12 Mar 2014
La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera
Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.
Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.
The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.
Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).
The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.
On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).
For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.
The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.
On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.
During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.
A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.
On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.
In Neil Armfield’s new production of Die Zauberflöte at Lyric Opera of Chicago the work is performed as entertainment on a summer’s night staged by neighborhood children in a suburban setting. The action takes place in the backyard of a traditional house, talented performers collaborate with neighborhood denizens, and the concept of an onstage audience watching this play yields a fresh perspective on staging Mozart’s opera.
Patricia Racette’s Salome is an impetuous teenage princess who interrupts the royal routine on a cloudy night by demanding to see her stepfather’s famous prisoner. Racette’s interpretation makes her Salome younger than the characters portrayed by many of her famous colleagues of the past. This princess plays mental games with Jochanaan and with Herod. Later, she plays a physical game with the gruesome, natural-looking head of the prophet.
On February 17, 2017 Pacific Opera Project performed Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. After that night, it can be said that neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night can stay this company from putting on a fine show. Earlier in the day the Los Angeles area was deluged with heavy rain that dropped up to an inch of water per hour. That evening, because of a blown transformer, there was no electricity in the Ebell Club area.
There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.
With her irresistible cocktail of spontaneity and virtuosity, Cecilia Bartoli is a beloved favourite of Amsterdam audiences. In triple celebratory mode, the Italian mezzo-soprano chose Rossini’s La Cenerentola, whose bicentenary is this year, to mark twenty years of performing at the Concertgebouw, and her twenty-fifth performance at its Main Hall.
Matthew Rose and Gary Matthewman Winterreise: a Parallel Journey at the Wigmore Hall, a recital with extras. Schubert's winter journey reflects the poetry of Wilhelm Müller, where images act as signposts mapping the protagonist's psychological journey.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, composed in 1830, didn’t make it to Lisbon until 1843 when there were 14 performances at its magnificent Teatro São Carlos (opened 1793), and there were 17 more performances spread over the next two decades. The entire twentieth century saw but three (3) performances in this European capital.
Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.
Laurent Pelly’s 2007 production is now in the hands of revival director Christian Räth, who also directed the 2012 revival. The production was created for Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez, but since 2012 the title role has been sung by the Italian lyric soprano Patrizia Ciofi (see Claire Seymour’s review of the 2012 revival). For this revival Ciofi was joined by Florez (with two performances later in the run being sung by Frederic Antoun). Also returning to the role as Hortensius was Donald Maxwell and conductor Yves Abel was also on the podium for the 2012 revival. With so many returning performers, it is inevitable that the newcomers to their roles would be the focus of attention: Pietro Spagnoli sang Sulpice and Ewa Podles was the Marquise de Berkenfeld. But the eyes and ears of many in the audience were on Dame Kiri te Kanawa in the speaking role of the Duchesse de Crackentorp.
The New Zealand soprano celebrates her 70th birthday during the present run, and her assumption of the role of the Duchesse de Crackentorp represents her first appearance at Covent Garden since the 1996/97 season. At Covent Garden the role of the Duchesse de Crackentorp has previously been played by Dawn French and by Anne Widdicombe, but when Laurent Pelly’s production has appeared elsewhere then the Duchess has been played by both Kiri te Kanawa and Montserrat Caballe.
Ciofi made a charming Marie, she has the right combination of gamine charm and chutzpah which Pelly’s conception of the role requires. Physically Ciofi’s performance was almost hyper-active, reflecting the current conception of the production, and she is certainly a gifted comic. Natalie Dessay’s physical comedy in the role must have been a difficult act to follow, but Ciofi makes it her own. Vocally Ciofi has quite a soft grained lyric voice, which meant that the more poignant moments (such as her lovely act 2 aria) worked very well. There was plenty of fluent passagework too, and Ciofi has the gift of being able to imbue this with charm as well, she made the vocal fire-works part of the character. Her acuti sometimes seemed a little pressed and with a little too much vibrato for my taste, but she has been ill and missed part of the dress rehearsal, so it is unfair to judge.
Juan Diego Florez remains in fine form, his voice perhaps a little heavier and more solid than when he first sang the role, but he is still technically superb. Despite the lure of the famous act 1 solo with the repeated top C’s, it was his two slower arias which stick in the memory. Here Florez had a knack of slowing time, and causing the busy activity to stop. He can caress and shape a phrase without it being made to feel self-indulgent, and in these solo moments was deservedly the entire focus of attention. The role of Tonio still fits Florez stage persona well, the little-boy lost look still coming over charmingly.
Pietro Spagnoli was a delight as Sulpice with good comic timing combined with a neat way with Donizetti’s vocal line. His act one solo isn’t the best number in the opera, but Spagnoli charmed and made a fine contribution to the act two trio with Ciofi and Florez. More than that, he created a warm and very funny character.
Ewa Podles is clearly a gifted comic actress, as Marquise de Berkenfeld she used her voice to fine comic effect particularly the astounding lower register. Both vocally and in spoken dialogue she made the comedy work and set up a nice double act with Donald Maxwell’s Hortensius. Podles might now have a noticeable break in her voice, but her technique is still in fine form and there was as much to admire vocally as dramatically.
Kiri te Kanawa seemed less at ease with the comic business required, but the role was extended for her and we got to hear her performing an aria from Puccini’s Edgar which was finely done, albeit rather a strange choice in the context. The smaller roles were well taken with Bryan Secombe as the Corporal, Luke Price as a peasant and Jean-Pierre Blanchard as the Notary.
Now directed by Christian Räth , the production seems to have become almost a caricature of itself, all stylised movement, comic business and hardly any naturalism. Was Pelly’s production like this when new? I’d don’t remember it as such, but might be wrong. There is a danger, I think, of this becoming a comic caricature of a production. Most worryingly, the physical comedy seemed to be in danger of being an end in itself, rather than arising out of the music.
The orchestra was in the capable hands of Yves Abel. He and the orchestra provided fine accompaniments to the arias, but the overture did rather take a long time to catch fire.
This is the production’s third revival, that’s a total of four runs since 2007 which is quite a lot of exposure. It would make an interesting re-boot of the piece if, say, it was given in English with Anglophone actors performing the dialogue (at the moment we have a variety of nationalities performing in French), or perhaps investigate the Italian version which Donizetti himself created in 1840 (this lacks the famous top C’s of the tenor Ah mes amies, but the replacement aria is not without difficulty). I am reluctant to suggest that such a popular production be given a rest but perhaps something of a re-think is certainly in order.
Cast and production information:
Marie: Patrizia Ciofi, Tonio: Juan Diego Florez, Marquise de Berkenfeld: Ewa Podles, Sulpice: Pietro Spagnoli, Hortensius: Donald Maxwell, Corporal: Bryan Secombe, Peasant: Luke Price, Notary: Jean-Pierre Blanchard, Duchesse de Crackentorp: Kiri te Kanawa. Director: Laurent Pelly, Revival Director: Christian Räth, Dialogue: Agathe Melinand, Set Designs: Chantal Thomas, Lighting Design: Joel Adam, Choreography: Laura Scozzi. Conductor: Yves Abel. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden: 3 March 2014.