28 Jul 2014
Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
Opera San Jose has capped a wholly winning season with an emotionally engaging, thrillingly sung, enticingly fresh rendition of Puccini’s immortal masterpiece La bohème.
On Saturday evening April 22, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata at the Civic Theater. Director Marta Domingo updated the production from the constrictions of the nineteenth century to the freedom of the nineteen twenties. Violetta’s fellow courtesans and their dates wore fascinating outfits and, at one point, danced the Charleston to what looked like a jazz combo playing Verdi’s score.
Thomas Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is a dizzying, sometimes frightening, palimpsest of texts (literary and cinematic) and music, in which ceaseless repetitions of the past - inexact, ever varying, but inescapably compulsive - stultify the present and deny progress into the future. Paradoxically, there is endless movement within a constricting stasis. The essential elements collide in a surreal Sartrean dystopia: beasts of the earth (live sheep and a simulacra of a bear) roam, a disembodied hand floats through the air, water spouts from the floor and a burning cello provides the flames upon which to roast the sacrificial lambs. No wonder that when the elderly Doctor tries to restore order through scientific rationalism he is told, “We don't want reason! We want to get out of here!”
Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The town’s name itself “Baden-Baden” (named after Count Baden) sounds already enticing. Built against the old railway station, its Festspielhaus programs the biggest stars in opera for Germany’s largest auditorium. A Mecca for music lovers, this festival house doesn’t have its own ensemble, but through its generous sponsoring brings the great productions to the dreamy idylle.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
Director Martin Lloyd Evans re-located the work to the mid 20th century and designer Jamie Vartan provided some stylish 1930's style costumes. Cheryl Barker sang the title role, with Peter Auty as Maurizio, Tiziana Carraro as the Princess de Bouillon, Richard Burkhard as Michonnet, Simon Wilding as the Prince de Bouillon, Ian Beadle as Quinault, Peter Davoren as Poisson, Maud Miller as Mlle Jouvenot, Chloe Hinton as Mlle Dangeville and Robert Burt as Abbe de Choiseul, with dancers from English National Ballet. Manlio Benzi conducted The City of London Sinfonia.
Director Martin Lloyd Evans re-located the work to the mid 20th century and designer Jamie Vartan provided some stylish 1930's style costumes. Cheryl Barker sang the title role, with Peter Auty as Maurizio, Tiziana Carraro as the Princess de Bouillon, Richard Burkhard as Michonnet, Simon Wilding as the Prince de Bouillon, Ian Beadle as Quinault, Peter Davoren as Poisson, Maud Miller as Mlle Jouvenot, Chloe Hinton as Mlle Dangeville and Robert Burt as Abbe de Choiseul, with dancers from English National Ballet. Manlio Benzi conductied The City of London Sinfonia.
Jamie Vartan's sets made imaginative use of the remaining facade of Holland Park House, which was bombed in 1940. The play in Act One took place inside the house with a caravan for Adriana and sundry back stage detritus and spare scenery. These were re-purposed in Act Two to create the stylish modern villa. Act three took place outside Holland Park House, now standing in for the Prince's mansion with the framework of the caravan creating a pavilion, with act four returning to Adriana's caravan, this time revealing a stylish 1930's style wooden interior. Vartan's costumes were stylishly in period with an eye for the niceties; though Adriana was always beautifully dressed, there was just the gentlest hint that her taste was a little bit common compared to the Princess who was very soignée all in white in act two and all in black in act three.
It is a tricky opera to bring off. The opera requires a real diva of temperament in the title role, one who has the capability to sing the long lyric vocal line but who also has some bite. Iit doesn't help that there is also a slightly barmy plot, which no amount of tinkering can remedy. To Martin Lloyd-Evans's credit he didn't try, but presented the act two shenanigans with dramatic commitment, imagination, and a nice element of humour (though no-one giggled thank goodness).
Cheryl Barker made a stylish and glamorous Adriana, bringing a convincing theatricality to the spoken sections and a wonderful sense of spite in the act three extract from Phédre. Her act one solo had a lovely lyric beauty, and a sense of intimacy apt to the humble surroundings (a caravan!). What seemed slightly worrying was that, though poised, her relationship with Peter Auty's ardent Maurizio seemed a little cool a little too perfect (more Joan Crawford than Bette Davis). But Barker's Adriana really came into focus in the last act. Not with the great solo poveri fiori which was finely done indeed, but with the solo where she tells Maurizio that she will not marry him, that for her the crown will be one of laurel leaves. Barker's Adriana was first and foremost and actress and you sense that despite her distress in act four, she would have returned to work because acting was the most important thing in her life. It was a performance which grew on me and in the final act displayed intense power, theatricality and, yes, diva-dom.
Peter Auty made a wonderfully passionate Maurizio, completely believable in the intensity of his passion and the way he was able to distribute his favours equally between two women (Adriana and the Princesse de Bouillon). Perhaps Auty does not have quite and ideally open Italianate sound, it seems a little covered. But his tenor has great freedom and a lovely evenness over the range. And a consistent ability to project Cilea's vocal lines with convincing passion and vibrancy.
Prncesse de Bouillon is a gift of a role, and Tiziana Carraro did not disappoint. She was vibrantly passionate in act two with a thrillingly intense scene with Auty, and then in the subsequent intrigue brought off hiding in a broom cupboard under a sheet with great aplomb. In Act Three, the atmosphere fairly crackled and Carraro's body language was vivid even when she wasn't singing.
Richard Burkhard was profoundly touching as the stage manager Michonnet, very moving in the way he portrayed his unspoken love for Adriana. In many ways Burkhard was the linchpin of the production, the subtly drawn sane man around whom all the mayhem happened. Burkhard gave Michonnet a sympathetically intent feel and to a certain extent rather stole the show with his detailed yet finely sung and understated performance.
The four actors, Quinault, Posson, Mlle Jouvenot and Mlle Dangeville were played four of Opera Holland Park's previous Christine Collins Young Artists, Ian Beadle, Peter Davoren, Maud Miller and Chloe Hinton. They formed charming foursome, always popping up together and combining joy with style and a certain element of fun. Robert Burt made a delightful Abbe de Chazeuil. into everything and far too fond of the young ladies. Whilst Simon Wilding was a fine upstanding Prince de Bouillon.
James Streeter provided the choreography for the highly effective ballet in act three which was danced by principals from the English National Ballet.
Cilea makes great use of the orchestra in the opera, with quite a number of orchestral interludes and the City of London Sinfonia did not disappoint, combining passion and suaveness in their performance. Manlio Benzi conducted with a clear feel for Cilea's idiom. It is easy both to over heat and to undercook the music, and Benzi walked a stylish line between the two, giving us a finely drawn but dramatic performance.
Despite some initial reservations, this was a highly effective and dramatic performance which came together in a powerful conclusion in the last act.
Cast and production information:
Adriana: Cheryl Barker, Maurizio: Peter Auty, Princess de Bouillon: Tizian Carraro, Michonnet: Richard Burkhard, Prince de Bouillon: Simon Wilding, Quinault: Ian Beadle, Poisson: Peter Davoren, Mlle Jouvenot: Maude Miller, Mlle Dangeville: Chloe Hinton, Abbe de Chazeuil: Robert Burt, Chorus of Opera Holland Park, Dancers from English National Ballet, City of London Sinfonia, Director: Martin Lloyd Evans, Designer: Jamie Vartan, Lighting: Colin Grenfel, Choreography: James Streeter, Conductor: Manlio Benzi
Opera Holland Park, London 26 July 2014.