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

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

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):