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

Petrenko Directs Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

The quick rise to prominence and thin catalog of recordings by Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko, outgoing General Music Director of the Bayerische Staatsoper and incoming chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, renders each of his forays into the classic repertoire significant. Last Sunday morning, the Bayerisches Staatsorchester gave the first of three performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis under his direction.

Faust in Marseille

We sat, bewildered, all of us, watching (enduring) Gounod’s sweet little tear jerker as a nasty drug trip. Except for the Australian Marguerite it was an all French cast and they all gamely played along, the sophisticated verse of Offenbach’s librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré clearly sailing out over an abrasive pit.

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

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?”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

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):