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

Written on Skin: Royal Opera House

800 years ago, every book was a precious treasure - ‘written on skin’. In George Benjamin’s and Martin Crimp’s 2012 opera, Written on Skin, modern-day archivists search for one such artefact: a legendary 12th-century illustrated vanity project, commissioned by an unnamed Protector to record and celebrate his power. Under the neon-glare of laboratory strip-lights, the scientists and literary archeologists rout through the relics, scrape away palimpsests, shatter the printing presses, and uncover a shocking tale of violence, sex, suicide and cannibalism. ‘Strip the cities of brick,’ they cry; ‘Cancel all flights from the international airport.’ Yet, despite its ‘distance’ - both historical and aesthetic - this disturbing juxtaposition of innocence and monstrosity unsettles and seeps into our modern consciousness, like ink staining parchment.

Madama Butterfly at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater

It was like a “Date Night” at Staatsoper unter den Linden with its return of Eike Gramss’ 2012 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. While I entered the Schiller Theater, the many young couples venturing to the opera together, and emerging afterwards all lovey-dovey and moved by Puccini’s melodramatic romance, encouraged me to think more positively about the future of opera.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: Hannigan & Rattle sing of Death

For the Late Night concert after the Saturday series, fifteen Berliners backed up Barbara Hannigan in yet another adventurous collaboration on a modern rarity with Simon Rattle. I was completely unfamiliar with the French composer, but the performance tonight made me fall in love with Gérard Grisey’s sensually disintegrating soundscape Quatre chants pour franchir le seuil, or “Fours Songs to cross the Threshold”.

A Vocally Extravagant Saturday Night with Berliner Philharmoniker

One of the things I love about the Philharmonie in Berlin, is the normalcy of musical excellence week after week. Very few venues can pull off with such illuminating star wattage. Michael Schade, Anne Schwanewilms, and Barbara Hannigan performed in two concerts with two larger-than-life conductors Thielemann and Rattle. We were taken on three thrilling adventures.

Les Troyens at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s original and superbly cast production of Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens has provided the musical public with a treasured opportunity to appreciate one of the great operatic achievements of the nineteenth century.

Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock

The Little Opera Company opened its 21st season by championing its own, as it presented the world premiere of Winnipeg composer Neil Weisensel’s Merry Christmas, Stephen Leacock.

A Christmas Festival: La Nuova Musica at St John's Smith Square

Now in its 31st year, the 2016 Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square has offered sixteen concerts performed by diverse ensembles, among them: the choirs of King’s College, London and Merton College, Oxford; Christchurch Cathedral Choir, Oxford; The Gesualdo Six; The Cardinall’s Musick; The Tallis Scholars; the choirs of Trinity College and Clare College, Cambridge; Tenebrae; Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightment.

Fleming's Farewell to London: Der Rosenkavalier at the ROH

As 2016 draws to a close, we stand on the cusp of a post-Europe, pre-Trump world. Perhaps we will look back on current times with the nostalgic romanticism of Richard Strauss’s 1911 paean to past glories, comforts and certainties: Der Rosenkavalier.

Loft Opera’s Macbeth: Go for the Singing, Not the Experience

Ah, Loft Opera. It’s part of the experience to wander down many dark streets, confused and lost, in a part of Brooklyn you’ve never been. It is that exclusive—you can’t even find the performance!

A clipped Walküre in Amsterdam

Let’s start by getting a couple of gripes out of the way. First, the final act of Die Walküre does not constitute a full-length concert, even with a distinguished cast and orchestra, and with animated drawings fluttering on a giant screen.

A Leonard Bernstein Delight

When you combine two charismatic New York stage divas with the artistry of Los Angeles Opera, you have a mix that explodes into singing, dancing and an evening of superb entertainment.

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

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):