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

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?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

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):