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

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Kate Valentine, Randall Bills, Marcus Farnsworth, Christine Rice, Sally Reeve [Photo by Mike Hoban]
19 May 2014

Così fan tutte at ENO

It must be the sea air. In Thomas Hardy’s vignette ‘The History of the Hardcomes’, two young women — quiet, gentle Emily Darth, and the more lively, rumbustious Olive Pawle — are betrothed to two cousins, James and Stephen Hardcome; but the quartet decide that they are paired up wrongly, and so ‘swap’ suitors, submitting to a moment of irrational infatuation.

Così fan tutte at ENO

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kate Valentine, Randall Bills, Marcus Farnsworth, Christine Rice, Sally Reeve

Photos by Mike Hoban

 

All goes well until a summer outing to the bustling resort of Budmouth-Regis. Amid the sand and sea, the couples are inclined to re-align, and the ensuing erotic entanglements have a melancholy outcome: the pleasure-seeking pair sail to their deaths, while the remaining couple marry and, as the narrator pointedly remarks, ‘fulfil their destiny according to Nature’s plan’.

In Phelim McDermott’s new production of Così fan tutte,there are similar ironic reversals on the boardwalk of 1950s Coney Island. But, while there is much entertainment on the esplanade, there is little of Mozart’s ambiguous operatic psychology, or of Hardy’s cynicism, in McDermott’s light-hearted seaside farce.

Nattily uniformed naval officers Ferrando and Guglielmo are on shore leave, enjoying the fun of the fair with giggly sisters, Dorabella and Fiordiligi. Over a night cap in the nightclub, they are challenged by sleazy magician, Don Alfonso, to prove the loyalty of their beloveds. So, after a tearful farewell and re-embarkment, they swap their lieutenants’ epaulettes for rockers’ leathers and return incognito to test the girls’ devotion and dependability.

6426.gifRandall Bills, Marcus Farnsworth and Roderick Williams

Predictably, heads and hearts are turned amid the hedonistic pursuits of the pleasure garden. These are convincingly and enchantingly displayed by McDermott and his designer, Tom Pye, whose attention to detail is impressive. The flashing neon-sign of the aptly named Skyline Motel is framed by a vista of distractions and diversions: the gentle gyrations of the ferris wheel, the heady heights of the wooden rollercoaster, the whizzing slides of the helter-skelter. Nostalgically painted in innocent primary colours, the scene is depicted with tender irony: seagulls on sticks twirl around the esplanade lampposts, stiff flags ‘flutter’ in the breeze.

The low-rise, post-war motel is itself neatly designed. Three rooms, whose doors face an interior corridor, spin and rotate to allow the lovelorn ladies to flounce from bedroom to bedroom, their histrionics espied by the maid Despina — sparkling in a canary-yellow dress to match the Marigolds — through the Venetian blinds. However, with the appearance of the overly ardent ‘greasers’ the spinning through the connecting doors becomes something of a ‘Carry On’.

In his magical fairground, strikingly tinted by Paule Constable’s gleaming red, green and blue beams of colour, spiv Don Alfonso promises to fulfil any desire — however daring and dangerous. Banners proclaim the pleasures on offer, from Sweet Marie, to Louis the Undead and Kora the Depraved. Fantasies are fashioned and indulged. Lovers float dreamily in oversize swans, framed within red light-bulb hearts. There is much passion but little sincerity: in the final scene, Don Alfonso’s trunk of tricks is expediently transformed for matrimonial purpose by a speedily supplied altar-cloth.

It’s all very entertaining, but the profundity of Mozart’s psychological comedy remains unexplored: laughter and sympathy, comedy and tragedy should be held in perfect, ambivalent balance. Here, there is unalleviated light, but little shade. Expect, that is, when Don Alfonso’s deception is finally revealed, and anarchy breaks loose: partners are swapped at random, and the quartet pair up briefly with assorted freaks and mutants, before equilibrium is restored. McDermott seems, like Hardy’s cool narrator, to suggest that surface differences are superficial and there is no natural ‘order’ or destiny at all.

In fact it is the panoply of circus freaks which provides the thread which hold the fantasy together. As the overture commences, before a shimmering gold lamé curtain swathed in Constable’s gleaming light, master-of-ceremonies Don Alfonso accompanied by his showgirl assistant, Despina, wheel out a chest of curiosities from which climb — and somersault — a cast of eccentricities and oddities: short and tall, strong man and sword-swallower, bearded lady and fire-eater. The placards they bear announce the attractions of the vaudeville to come. The curtain-raising trailer promises ‘Lust’, ‘Power’, ‘Entertainment’, ‘Politics’, ‘Big Arias’ and ‘Chocolate’ among other titillating delights; and the billboards are re-arranged into various applause-raising permutations — an amusingly wry device but sadly, on this occasion, the arising laughter and ovation obliterated much of the overture.

As the show rolls on, this troupe of peculiars play their part in Alfonso’s plotting: as bunny girls dishing up cocktails in the casino — as strong men heaving props on and off, as spinners of Dr Magnetico’s fantastical, life-restoring, firework-erupting contraption; or as circus side-kicks levering Fiordiligi’s hot air balloon aloft. Throughout they contribute to the carnivalesque and ensure slick stage business and nifty transitions between scenes.

6373.gifKate Valentine, Christine Rice and Mary Bevan

And so to the cast. Kate Valentine’s self-satisfied Fiordiligi and Christine Rice’s more self-knowing Dorabella are well-matched. Valentine displayed much bombast in ‘Come scoglio’, coping with the peaks and plummets, and showing the unappealing side of Fiordiligi’s pride in a haughty lower register. In her second aria, the mock majesty was replaced by real emotion; Valentine showed that she can truly act with her voice in a fluent, intense, and thoughtfully phrased ‘Per pietà’ Unfortunately, any genuine pathos that the soprano evoked was destroyed by the staging. Fiordiligi must yield to her desires while struggling to resist; there is real emotional turmoil here, as she is deeply troubled by the fragility of her fidelity. But, her inner conflict was rather bathetically rendered by the rise and fall of a hot air balloon.

Mezzo-soprano Rice demonstrated a rich, creamy tone, and a sharp facility for comic nuance —mimicking her sister’s indignation but eventually getting fed up with her fickleness. Rice communicated directly, both musically and theatrically, and the over-blown torment and solipsism of ‘Smanie implacabili’ won both affection and gentle mockery.

Young British baritone Marcus Farnsworth was excellent as Guglielmo; he fitted comfortably into the role, and like Rice balanced comedy with psychological perception. The manly attributes professed in ‘Non siate ritrosi’ may have raised a doubtful eyebrow, but the tone was unfailingly warm and the phrases well-shaped, so it was no surprise that Guglielmo’s attempt to win Dorabella’s heart was ultimately successful. Their ensuing duet ‘Il core vi dono’ was seductively sweet, so that we might forget the rapidity with which devotions had been reassigned.

Making his UK and ENO debut as Ferrando, American tenor Randall Bills was somewhat disappointing; tense and taut in ‘Un'aura amorosa’, particularly at the top, and generally sounding strained. Perhaps it was first-night nerves but Bills seems to lack the Mozartean relaxation required to make us sympathise with the scheming would-be seducer: Ferrando is genuinely hurt to learn that Dorabella’s have given away the medallion with his portrait so quickly to her new paramour, but Bills’ tight edginess and lack of gradation and colour was uninviting.

Roderick Williams’ light baritone was characteristically pleasing, but not sufficiently weighty to suggest Don Alfonso’s world-weary cynicism or the force of character that could bait, goad and manoeuvre all those around him. Despite his spangly red tuxedo, this Alfonso was surprisingly low-key. In contrast, Mary Bevan’s Despina — whether bee-hived chalet-maid, or be-wigged mesmeriser — had more commanding stage presence. One felt that it was Despina who was the real maestro of manipulation: she accepted the magician’s bouquet, but his snatched kiss earned him a slap. Light and bright of voice, Bevan slipped convincingly into any costume, and any accent, delivering the text with clarity and perky projection.

There were so many on-stage shenanigans — and much accompanying noise and spontaneous audience appreciation — that at times it was easy to overlook what was going on in the pit. ENO composer-in-residence Ryan Wigglesworth led the ENO orchestra in a somewhat lacklustre performance, the tempi often in disagreement with the stage, and the ensembles rather ragged. Wigglesworth also played the fortepiano piano recitatives, which moved swiftly and fluently onwards.

After his successes with Philip Glass’s Satyagraha and The Perfect American, here McDermott once again demonstrates that he can put on an entertaining show, serving up a visual and theatrical treat. It certainly didn’t matter that a technical hitch rendered surtitles unavailable, as the cast’s enunciation was uniformly crisp, making Jeremy Sams’ translation clearly audible.

McDermott makes the slide from realism to fantasy utterly convincing; everyone and everything is in a spin, as the tea-cup dodgems suggest. This is certainly a show which will delight the punters, if not the purists.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Fiordiligi, Kate Valentine; Dorabella, Christine Rice; Ferrando, Randall Bills; Guglielmo, Marcus Farnsworth; Don Alfonso, Roderick Williams; Despina, Mary Bevan; Conductor, Ryan Wigglesworth; Director, Phelim McDermott; Set Designer, Tom Pye; Costume Designer, Laura Hopkins; Lighting Designer, Paule Constable; Orchestra of English National Opera. English National Opera, Coliseum, London, Friday 16th May 2014.

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):