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 Reviews

Staging Britten's War Requiem

“The best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance: this was my approach in the War Requiem - I calculated it for a big, reverberant acoustic and that is where it sounds best.”

Halévy’s Magnificent La reine de Chypre (1841) Gets Its Long-Awaited World Premiere Recording

Halévy’s La reine de Chypre (The Queen of Cyprus) is the 17th opera to be released in the impressively prolific “French Opera” series of recordings produced by the Center for French Romantic Music, a scholarly organization located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice. (Other recent offerings have included Saint-Saëns’s richly characterized Proserpine, Benjamin Godard’s fascinating Dante--which contains scenes set in Heaven and Hell--and Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs, an opéra-comique that had a particularly long life in the international operatic repertoire.)

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

Bampton Classical Opera to perform Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors

Gian Carlo Menotti’s much-loved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors was commissioned in America by the National Broadcasting Company and was broadcast in 1951 - the first-ever opera composed specifically for television. Menotti said that it “is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood”.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

26 Jun 2014

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).

La Traviata in San Francisco

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Zuzana Marková as Violetta, Teodor Illingäi as Alfredo [Photos by Christian Dresse, courtesy of Opéra de Marseille)]

 

Maybe because it had a bad reputation as a betrayal of Alexander Dumas fils’ novel La Dame aux Camélias and maybe because local critics had already objected to its jumpy motifs and its vulgar rhythms. Once on the stage of Marseille’s venerable Opéra (1787) however it has become, with Rigotetto, Marseille’s most performed opera.

These June performances were sold out three months in advance — one wonders what foresight will have informed the Marseillais that this was a Traviata not to miss?

Alexander Dumas fils too might have been pleased. His 20 year-old Marguerite, renamed Violetta in the opera was very young as well, and very beautiful. The honesty and ironic innocence that Dumas finds in his ill-starred prostitute radiated from young Czech soprano Zuzana Marková in her role debut.

Traviata_MRS2OT.png Act I, Gaston, Alfredo, Le Marquis, Violetta, Flora.

Mlle. Marková may have been a somewhat tentative Lucia last winter in Marseille, but as Violetta she moved with new found grace and delivered a deeply studied performance with complete mastery and conviction. She is a remarkable technician in the first flower of beautiful, clear, coloratura voice. The E-flat taken in “Sempre libera” rang with silvery confidence, the mid-voice of the second act and death shone with strength and warmth.

It was a sterling performance allowed by remarkable conducting, that of Stuttgart formed young Korean maestra Eun Sun Kim (it is already an established career with credits at English National Opera, Frankfurt Opera, Vienna Volksoper). The maestra is clearly of a new generation of conductors who feel tempos in a minimalist sense — slower macro-pulses offering sound spaces where immediate depths may be probed. Musical energy is discovered by the exploration of this microcosmos rather than in energy found by forcing brute speed and sudden braking.

This musicianship allows for the lyric expansion inherent in bel canto and here it laid bare the roots of the mid-period Verdi in this rapidly disappearing style. Mlle. Marková exposed bel canto’s purity of melodic intention by stylishly suspending her musical lines, plus she exploited these long, carefully sculpted melodic contours in lovely pianissimos and full fortes, and with beautiful vocal colors.

The conducting of Eun Sun Kim well served the artistry of Canadian baritone Jean-François Lapoint as Giorgio Germont. Mr. Lapoint who counts both Pelleas and Golaud among his roles is primarily known in the French repertory. He brought a projection of text from these roles, and a delicacy of delivery that created an unusual depth of personality and musical presence to Germont. The absence of an Italianate color and inflection, and an inborn leading-man presence were overcome here by the convincing sense of bel canto that he and Mlle. Eun achieved (Mr. Lapointe also counts Donizetti’s Alphonse XI [La Favorite] among his roles).

Traviata_MRS3OT.png Zuzana Marková as Violetta, Jean François Lapointe as Giorgio Germont

It was a new production, the work of Renée Auphan, the former general director of Marseille Opera (perhaps accounting for the care in its casting). In her program notes she cautions us not to think too much about the Dumas novel, that that demi-monde is far removed from our experience. She asks us instead to focus on Verdi’s universal humanity.

But the characters in her staging are very much those of Dumas, starting with the youth of Mlle. Marková (if not the brattish confidence of Dumas’ Marguerite) and the forty-some age of the has-been prostitute Flora. Her Act III party admitted the startling vulgarity of the demi-monde as described by Dumas. French mezzo Sophie Pondijiclis made this role vividly real, a revelation. French mezzo Christine Tocci played Annina, here transformed from Verdi’s dramatic utility into Dumas’ Nanine, a factotum confidante, possibly a lover of Marguerite, not a chamber maid. Costumed in male styled trousers and top, with a bright smile and strong voice Mlle. Tocci was constantly at Violetta’s side, a vivid, voiceless presence in Act I.

Act II begins with Alfredo’s outpouring of contentment, the emotion ironically compromised by the presence of Dr. Grenvil, who sits writing something, perhaps a prescription, while Alfredo sings the opening of "dei miei bollenti spiriti" to him. The doctor then departs, imparting a perfunctory gesture of professional sympathy to Alfredo. Romanian tenor Teodor Ilincâl made Dumas’ obsessive Armand quite real as Verdi’s Alfredo. Mr. Ilincâl is a strong voiced, Faustian tenor who well embodied Dumas and Verdi’s single minded and selfishly Romantic lover. Verdi simply does not award him the delicacy or complexity of feeling that he lavished on Violetta and Germont.

Mme. Auphan is wise to suggest that we not dwell on Dumas. But understanding the detail of her mise en scène together with the exemplary casting and the musical depth of the conducting explains why this staging brought unexpected vitality to this old warhorse. It was not a moving Traviata so much as it was an almost clinically musical and dramatic examination of this masterpiece. And finally it was mesmerizing art.

The new production provided an unobtrusive, standard mid-nineteenth century setting designed by Marseille born Christine Marest, a veteran of the late 20th century avant garde. The scenery, beautifully lighted by photographer Roberto Venturi, was a stage box that easily transformed its feeling from salon to an intimate, emotional interior space most notably in the “sempre libera.” In Dumas novel this scene takes place in Marguerite’s boudoir, in the Auphan production the lights of the salon are softened into dim, candle light, and just as in the Dumas novel Alfredo is present, making this scene an operatic pas de deux, Violetta voicing her conflicts while Alfredo crumples a white camellia.

There were performances on six consecutive days, thus there were two casts. Jean-François Lapointe however unexpectedly sang all performances (and was still in fine form at the fifth performance). Intelligence from the pressroom indicates that the alternate cast was quite impressive — Romanian soprano Mihaela Marcu as Violetta and Turkish tenor Bülent Bezdüz as Alfredo.

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Violetta: Zuzana Marková; Flora: Sophie Pondjiclis; Annina: Christine Tocci; Alfredo Germont: Teodor Ilincäi; Giorgio Germont: Jean-François Lapointe; Le Baron: Jean-Marie Delpas; Le Marquis: Christophe Gay; Le Docteur: Alain Herriau; Gaston de Letorières: Carl Ghazarossian; Giuseppe: Camille Tresmontant. Chorus and Orchestra of the Opéra de Marseille. Conductor: Eun Sun Kim; Stage Director: Renée Auphan; Scenic Designer: Christine Marest; Costume Designer: Katia Duflot; Lighting Designer: Roberto Venturi. Opéra de Marseille, June 21, 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):