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

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

ENO The Pearl Fishers, Sophie Bevan [Photo by ENO/Mike Hoban]
18 Jun 2014

The Pearl Fishers, ENO

Writing in a programme article to accompany this first revival of her 2010 production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, director Penny Woolcock remarks upon the opera’s ‘plethora of beautiful arias, duets, choral and orchestral music … and catchy tunes that spawn earworms’.

The Pearl Fishers, ENO

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sophie Bevan as Leïla

Photos © ENO/Mike Hoban

 

Certainly, the opera is more than a one-hit wonder, and its celebrated ‘lollipop’, the tenor-baritone duet ‘Au fond du temple saint’, is one of many melodic gems in a sumptuous score.

It’s what holding them together that’s the problem. Cormon and Carré’s flimsy tale of the forbidden love of two best friends for one High Priestess suffers from one-dimensional characterisation and a generous dose of the nineteenth-century French obsession with ‘the Orient’ — the armchair traveller hoping for an authentic Eastern sojourn has to wade through such nonsense as the notion of the ancient Ceylonese venerating Hindu gods with European music.

Woolcock’s solution is a visual one; and in places it works. Designer Dick Bird’s opening image of elegant divers swooping and plunging with astonishingly balletic grace to scoop pearls from the ocean bed is arresting (although it was a pity that conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud did not coax a similarly exotic aural kaleidoscope from the pit during the rather lacklustre overture). Later, billowing silk evokes the ebbing moonlit waves, and these swell in the storm sequence into a raging video tsunami which surges and heaves, threatening to over-spill into the auditorium.

ENO_PF_03.gifJohn Tessier as Nadir, Sophie Bevan as Leïla and George von Bergen as Zurga

Jen Schriever’s lighting enhances the fantasy: the colours evoke the opulent emeralds and aquamarines of the omnipresent waters, and the burnished ochres and oranges of the tropical sun. The change from day to night — as the dockside dwellings fade into shadow, beneath the glint and shimmer of distant hillside lights — is magical.

In an attempt to inject some realism into the orientalist schmaltz, Woolcock and Bird transfer the action to modern Sri Lanka and construct a chaotic shanty-town of corrugated shacks, the barbed wire and concrete jumble suggesting an ideological slant relating to global warming and/or western commercial exploitation. I wondered for a moment whether the be-suited Westerners wandering through the hovels were corrupt pearl-factory owners, but as they disappeared after the opening act I assume they were simply goggle-eyed tourists.

While these are worthy touches, they are not sustained; static mise en scènerather than enlivening dramatic threads. Kevin Pollard’s costumes lean towards cliché and, more importantly, Woolcock offers the cast almost no direction. It doesn’t matter what they are singing or in what context — making eternal vows of loyalty, swearing undying devotion, threatening revenge — there is scarcely any physical or visual interaction between the principals who stand, sit or lie stock still, facing the audience. Only in the fight sequence between Leila and Zurga in Act 3 is there any sense of choreographed dynamism.

One problem is that the set is cramped; there is just room enough for the chorus to assemble collectively amid the staggering lean-tos and for the principals to walk to the front of the stage, or climb the side-stairs. The result is that the ENO chorus looks rather ‘amateur’, although after a slightly hesitant start, they are on cracking musical form. ‘Brahma divin Brahma!’ at the close of Act 2 was fervent and resounding.

ENO_PF_02.gifA scene from The Pearl Fishers

A pre-curtain announcement warned us that Sophie Bevan was suffering from a virus but it didn’t seem to affect her performance as the High Priestess Leila too adversely, although perhaps there was initially a sense that she was saving her brightest sparkle for the big moments. ‘Comme autrefois dans la nuit sombre’, when Leila reflects on her past secret assignations with Nadir, was persuasive and charming, and Bevan bloomed in the lovers’ passionate Act 2 duet. In Act 3, despite being thrown around by an enraged, vengeful Zurga, her voice was characteristically accurate and vivid.

As Nadir, John Tessier made good use of his attractive tenor in his Act 1 aria ‘Je crois entendre encore’: the phrasing was flexible, the tone appealing and the upper register unforced as Tessier conveyed both Nadir’s rapturous devotion and his essential honour. But, his voice is quite light-weight and he didn’t quite have the resonance to carry the long, arching lines in the duet with George von Bergen’s Zurga. Von Bergen had more punch and power, and his diction was superb; the Act 3 aria ‘L’orage est calmé’ was full of feeling as Zurga expresses his remorse for his angry condemnation of Nadir. But, both men needed more variety of colour to compensate for the lack of psychological complexity provided by the librettists. Barnaby Rea was a full-voiced Nourabad but his dreadful costume was a hindrance to any notable dramatic impact.

After their uninspiring start, the ENO instrumentalists shone in some exquisite solos, with horn and flute particularly impressive, but Tinguad never quite drew playing of sufficient lyric passion from his players. Martin Fitzpatrick’s rather staid translation added scant fire or frisson to the mix.

Dissatisfaction with the ending — Bizet’s own and that of the critics — resulted in various versions and no clear picture of the composer’s preferred form. Woolcock leaves us with the depressing image of suffering children being carried from the all-consuming flames of the burning ghat, the pyre ignited by Zurga in order to facilitate the lovers’ escape; a somewhat dispiriting end given the selfless nature of Zurga’s sacrifice.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Leïla, Sophie Bevan; Nadir, John Tessier; Zurga, George von Bergen; Nourabad, Barnaby Rea; Director, Penny Woolcock; Conductor, Jean-Luc Tingaud; Set Designer, Dick Bird; Costume Designer, Kevin Pollard; Lighting Designer, Jen Schriever; Video Designer, 59 Productions Ltd; Choreographer, Andrew Dawson; Translator, Martin Fitzpatrick. English National Opera, London Coliseum, Monday 16th 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):