30 Mar 2014
ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
Never thought I’d say it but......
On March 26, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). The Ian Judge production featured jewel-colored box sets by Tim Goodchild that threw the voices out into the hall. Only for the finale did the set open up on to a garden that filled the whole stage and at the very end featured actual fireworks.
Gotham Chamber Opera’s latest project, The Tempest Songbook, continues to explore the possibilities of unconventional spaces and unconventional programs that the company has made its hallmark. The results were musically and theatrically thought-provoking, and left me wanting more.
Nixon in China is a three-act opera with a libretto by Alice Goodman and music by John Adams that was first seen at the Houston Grand Opera on October 22, 1987. It was the first of a notable line of operas by the composer.
It is thanks to Céline Ricci, mezzo-soprano and director of Ars Minerva, that we have been able to again hear Daniele Castrovillari’s exquisite melodies because she is the musician who has brought his 1662 opera La Cleopatra to life.
Lyric Opera of Chicago, in association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has staged a production of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser with an estimable cast.
Puccini and his fellow verismo-ists are commonly associated with explosions of unbridled human passion and raw, violent pain, but in this revival (by Justin Way) of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, directorial understatement together with ravishing scenic beauty are shown to be more potent ways of enabling the sung voice to reveal the emotional depths of human tragedy.
Rarely, very rarely does a Tosca come around that you can get excited about. Sure, sometimes there is good singing, less often good conducting but rarely is there a mise en scène that goes beyond stock opera vocabulary.
The Nash Ensemble’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations at the Wigmore Hall were crowned by a recital that typifies the Nash’s visionary mission. Above, the dearly-loved founder, Amelia Freeman, a quietly revolutionary figure in her own way, who has immeasurably enriched the cultural life of this country.
On March 7, 2015, Arizona Opera presented Dan Rigazzi’s production of Die Zauberflöte in Tucson. Inspired by the works of René Magritte, designer John Pollard filled the stage with various sizes of picture frames, windows, and portals from which he leads us into Mozart and Schikaneder’s dream world.
There are some concert programmes which are not just wonderful in their execution but also delight and satisfy because of the ‘rightness’ of their composition. This Wigmore Hall recital by soprano Carolyn Sampson and three period-instrument experts of arias and instrumental pieces by Henry Purcell was one such occasion.
It has been a cold and gray winter in the south of France (where I live) made splendid by some really good opera, followed just now by splendid sunshine at Trafalgar Square and two exquisite productions at English National Opera.
At long last, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny has come to the Royal Opera House. Kurt Weill’s teacher, Busoni, remains scandalously ignored, but a season which includes house firsts both of this opera and Szymanowsi’s King Roger, cannot be all bad.
Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland returned to the Barbican, London, shape-shifted like one of Alice’s adventures. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was assembled en masse, almost teetering off stage, creating a sense of tension. “Eat me, Drink me”. Was Lewis Carroll on hallucinogens or just good at channeling the crazy world of the subconscious?
Dominic Cooke’s 2005 staging of The Magic Flute and Richard Jones’s 1998 production of Hansel and Gretel have been brought together for Welsh National Opera’s spring tour under the unifying moniker, Spellbound.
Gaetano Donizetti and Malcolm Arnold might seem odd operatic bedfellows, but this double bill by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama offered a pair of works characterised by ‘madness, misunderstandings and mistaken identity’ which proved witty, sparkling and imaginatively realised.
Saturday, February 28, 2015, was the first night for Los Angeles Opera’s revival of its 2009 presentation of The Barber of Seville, a production by Emilio Sagi, which comes originally from Teatro Real in Madrid in cooperation with Lisbon’s Teatro San Carlos. Sagi and onsite director, Trevor Ross, made comedy the focus of their production and provided myriad sight gags which kept the audience laughing.
Commenting on her recent, highly acclaimed CD release of late-nineteenth-century song, Chansons Perpétuelles (Naive: V5355), Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux remarked ‘it’s that intimate side that interests me I wanted to emphasise the genuinely embodied, physical side of the sensuality [in Fauré]’.
An evening of strange-bedfellow one-acts in high-concept stagings, mindbogglingly delightful.
On February 19, 2015, Pacific Symphony presented its annual performance of a semi-staged opera. This year’s presentation at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, featured Georges Bizet’s Carmen. Director Dean Anthony used the front of the stage and a few solid set pieces by Scenic Designer Matt Scarpino to depict the opera’s various scenes.
Although the English National Opera has been decidedly sparing with its Wagner for quite some time now, its recent track record, leaving aside a disastrous Ring, has perhaps been better than that at Covent Garden.
Never thought I’d say it but......
Hurrah for the Royal Opera’s latest and most innovative Baroque production. Inside this gorgeous gem of a theatre, the Shakespeare’s Globe’s new indoor space known as the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Kasper Holten and his team have created a mini masterpiece of baroque performance with Cavalli’s L’Ormindo.
Aided and abetted by a superb team of young singers and Christian Curnyn’s top-of-the range period musicians Holten has given us — some might say at last — hope for the future. Now Londoners have a truly special place within which to enjoy baroque opera and period theatre which does not intimidate with either size or brutal modern architecture. Seating just 340, and open since the beginning of the year, the Playhouse, snuggled alongside its famous larger sister the Globe, has been described as “an archetype, rather than a replica, of a specific Jacobean indoor theatre”. Inside, lit only with beeswax candles, the audience is immediately immersed in the drama seated as many are within yards of the performers, others just a little higher in the galleries surrounding the proscenium-less stage. With Cavalli’s little known L’Ormindo (last seen in London in 1967) which opened on Friday night to a packed house, the Playhouse has announced its arrival on the baroque opera scene with a flourish of shameless extravagance, saucy wit and sublime musicianship.
Ed Lyon as Amidas and Susanna Hurrell as Erisbe
Cavalli’s work may be little known today — his La Calisto being perhaps most frequently performed — but this near-contemporary of Monteverdi was highly successful in his day and a master of his craft. He had to be: no composer working for either aristocratic patron or the new breed of fickle theatre owner at that time could get away with second best. From palace drawing room to the streets inside weeks was not uncommon. His work may have gone out of fashion for a few hundred years but perhaps its felicitous mix of eroticism, money, fame and fortune now rings a topical bell? With L’Ormindo we have the usual baroque pot of swirling royal love affairs, spurned fiancées, cross-dressed nurses, bawdy comedy, magical allegorical figures, and lower-class confidants who use the audience as sounding boards for their musings on the baser problems of life and love. What we also got however was real international-standard production values: fabulous costumes by Anja Vang Kragh (whose Dior/McCartney pedigree is easy to appreciate), a raft of some of the best young singers available today, clever stage direction which used the unique size and shape of the space to best advantage, a marvellously witty English translation by Christopher Cowell and an 8 piece band of seasoned period performance experts (the continuo group, led by Curnyn, of harpsichord, baroque harp and theorbo deserve special mention).
Rachel Kelly as Mirinda
The nine singers, some taking two roles, were without exception terrific. Rehearsals must have been sufficient as they moved gracefully and expertly around the ever-present hazard of the real candle flames at both head and foot height (this writer not being alone in holding their breath from time to time as huge dresses, swirling capes and feathers came within millimetres of conflagration). But it was the excellence and intelligence of their singing and acting which supported the whole edifice around them; seldom does one get the chance to enjoy an opera where one can honestly say there was no weak link. Each deserves detailed praise and description, but suffice to say that if forced to choose just two, the names of Sam Boden (high tenor) as Ormindo, and Rachel Kelly (mezzo soprano) as Mirinda might just be them. Boden displayed a beautiful limpid tone and line totally in keeping with his character and Kelly a warm yet lively mezzo with which she also managed crisp diction — an important facet of performance in English with no surtitles. Of the smaller roles, mention must be made of James Laing (countertenor) as the page Nerillus/Cupid for both his elegant even tone and apparent insouciance as he hung suspended in pink and gold tutu from the flies. Such gentle guying of baroque opera’s traditions was part of the humour inherent in this production.
It seems that Kasper Holten in his relatively new position of Director of Opera at Covent Garden has at last turned the tide and found imaginative ways to support the continued flourishing of “old” opera. By working with innovative partners such as the Globe and Curnyn’s Early Opera group, he has done what many before him failed to do: spark new life into old magic. Long may we enjoy the fruits of his labours.
The ROH/Shakespeare’s Globe production of Cavalli’s L’Ormindo continues on 28th, 29th March and 1 st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 11th and 12th April at 7.30pm. Returns only at time of writing. BBC Radio 3 will broadcast the opera on the 5th April at 7.30pm.