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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Kitty Whately as Rosina and Jonathan Veira as Dr Bartolo [Photo by Fritz Curzon]
11 Jun 2014

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Holland Park

The geographical and chronological transportation of Rossini’s famous factotum from 18th-century Seville to 19th-century London is director Oliver Platt’s most radical notion in this satisfying, if somewhat straightforward, new production of Il barbiere di Siviglia for Opera Holland Park.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kitty Whately as Rosina and Jonathan Veira as Dr Bartolo

Photos by Fritz Curzon

 

Into the greys and browns of a Dickensian street — all gas-lights, Peelers, down-and-outs and street urchins — juts the sharply angled exterior of Dr Bartolo’s abode (designs, Neil Irish). From an archway emerges a staggering drunk; he droops against a lamp-post and, annoyed at being awoken by a motley band of musicians, stubbornly sticks his fingers in his ears as the incognito Count Almaviva’s delivers an amorous address to his beloved Rosina. She lingers, tantalisingly glimpsed through the askew — and none too clean — white curtains of the upper-floor bedroom which overhangs the street.

The set intrudes into the fore of the stage, and there is not much room for ensemble choreography; but, this matters little as Platt doesn’t really ask them to do anything other than take their positions and sing — they do the latter very pleasingly. At the start of Scene 2 the oblique walls are heaved open to reveal the mayhem of the scatter-brained doctor’s daily routines, as professionalism and domesticity collide. The split-level house is a mound of muddle: tottering piles of consultation notes and scientific research, optical charts, crumbling treatises. Above Rosina’s dressing table a large drawing of an anatomical eye glares out forbiddingly. Amid the general chaos lurks some unsavoury medical debris — as the pandemonium escalates a severed hand is flung in the street attracting the suspicious attentions of first a ragamuffin and then the metropolitan constabulary — suggesting that the old governess Berta is past her housekeeping prime.

Barber-5.gifKitty Whately as Rosina, Nico Darmanin as Count Almaviva and Nicholas Lester as Figaro

It’s all detailed and precise. And, the simultaneous view of interior and exterior is effective: quotidian life — washing day, bobbies on the beat — forms a commonplace backdrop to the mad capers within. As the self-indulgent lovers ignore Figaro’s advice to flee, we witness Bartolo’s removal of the ladder which they confidently assume will facilitate their escape — a neat touch of dramatic irony. Mark Jonathan’s lighting design is fairly simple and naturalistic, excepting a lurch towards the surreal at the end of Act 1 where, surrounding a spot-lit Bartolo, the plotters bathe in lurid green and pink aptly emphasising the wackiness of the comic commotion.

Design and direction may not surprise, but the cast certainly tell the tale with musical aplomb. Australian baritone Nicholas Lester has a large, opulent voice which he put to excellent effect as the quick-thinking barber. His bass-inclined resonance grabbed the attention from his first entrance. Pushing a stripy-poled hand-cart, this Figaro peddled his talents and wares — some wild wigs dangle from his wagon — with confidence and composure, a nonchalant single swipe of the razor de-whiskering a client during ‘Largo al factotum’. Lester’s lines were clearly formed, of pleasing tone, and his performance was well-paced. His on-stage presence ensured that the uproar never lapsed into anarchy, and when a commanding hand was required he assuredly stepped in.

As the wayward young minx, Rosina, Kitty Whately was likewise superb. Whately’s mezzo has a lovely golden glow at the bottom reminding us, perhaps, that the role was originally written for a contralto. Her lustrous tone projected well, beguiling all; but, this Rosina’s potential for menace was plainly evident, as Whately stropped and pouted in frustration and exasperation. The coloratura of ‘Una voce poco fa’ was cleanly executed, as Rosina turned her indignation on the hapless skeleton collecting dust amid the clutter; Platt might have offered Whately more direction here — she looked a bit uncertain why she was draping the bones with Bartolo’s overcoat — but her comic acumen shone through in the singing lesson.

Barber-6.gifA scene from Il barbiere di Siviglia

Young Maltese tenor Nico Darmanin was an ardent Almaviva and slipped deftly between his varied personae. Lindoro’s velvet frock coat added a splash of colour to the opening scene but I felt that initially Darmanin tried a bit too hard — he has all the notes and a strong, unwavering tone, but perhaps a softer hue would more readily win Rosina’s heart. But, as Darmanin relaxed into the role his sure technique served him well and the decorative lines were stylishly phrased. The tenor also revealed a penchant for comic exaggeration, as the inebriated cavalry-man determined to be billeted chez Bartolo, and even more so as Basilio’s apprentice, cleverly mimicking his master’s mannerisms and his sartorial style. The piano-top shenanigans of Rosina and the Count, under Figaro’s impatient glower, offered playful high-spirits and characterful singing.

As the unfortunate dupe, Jonathan Veira showed why he deserves his reputation as one of the best buffo basses today, making Bartolo the butt of our ridicule but also winning sympathy for the befuddled, bamboozled buffoon.

With William Robert Allenby indisposed, Nicholas Crawley added Basilio’s outré peri-winkle — straight from Pickwick Papers ­ — to Fiorello’s bowler hat, performing both roles excellently and with fine-judged parody. As Berta, Alinka Kozari revealed a bright, nimble soprano, and as she went doggedly about the household chores she was well complemented by Tom Asher’s Ambrogio.

Conductor Matthew Waldren led the City of London Sinfonia through a sparking overture, but from then on things were rather more conservative. Although there was much attention to detail, it felt a bit too earnest; the string ensemble was good and the woodwind and horn solos sang warmly, but the ‘Rossini Rockets’ needed a bit more oomph. Walden’s tempi erred on the side of caution and a greater sense of recklessness, particularly in Act 2 finale, would have added some spice. Perhaps he wished to support his young cast, but there was certainly no sense that they needed cossetting. The thunderstorm was disappointing, and the over-amplification of the digital piano in the recitatives was irritatingly distracting.

Overall this is a smashing Il barbiere: no nasty surprises and plenty of fun. There may be pressure on finances — Irish’s set is all wobbly walls and bendy lampposts — but there is no scrimping on musical values.

Il barbiere di Siviglia continues in repertory until 28 June.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Figaro, Nicholas Lester; Rosina, Kitty Whately; Count, Almaviva Nico Darmanin; Doctor Bartolo, Jonathan Veira; Don Basilio, Nicholas Crawley; Berta, Alinka Kozari; Fiorello, Nicholas Crawley; Ambrogio, Tom Asher; An Officer, Alistair Sutherland; Director. Oliver Platt; Conductor, Matthew Waldren; Designer, Neil Irish; Lighting Designer, Mark Jonathan; City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park Chorus. Opera Holland Park, London, Saturday 7th 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):