera]
20 Feb 2014

Tippett’s King Priam

Michael Tippett’s opera King Priam premiered as part of the same arts festival in Coventry for which Britten’s War Requiem was written and in fact the two works have something in common, dealing with the issues of war and its consequences.

Tippett’s King Priam

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: L-R: Nicholas Sharratt (Paris), Grant Doyle (Hector), Roderick Earle (Priam), Simon Gfeller (Chorus), Johnny Herford (Chorus), Adrian Dwyer (Hermes), Charne Rochford (Achilles) and Andrew Slater (Old Man).

Photos © Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera

 

But Tippett’s powerfully gritty work has failed to find the place in the repertoire that it deserves, so it was welcome news that English Touring Opera were opening their Spring tour with James Conway’s new production of the opera. I attended the opening performance on 13 February 2014 at Covent Garden’s Linbury Studio Theatre. Michael Rosewell conducted a new reduced orchestration by Iain Farrington, James Conway directed with designs by Anna Fleischle. Roderick Earle sang King Priam with Laure Meloy as Hecuba, Grant Doyle as Hector, Camilla Roberts as Andromache, Nicholas Sharratt as Paris, Niamh Kelly as Helen, Charne Rochford as Achilles, Adrian Dwyer as Hermes and a cast including Andrew Slater, Clarissa Meek, Stuart Haycock, Johnny Herford, Henry Manning and Piotr Lempa.

The size of the cast, perhaps, gives a hint as to why the opera is not revived more often. Covent Garden last performed it in 1985 (when the original Sam Wanamaker production was revived and taken to the Herod Atticus Theatre in Athens). Opera North’s 1991 production was given by ENO in 1991, the last time the opera was staged in London, though we had a concert performance at the Proms in 2003.

ETO_KingPriam_8094.gif [Photo © Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera]Niamh Kelly (Helen)

Anna Fleischle’s set was a single unit concrete bunker-like structure which gave flexibility to the acting area by including a high level walk way at the back. The centre of the stage was taken by a small podium with a large metallic structure which double as a number of things. The playing space was highly effectively organised, but seemed to lack the space which Tippett’s opera demands. Partly this was because of the decision to put the orchestra on-stage behind the singers and hidden by a scrim. This decision was taken partly because of worries about balance problems at the Linbury Theatre (I understand for the remainder of the tour the orchestra will be in the pit), but it did give the overall production a claustrophobic feel. James Conway seems to have deliberately played this up, with the chorus often crowding onto the stage.

The decision to put the orchestra behind the singers was, I think, a fatal one. Far too often the bodies of the singers muffled the orchestra. The brass was rarely thrilling; the fanfares at the opening sounded too distant and the war music for Achilles at the end of Act two simply did not register strongly enough — it certainly wasn’t threatening and the brass was at times overwhelmed by the chorus. There is a lot of fine detail in Tippett’s score, each major character is doubled by a solo instrument and whilst these were played effectively some of the detail was blunted.

ETO_KingPriam_0512.gif [Photo © Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera]Nicholas Sharratt (Paris), Grant Doyle (Hector) and Roderick Earle (Priam)

Conway and Fleischle seemed to take similar mis-steps with the costumes. I can understand the wish to avoid classical Greek costumes. Fleischle seems to have combined elements of Middle-Eastern dress, notably the rich fabrics with other more tribal elements. Feathers played a big part in the look of the production, with lots used in head-dresses as well as in collars and cloaks. Individual pieces were stunning, and the work which went into the head-dresses for the three goddesses (Hera, Athene and Helen) in the judgement scene were individually brilliant. But the overall effect was fussy and busy, and I particularly disliked the animal skull based crowns for Priam and Hecuba. Conway and Fleischle seemed to have explicitly reacted against the clean lines of Tippett’s score, and produced something deliberately at odds with it. Whereas Conway’s admirable productions of Handel operas are stripped down clean lines, allowing the music to speak, here he and Fleischle seemed to be doing their best to compete.

Within these confines there were some stunning performances from the singers. Whilst Conway’s production does not get the opera quite right, there was enough to enjoy and react positively when there were so many fine individual performances.

Roderick Earle gave a towering performance as Priam. Tippett’s vocal writing in the opera is mainly declamatory and I felt that Earle took time to settle, but Tippett gives the character a series of strong monologues which help to clarify things. The scene when Priam goes to beg Achilles for Hector’s body was particularly powerful. Earle gave a fine account of Priam’s final disintegration and it wasn’t his fault that the staging here seemed to be too fussy and miss the point a bit.

ETO_KingPriam_8063.gif [Photo © Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera]Left: Laure Meloy (Hecuba). Centre, foreground: Camilla Roberts (Andromache).

Laure Meloy made a strong, passionate Hecuba. The first Hecuba was the fine dramatic soprano Marie Collier and Meloy here brought a vividly passionate warmth to the role. Grant Doyle was brightly enthusiastic Hector, neatly differentiating the young man of the early scenes from the later seasoned veteran. He gave a nicely enthusiastic gung-ho feel to the role, making Hector’s bravado believable. Camilla Roberts was wonderfully tragic and passionate as his wife (the part was created by Josephine Veasey who was a fine Didon in Berlioz’s Trojan opera) In the lovely scene in act two when each of the Trojan women gets a solo moment, Roberts brought forth a stream of lyrical passion and intensity. Tippett’s writing for the three leading Trojan women is interesting as he very much eschews the high upper soprano register, no lyric coloratura here, instead creating three rich warm, believable and highly differentiated women. Something which the casting and the singers brought out admirably.

The young Paris was played by a treble, Thomas Delgado-Little, who projected the not uncomplicated lines with security and accuracy. Nicholas Sharratt brought something of this youthful enthusiasm to his portrayal of Paris as an adult, managing to overcome an unfortunate costume involving a pair of orange loon pants! Sharratt gave the feeling that Paris had never quite grown up, and sang Paris’s music with a vividness and a nice bright sense of line. His Helen was the mysterious Niamh Kelly, who brought out the full complexity of Helen’s unknowable character, making her tantalisingly mysterious.

Charne Rochford, who has given fine performances as Luigi (Il Tabarro) and Adorno (Simon Boccanegra) for ETO, was not ideal as Achilles. He brought passionate intensity and striking vibrancy of voice to Achilles songs in act two, where Tippett give just a guitar accompaniment. But what is needed here is lyric clarity and beauty of line. Robert Tear was a notable exponent of the role and it was originally sung by Richard Lewis, both tenors capable of combining power with lyric intensity and a sense of line. Rochford was on securer ground in Achilles’s more dramatic moments. He and Piotr Lempa made convincing work of Achilles and Patroclus’s short scene together, and Lempa made you regret that the role of Patroclus is so short.

ETO_KingPriam_7891.gif [Photo © Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English Touring Opera]Upstage: Nicholas Sharratt (Paris) and Niamh Kelly (Helen)

Perhaps one of ETO’s problems was that the casting of King Priam requires three significant tenors, so it is with relief that I can report Adrian Dwyer more than entirely admirable in the high tenor part of Hermes, the divine messenger. His solo paen to the power of music in the middle of act three was a notable moment.

Andrew Slater brought his familiar vibrant dramatic intensity to the role of the Old Man. He, Clarissa Meek as the Nurse, and Adam Tunniclife as the Young Guard, made a very strong chorus as they repeatedly stepped out of their roles and discussed the action. Mediating between the ancient characters and our present day. Here Conway’s handling was pitch perfect and their scenes were some of the strongest in the opera.

The smaller roles were all well taken with Stuart Haycock, Johnny Herford and Henry Manning as Hunters as well as singing in the ensembles.

The orchestra under Michael Rosewell played admirably, and there were some lovely moments. The score is one of Tippett’s most seductive, and it is elegant in its spareness. Iain Farrington’s orchestration seemed to preserve the score’s richness and elegance, would that we could have heard it better.

This is one of those productions which will probably develop as it tours and it would certainly be worth dropping in to the Cambridge Arts Theatre in May to catch the final performances. Certainly playing the production in more open, less confined theatres than the bunker-like Linbury Theatre will be an improvement. But ETO are to be congratulated for even attempting such a feat and I urge everyone to take the opportunity to see Tippett’s operatic masterpiece.

Robert Hugill


Cast and production information:

King Priam: Roderick Earle, Hecuba: Laure Meloy, Hector:Grant Doyle, Andromache: Camilla Roberts, Paris:Nicholas Sharratt, Helen: Niamh Kelly, Achilles: Charne Rochford, Hermes: Adrian Dwyer, Old Man: Andrew Slater, Nurse: Clarissa Meek, Young Soldier: Stuart Haycock, Hunter: Johnny Herford, Hunter: Henry Manning, Hunter: Piotr Lempa.

Click here for another perspective from Mark Berry.

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):