Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital

Audiences will have the chance to feel part of a new opera inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poems with an innovative 360-degree simulated experience of Garsington Opera’s Silver Birch on BBC Arts Digital from midday, Wednesday 8th November.

Mozart’s Requiem: Pierre-Henri Dutron Edition

The stories surrounding Mozart’s Requiem are well-known. Dominated by the work in the final days of his life, Mozart claimed that he composed the Requiem for himself (Landon, 153), rather than for the wealthy Count Walsegg’s wife, the man who had commissioned it in July 1791.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

Schumann and Mahler Lieder : Florian Boesch

Schumann and Mahler Lieder with Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau, now out from Linn Records, following their recent Schubert Winterreise on Hyperion. From Boesch and Martineau, excellence is the norm. But their Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen takes excellence to even greater levels

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

26 Jul 2014

Glyndebourne's Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms

Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.

A review by Claire seymour

 

Semi-staged it might have been but it’s amazing how a stretch-limo of a chaise-longue and some atmospheric lighting can translate you from a hot night in modern-day South Kensington to the rococo opulence of fin de siècle Vienna or a slightly surreal 1960s locale.

Jones and his designer Paul Steinberg left their eye-straining patterned wallpaper at Glyndebourne, but the glowing colours of the illuminated strip which bordered the raised platform were a subtle replacement. Much can be communicated with a simple visual image and, as ever in Jones’s productions, the details here were telling. In Act 1 Baron Ochs and Mariandel sit at opposite ends of the cream couch, Ochs’ misapprehension that he is wooing a potential sexual conquest comically emphasised by the literal gap between the eager wooer and the disguised Octavian. Subsequently, when Octavian and the Marschallin resume this position, the space between assumes a tragic resonance, intimating not delusion but as yet unvoiced self-knowledge and foreshadowings of estrangement.

We move from the Marchallin’s levee to Faninel’s art deco palace in Act 2, his brightly coloured illuminated name replacing the patterns of Act 1, and the cream chaise-longue supplanted by a crimson velvet couch. Movements and transitions throughout the evening were unfussy; and Sarah Fahie, the semi-staging and movement director, made effective use of the auditorium, placing the off-stage band in the Gallery during Ochs’ failed seduction of Mariandel in Act III.

Kate Royal was a graceful, poised Marschallin, both vocally and dramatically. Her soprano is not excessively opulent but it is clear and silky, and her singing was unfailingly accurate and intelligently phrased. While Royal didn’t quite plumb the Marschallin’s emotional depths, there were many moments of dramatic insight. After the busy opening scenes, I was quite disarmed when, gazing in the mirror at her freshly arranged coiffeur, Royal reflected, ‘"Mein lieber Hippolyte,/ heut haben Sie ein altes Weib aus mir gemacht"’ (My dear Hippolyte, today you’ve made me into an old woman’); the change of colour and vocal shadows, as if she were singing to herself, seemed to confirm the Marschallin’s essential isolation from the vulgar business proceeding around her.

When the Marschallin pondered the passing of time at the end of Act 1, Royal’s monologues were again marked by self-composure and were quietly reflective; she let the music speak for itself and her discreet approach was all the more effective for Octavian’s boisterous, naive interjections: ‘Nicht heut, nicht morgen! Ich hab’ dich lieb. … Wenn’s so einen Tage geben muss, ich denk’ ihn nicht!’ (Not today, no tomorrow! I love you! … If such a day there must be, I’ll not think of it!)

There was poignancy too: at the end of Act I, turning away from the Hall into a world of private musing, Royal curled elegantly on the chaise-longue, watched over by a portrait of Freud (and the bust of Henry Wood), and her self-containment was underpinned by conductor Robin Ticciati’s gentle musical direction - three carefully place pizzicati, followed by the merest delay before the horns’ final muted chord. Yet, while it is easy for us to pity the Marschallin, after the glorious riches of the Act III trio Royal’s slightly impatient final renunciation, ‘Ja, ja’, made us think again.

Tara Erraught’s Octavian was superbly sung and acted: particularly impressive was her meticulous attention to the dramatic inferences and details - Erraught even altered her accent, to considerable comic effect, when disguised as Mariandel. In the opening scenes, this Octavian was by turns ardent and tender, petulant and exuberant, stubborn and emollient; and Erraught’s focused, bright, strong sound conveyed the confidence of youth and intimated the man Octavian will become. Erraught’s mezzo swelled glossily, blooming into the auditorium, as Octavian, inflamed with adolescent self-assurance, craved both Love and his beloved Bichette: ‘Ja, ist Sie da? Dann will ich Sie halter, dass Si emir nicht wieder entkommt!’ (Is she really here? I will hold her lest she escapes me again!) This was the performance of the evening.

With Teodora Gheorghiu indisposed, soprano Louise Alder donned Sophie’s fairy-princess finery and endured being flung about like a stiff marionette, prinked and preened to debutante perfection. I recently reviewed Alder at the Wigmore Hall and remarked that she was a ‘name to watch … remarkably assured … [with] an alluring voice characterised by lyrical charm and astonishing power, particularly at the top; and her vocal prowess was complemented by a sure sense of poetic meaning and musical poetry’. These qualities were certainly in evidence, but we had to wait a little time for Alder to truly shine.

Ticciati paced the presentation of the rose scene perfectly. Octavian’s entry was arresting, full of expectation and a sense of occasion; standing side by side, facing towards the Hall, the young lovers-to-be intimated both the formality of the ceremony and their own nervousness; then, as they turned to face each other, Erraught wonderfully conveyed the moment that Cupid punctured Octavian’s heart, swaying gently inwards as if lured by a hypnotic blend of the silver rose’s heady scent and the image of perfection before him.

Alder’s floating gossamer arcs were flawlessly tuned and delicately placed, but I did not like her tendency to swell through the note, from fragile transparency to momentary gleam and back again, and would have preferred a more even line. But, she quickly settled and gained in confidence, and post-presentation both Alder and Erraught displayed an openness of tone which underscored the candour of their exchanges, ‘Wird Sie das Mannsbild da heiraten, ma cousine? … Nicht um die Welt!’ (Are you going to marry that fellow, ma cousine? … Not for all the world!). Ever feistier, the voice increasingly focused, Alder established a strong stage presence, flinging off her silver slippers and removing her ghastly flounces to be draped by Marianne in a simple white dressing-gown; her true heart liberated from the trappings of formal courtship.

Lars Woldt was also unavailable and Franz Hawlata stepped effortlessly into Baron Ochs’s alpine leather boots. Hawlata possesses natural comic timing which, after the clumsy staircase tumble of his initial entry, relied here on understatement rather than bombast; he (and Jones) realise that actions are funnier if not played for laughs; as a consequence, convinced of the Baron’s utter lack of self-knowledge and thus too of his honesty, we were prompted to veer between aversion and sympathy for the hapless suitor. In a neat touch, at the end of Act 2 a flunkey unfolded a concertinaed portrait gallery of potential mistresses (something mid-way between a set of Renaissance miniatures and an internet dating site roll call), and Ochs’s transparent misconceptions prompted an affectionate snigger. Hawlata has a lovely, appealing tone, and his voice was, aptly, by turns flexible and sturdy; he was also the best of the cast in communicating the text, and many moments were enhanced by this clarity - as in, for example, the end-of-Act 2 exchanges with Helene Schneiderman’s excellent Annina.

There was much to admire, too, elsewhere, Michael Kraus’s finely sung Faninal being a notable highlight. As the Italian Singer, the idiomatic, virile tone of tenor Andrej Dunaev impressively filled the Hall, and there strong performances from Christopher Gillett (Valzacchi), Miranda Keys (Marianne) and Gwynne Howell (the Notary).

Under the baton of Robin Ticciati, the London Philharmonic Orchestra produced playing as elegant as the vocal performances. Ticciati’s conducting was unfussy but precise and sensitive to the singers. There was no bombast - I had to listen hard during the overture to hear the sexually-charged yelp from the horns - and one might have desired more indulgent sensuousness. But, Ticciati was alert to the way that the orchestral colours guide us across the spectrum of emotional highs and lows: there was much beauty in the fluttering of harps, celeste and flute during the presentation of the rose, but also timbral darkness. The tempi were well-judged, especially the Act III trio.

This was a delightful evening. The comedy was gentle - a wry chuckle rather than a belly-laugh - but not a moment passed without something for the ear or eye to enjoy.
Claire Seymour

Kate Royal, soprano (Marschallin); Tara Erraught, mezzo-soprano (Octavian); Franz Hawlata, bass (Baron Ochs); Louise Alder, soprano (Sophie); Michael Kraus, baritone (Herr von Faninal); Miranda Keys, soprano (Marianne); Christopher Gillett, tenor (Valzacchi); Helene Schneiderman, mezzo-soprano (Annina); Gwynne Howell, bass (Notary); Andrej Dunaev, tenor (Italian Singer); Robert Wörle tenor (Innkeeper); Scott Conner, bass (Police Inspector); Robin Ticciati, conductor; Sarah Fahie, semi-stage/movement director; London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Claire Seymour

All BBC Proms are available on-line, internationally for 30 days after broadcasr

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):