Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Adriana Lecouvreur Opera Holland Park

Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.

Back to the Beginnings: Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria at Iford Opera.

The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.

Schoenberg : Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, London

Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.

Rossini is Alive and Well and Living in Iowa

If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.

Gergiev : Janáček Glagolitic Mass, BBC Proms

Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.

Donizetti and Mozart, Jette Parker Young Artists Royal Opera House, London

With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

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):