Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Bostridge, Isserlis, Drake, Wigmore Hall

Benjamin Britten met Mstislav Rostropovich in 1960, in London, where the cellist was performing Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto. They were introduced by Shostakovich who had invited Britten to share his box at the Royal Festival Hall, for this concert given by the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra. Britten’s biographer, Humphrey Carpenter reports that a few days before Britten had listened to Rostropovich on the radio and remarked that he ‘“thought this the most extraordinary ‘cello playing I’d ever heard”’.

Falstaff at Forest Lawn

Sir John Falstaff appears in three plays by William Shakespeare: the two Henry IV plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Music and Drama Interwoven in Chicago Lyric’s new Le nozze di Figaro

The opening performance of the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago was the premiere of a new production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro under the direction of Barbara Gaines and featuring the American debut of conductor Henrik Nánási.

La traviata, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia mixes boutique performances of avant-garde opera in a small house with more traditional productions of warhorse operas performed in the Academy of Music, America’s oldest working opera house.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.



07 May 2014

The Marriage of Figaro, Royal Opera

“Oh! Woman! Woman! Woman!” So, cries Beaumarchais’s Figaro, in his angry, self-chastising, at times self-pitying diatribe against the injustices of ‘life’. “Oh, servants, servants, servants!” might be the Count’s complaint in David McVicar’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro, revived here for the sixth time.

W A Mozart : The Marriage of Figaro, Royal Opera House, London, 2nd May 2014

A review by Claire Seymour


They are everywhere: carrying crates, polishing panes, dusting drapes. Silent and insidious, they see all and hear all. And, they are choreographed to perfection! — although, this is perhaps not so surprising given the regularity with which McVicar’s tried-and-tested crowd-pleaser seems to have frequented the Covent Garden stage of late.

Bustling busily during the brisk overture, the stealthy staff provide an interesting contextual frame through which to view the actions and attitudes of the shifty aristocracy and their guileful underlings. We, like the servants, enjoy, collude with, and judge the capers.

And, this superb cast provide much to relish. Italian bass Alex Esposito returns to the House following his acclaimed performance as Leporello earlier in the season. Then, I noted that as Don Giovanni’s sleazy servant, Esposito demonstrated suavity and stylishness, and rued that it ‘was a shame that the production does not offer more opportunity for him to showcase his skills as a master of musical comedy and irony’. That was certainly remedied here. Esposito’s naturally exemplary diction was matched by extraordinary clear, bright projection which stamped Figaro’s character indelibly on the proceedings.

This is a Figaro whom we laugh easily with and at; he has testosterone — manfully lunging for Susanna when measuring up the marital bed — and vulnerability: the ‘cuckolded’ valet seemed genuinely hurt by his betrothed’s apparent betrayal in ‘Aprite un po’ quegli occhi’, before angry bluster shored up his wounded pride. Esposito’s confident comic presence endows Figaro’s wit and wiles with convincing self-possession; but, he also playfully punctures the factotum’s smugness. The Finale of Act 2, as Figaro is forced to think on his feet to negotiate the onslaught from an enraged master, a truculent gardener and a pack of scheming fraudsters, wonderfully brought together gleeful triumphs and vexing setbacks.

Esposito’s weighty baritone has startling dramatic power, effortlessly ringing through the auditorium, and at times, despite the credible attraction between the soon-to-be married couple, he overpowered Camilla Tilling’s Susanna. Tilling’s graceful soprano perhaps did not fully convey Susanna’s spirited sassiness and strong nerve and nous; but, in the second Act, her sparkle blended endearingly with the Countess’s emotional edginess, suggesting a hidden fervour. And, the light radiance of her tone added a delicious dash of irony to ‘Deh vieni non tardar’, sung to the unseen and unsuspecting Figaro in Act 4, as she awaits the Count’s arrival.

Gerald Finley, returning to the role that he sang in the initial run in 2006, was an engaging Count. Sliding into the servants’ garret like an unctuous ‘lounge lizard’, Finley was haughtily self-righteous but also touchingly self-aware, knowing that the time-honoured droits were slipping inexorably from his grasp. Gun-wielding and assertive, despite the brusque slap administered to the Countess his threats of violence always seemed more designed to bolster his own wilting ego rather than a genuine menace. Finley looks good and sounds good. ‘Vedrò mentre io sospiro’ was full of vigour and vivacity, a full-bodied complaint rather than the superficial ranting of Act 2, which almost made one feel the sense of injustice was justified. And, the warm tender pleas for forgiveness in Act 4 were convincingly sincere.

Rebecca Evans’s Countess was certainly a woman in torment; her full tone was expressive of deep emotions but unfortunately the overly wide vibrato struck a ‘false note’ in a production where the delivery was characterised by cleanness, crispness and clarity. ‘Porgi amor’ was assured, though; this Countess has real dignity. And, Evans paced herself successfully, revealing musical colours to fit a variety of dramatic situations; the technical challenges of ‘Dove sono’ presented no problem, and in the latter section of the aria, a resoluteness suggested that the Count was foolish to under-estimate his wife’s determination and resources.

If there was a star moment, for me it was Cherubino’s ‘Voi che sapete’ sung with disarming beauty by Italian mezzo-soprano Anna Bonitatibus. If ‘No sò più’ had trembled with pulsing palpitations — Cherubino’s overflowing romantic energies sending him into a whirl of hyper-activity — then, after some preparatory , self-motivating arm-swinging and air-pumping, the page’s well-rehearsed offering of love was a moving embodiment of serene, self-possessed devotion — a foreshadowing of the captivating chevalier that the gauche Cherubino will become.

The smaller roles are all well executed. Marie McLaughlin’s Marcellina is a formidable force to be reckoned with; she makes the role seem dramatically more central than is often the case. The restless fan-fluttering of Don Basilio (Guy de Mey) is indicative of the falsity and hypocrisy of the slimy singing master, and the vocal nuances and timing are well-judged. Don Curzio (Timothy Robinson) and Antonio (Jeremy White) fit neatly into their roles; Jette Parker Young Artist, Serbian soprano Dušica Bijelić sings Barbarina’s aria with wonderful musical character.

In contrast to John Eliot Gardiner (conducting the last revival in September 2013) whose determinedly expeditious tempi at times pushed his singers to the brink, David Syrus was sympathetic to his soloists — perhaps a bit too much so at times, for both Bartolo’s patter (Greek bass Christophoros Stamboglis) and Cherubino’s breathless shudders seemed inclined to push ahead of the baton. Occasionally the ensembles were a little ragged, the Finale of Act 2 disappointingly so, for Syrus’s relaxed tempi were at odds with the innate forward momentum of Da Ponte’s meticulously crafted form with its ‘strepitoso, [the] arcistrepitoso, [the] strepitossossimo, with which last every act commonly ends’. Things may settle down for later performances in the run. But, there were some striking orchestral commentaries: the trumpet’s leaping arpeggio fanfares flashed brightly at the close of Act 1, and the contrast with the deliciously long-breathed, silky clarinet and bassoon coils which introduce the Countess in Act 2 emphasised the shift to a private world far removed from the public posing and posturing of the previous act. The continuo was tasteful and discreet, enriched by some very eloquent cello playing in the accompanied recitatives.

Tanya McCallin’s sumptuous sets retain their sheen — the servants’ sedulous scrubbing and sponging is clearly up to the mark — and Paule Constable’s lighting continues to beguile, most especially in the evocative transformation from Act 3’s imposing interiors to the evocative nocturnal garden of the final act. This is a real company success, all parts contributing equally to a pleasing whole.

Claire Seymour

Cast and production information:

Figaro, Alex Esposito; Susanna, Camilla Tilling; Counte Almaviva, Gerlad Finley; Countess Almaviva, Rebecca Evans; Cherubino, Anna Bonitatibus; Bartolo, Christophoros Stamboglis; Marcellina, Marie McLaughlin; Don Basilio, Guy de Mey; Antonio, Jeremy White; Don Curzio, Timothy Robonson; Barbarina, Dušica Bijelić; First Bridesmaid, Melissa Alder; Second Bridesmaid, Louise Armit; Director, David McVicar; Revival Director, Bárbara Lluch; Conductor, David Syrus; Designs, Tanya McCallin; Lighting Design, Paule Constable; Movement Director, Leah Hausman; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Royal Opera Chorus. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,Friday 2nd 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):