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

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

ENO Rodelinda 2014 - Iestyn Davies, Rebecca Evans (c) Clive Barda
03 Mar 2014

Torn Between Rival Loyalties

Handel’s great opus, Rodelinda, at English National Opera on Friday night was the latest in the Coliseum’s recent run of new and co-produced productions, and also renowned director Peter Jones’ latest foray into the world of opera.

Torn Between Rival Loyalties

A review by Sue Loder

Above: Iestyn Davies as Bertarido and Rebecca Evans as Rodelinda

Photos © Clive Barda

 

A full-ish house for the first night seemed from the start inclined to be indulgent and supportive (does a Friday night after a long week in the office in London help a new production? Discuss......) and was helped along by what sounded suspiciously like a small claque cheering from the very first da capo aria (“let’s get this lot going chaps”?) without, it has to be said, that much cause at that particular moment.

ENO Rodelinda 2014 - John Mark Ainsley 4 (c) Clive BardaJohn Mark Ainsley as Grimoaldo

Never mind, the audience did not need much further encouragement to applaud as we were that night treated to one of the finest expositions of handelian singing across the vocal spectrum that we’ve heard for quite a while. A superb collection of the best British singing talent gathered under one roof to show the world how Handel should — ought — to be sung. John Mark Ainsley, (Grimoaldo), Susan Bickley (Eduige), Iestyn Davies (Bertarido), and Rebecca Evans (Rodelinda) took on the leading roles in this tale of loyalty, power, love and lust and gave full measure at every turn. They were supported no less ably by Richard Burkhard (Garibaldo), Christopher Ainslie (Unulfo) and Matt Casio (a non singing, but certainly acting Flavio). One could spend paragraphs praising each performer’s intelligent and musical interpretations, but suffice to say that there was not one weak link in this chain of excellence although inevitably both Evans and Davies, as chief protagonists and with the most sublime and ferocious arias to their credit, did receive the loudest and longest ovations come the end of three plus hours of Mr Handel at his best. And each singer of course supported by the dash, drive and commitment to baroque style that Christian Curnyn supplied from the pit.

I mentioned loyalty as a major driver in the plot: it came through again and again both within the personal relationships of the characters and in their wider political and philosophical concerns but it was loyalty much closer to home which worried this writer most. One wishes only success and financial security for English National Opera as it goes forward from some pretty torrid times; one wishes that Handel’s greatest works should become loved by ever larger audiences in ever more numerous productions; one wishes that more opera house orchestras could adapt as stylishly to baroque details as does ENO’s; and one wishes our British theatrical production talents ever more plaudits both here and overseas as they bring new ideas and angles to old favourites. However, the elephant in the room on Friday night, it must be said, was this very thing. Peter Jones has already garnered many plaudits for his theatrical insight and challenging productions around the world, but on leaving the theatre on Friday night it became clear that this production was splitting people down the middle.

ENO Rodelinda 2014 2 (c) Clive BardaA scene from Rodelinda

A straw poll aftewards produced extremes of reaction: “marvellous, clever, thought-provoking” at one end and “poor singers, how did they produce such excellence within such dire, distracting drivel?” at the other. To be fair, he and his team did (mostly) give the singers both space and focus on the stage for their big numbers; it was all the stuff in between that in this writer’s opinion was either indulgent, patronising or plain wrong. Once again, poor Mr Handel has suffered from a director’s inability to trust the music, an inability to understand that emotion, conflict and psychological evolution is already there — on the score, within the bars and notes, riding on the swell and trough of fine singing. Others will disagree, no doubt; some will say it’s a modern masterpiece; only the audiences of the future will decide and let’s hope they do in droves. What is without doubt is that Rodelinda will survive it all and with singers as good as we heard in the Coliseum we can rest assured that Mr Handel will always have the last word.

Sue Loder

Until 15 March. Tickets: 020 7845 9300; www.eno.org

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):