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

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

Cosi fan tutte, Garsington Opera

Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi fan tutte provides little in the way of background or back story for the plot, thus allowing directors to set the piece in a variety settings.

The Queen of Spades, ENO

Based on a play, Chrysomania (The Passion for Money), by the Russian playwright Prince Alexander Shokhovskoy, Pushkin’s short story The Queen of Spades is, in the words of one literary critic, ‘a sardonic commentary on the human condition’.

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):