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

O/MODƏRNT: Monteverdi in Historical Counterpoint

O/MODƏRNT is Swedish for ‘un/modern’. It is also the name of the festival — curated by artistic director Hugo Ticciati and held annually since 2011 at the Ulriksdal’s Palace Theatre, Confidencen — which aims to look back and celebrate the past ‘by exploring the relationships between the work of old composers and the artistic and intellectual creations of modern culture’.

Late Schumann in context - Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler, London

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist. Therein lay the pleasure !

Guillaume Tell, Covent Garden

It is twenty-three years since Rossini’s opera of cultural oppression, inspiring heroism and tender pathos was last seen on the Covent Garden stage, but this eagerly awaited new production of Guillaume Tell by Italian director Damiano Micheletto will be remembered more for the audience outrage and vociferous mid-performance booing that it provoked — the most persistent and strident that I have heard in this house — than for its dramatic, visual or musical impact.

Aida, Opera Holland Park

With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels.

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

Given the enduring resonance and impact of the magnificent visual aesthetic of Visconti’s 1971 film of Thomas Mann’s novella, opera directors might be forgiven for concluding that Britten’s Death in Venice does not warrant experimentation with period and design, and for playing safe with Edwardian elegance, sweeping Venetian vistas and stylised seascapes.

La Rondine Swoops Into St. Louis

If La Rondine (The Swallow) is a less-admired work than rest of the mature Puccini canon, you wouldn’t have known it by the lavish production now lovingly staged by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Emmeline a Stunner in Saint Louis

Few companies have championed new or neglected works quite as fervently and consistently as the industrious Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Two Women in San Francisco

Why would an American opera company devote its resources to the premiere of an opera by an Italian composer? Furthermore a parochially Italian story?

Les Troyens in San Francisco

Berlioz’ Les Troyens is in two massive parts — La prise de Troy and Troyens à Carthage.

Dog Days at REDCAT

On Saturday evening June 13, 2015, Los Angeles Opera presented Dog Days, a new opera with music by David T. Little and a text by Royce Vavrek. In the opera adopted from a story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, thirteen-year-old Lisa tells of her family’s mental and physical disintegration resulting from the ravages of a horrendous war.

Opera Las Vegas Presents Exquisite Madama Butterfly

Audiences at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan first saw Madama Butterfly on February 17, 1904. It was not the success it is these days, and Puccini revised it before its scheduled performances in Brescia.

Yardbird, Philadelphia

Opera Philadelphia is a very well-managed opera company with a great vision. Every year it presents a number of well-known “warhorse” operas, usually in the venerable Academy of Music, and a few more adventurous productions, usually in a chamber opera format suited to the smaller Pearlman Theater.

Giovanni Paisiello: Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Written in 1783, Giovanni Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia reigned for three decades as one of Europe’s most popular operas, before being overshadowed forever by Rossini’s classic work.

Princeton Festival: Le Nozze di Figaro

The Princeton Festival has established a reputation for high-quality summer opera. In recent years works by Handel, Britten, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Wagner and Gershwin have been performed at Matthews Theater on Princeton University campus: a 1100-seat auditorium with good sight-lines though a somewhat dry and uneven acoustic.

Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Glyndebourne

Die Entführung aus dem Serail was Mozart’s first great public success in Vienna, and it became the composer’s most oft performed opera during his lifetime.

German Lieder Is Given a Dramatic Twist by The Ensemble for the Romantic Century

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century offered a thoughtful and well-curated evening in their production of The Sorrows of Young Werther, which is part theatrical performance and part art song concert.

Hans Werner Henze: Ein Landarzt and Phaedra

This was an adventurous double bill of two ‘quasi-operas’ by Hans Werner Henze, performed by young singers who are studying on the postgraduate Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Dido and Aeneas, Spitalfields Festival

High brick walls, a cavernous space, entered via a narrow passage just off a London thoroughfare: Village Underground in Shoreditch is probably not that far removed from the venue in which Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was first performed — whether that was Josiah Priest’s girl’s school in Chelsea or the court of Charles II or James II.

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

Hats off to Garsington for championing once again some criminally neglected Strauss. I overheard someone there opine, ‘Of course, you can understand why it isn’t done very often.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susannah Glanville as Minnie and Jeff Gwaltney as Dick Johnson [Photo by Fritz Curzon]
06 Jun 2014

Giacomo Puccini: La fanciulla del West

‘I like the atmosphere of the West’, Puccini wrote after seeing three of David Belasco’s plays performed on Broadway in 1907, ‘but in all the “pièces” I have seen, I have found only a few scenes here and there.

Giacomo Puccini: La fanciulla del West

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Susannah Glanville as Minnie and Jeff Gwaltney as Dick Johnson

Photos by Fritz Curzon

 

Never a simple thread, all muddle, and, at times, bad taste and old hat.’ It was nevertheless there and then that the first dramatic seeds were sown for La fanciulla del West were sown; it would be written to a libretto after Belasco, dedicated to Queen Alexandra (!), and premiered in New York in 1910. Even after considerable compression, modification, and so forth, I am not convinced the work is a resounding triumph, though many Puccini lovers esteem it highly indeed. It is certainly full of musical interest: the Wagnerisms of old are perhaps not so prominent, though the love scene in the second act surely takes partly after Tristan , but the influence of Debussy in particular is fruitful indeed. Whole tone scales pervade the score, and there is more than the occasional nod to Pelléas. The story itself, the characters included, remains more of a problem. They are not the easiest people to care about, and without that, Puccini’s trademark emotional manipulations cannot do their work. He may have wished the opera to be a ‘second Bohème, only stronger, bolder, and more spacious,’ but that ambition would only fitfully be fulfilled. The sentimentality of the ‘redemptive’ ending is, alas, only too readily resisted.

Or so it seemed here, despite an excellent orchestral performance from the City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford. The number of occasions when one really felt the lack of a larger orchestra was surprisingly small, the strings proving more luscious than one would have had any right to expect, the woodwind piquant and alluring, and the brass offering dramatical fatalism aplenty. Stratford’s direction seemed to me splendidly judged, those Debussyan resonances both readily apparent and seamless incorporated into the score. There is little that can be done about a rather annoying theme - friends tell me that it has been ‘borrowed’ by a composer of musical theatre, though it stands out like a sore thumb even before one is aware of that - but the score was certainly given its due. Stratford’s - and his cast’s - crewing up of musical tension during the second-act wager was beyond reproach.

photo-5.gif Susannah Glanville as Minnie and Simon Thorpe as Jack Rance

Susannah Glanville shone as Minnie; I had not encountered her before, but was mightily impressed by her vocal reserves and the dramatic use to which they were bit. This was a performance that would have graced many a ‘major’ stage, not that the ever-enterprising Opera Holland Park has any reason to fear such lazy comparisons. Jeff Gwaltney sometimes struggled to make himself heard - in particular, his words - but offered a sensitive portrayal of Dick Johnson. Simon Thorpe presented the conflicting emotions of Jack Rance with considerable skill, permitting one initially to sympathise, then to be repelled. A strong supporting cast included a highly impressive performance by Nicholas Garrett as Sonora. Choral singing was likewise greatly to be admired.

The problem, then, lay with Stephen Barlow’s production. This, at least it seems to me, is a vulnerable work, and the updating to a 1950s Nevada atomic testing ground makes little sense. A number of those who know the opera far better than I do say that it is a work that resists relocation in any sense. I am not so sure; I can imagine, for instance, a metatheatrical treatment in Hollywood, which played upon musical themes as well as the more obvious metaphor of gold-digging. The name ‘Camp Desert Rock’ seemed to promise something that remained un-delivered, but perhaps that should come as a relief. Barlow’s concept, however ably assisted by Yannis Thavoris’s designs, seems not to involve any real re-thinking; re-location jars and perplexes, rather than reinvigorates. Puccini’s ‘never a simple thread, all muddle, and, at times, bad taste and old hat’? That would be too harsh, but work and musical performance alike are done no favours by pointless, eye- but hardly ear-catching interpolations, of Minnie’s final act arrival upon a motorcycle and the lovers’ subsequent airline departure. It was difficult to resist the conclusion that the opera would have been better off left in Gold Rush California.

Mark Berry


Cast and production information:

Minnie: Susannah Glanville; Dick Johnson: Jeff Gwaltney; Jack Rance: Simon Thorpe; Nick: Neal Cooper; Sonora: Nicholas Garrett; Trin: Jung Soo Yun; Sid: Peter Braithwaite; Bello: James Harrison; Harry: Oliver Brignall; Joe: Edward Hughes; Happy: John Lofthouse; Jim Larkens: Aidan Smith; Ashby: Graeme Broadbent; Wowkle: Laura Woods; Billy Jackrabbit: Tom Stoddart; Jake Wallace: Simon Wilding; Jose Castro: Henry Grant Kerswell; Pony Express Rider: Michael Bradley. Director: Stephen Barlow; Designs: Yannis Thavoris; Lighting: Richard Howell. Opera Holland Park Chorus (chorus master: Timothy Burke)/ City of London Sinfonia/Stuart Stratford (conductor). Holland Park. Tuesday 3 June 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):