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 Performances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit - Ensemble Correspondances

Le Concert Royal de la Nuit with Ensemble Correspondances led by Sébastien Daucé, the glorious culmination of the finest London Festival of the Baroque in years on the theme "Treasures of the Grand Siècle". Le Concert Royal de la Nuit was Louis XIV's announcement that he would be "Roi du Soleil", a ruler whose magnificence would transform France, and the world, in a new age of splendour.

Voices of Revolution – Prokofiev, Exile and Return

Seven, they are Seven , op.30; Violin Concerto no.1 in D minor, op.19; Cantata for the Twentieth Anniverary of the October Revolution, op.74. David Butt Philip (tenor), Pekka Kuusisto (violin), Aidan Oliver (voice of Lenin, chorus director), Philharmonia Voices, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Students of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (military band), Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, Sunday 20 May 2018.

Charpentier Histoires sacrées, staged - London Baroque Festival

Marc-Antoine Charpentier Histoires sacrées with Ensemble Correspondances, conducted by Sébastien Daucé, at St John's Smith Square, part of the London Festival of the Baroque 2018. This striking staging, by Vincent Huguet, brought out its austere glory: every bit a treasure of the Grand Siècle, though this grandeur was dedicated not to Sun God but to God.

Aïda in Seattle: don’t mention the war!

When Francesca Zambello presented Aïda at her own Glimmerglass Opera in 2012, her staging was, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” Fighter planes strafed the Egyptian headquarters as the curtain rose, water-boarding was the favored form of interrogation, Radames was executed by lethal injection.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2018 opens with Annilese Miskimmon's Madama Butterfly

As the bells rang with romance from the tower of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, the rolling downs of Sussex - which had just acquired a new Duke - echoed with the strains of a rather more bitter-sweet cross-cultural love affair. Glyndebourne Festival Opera’s 2018 season opened with Annilese Miskimmon’s production of Madama Butterfly, first seen during the 2016 Glyndebourne tour and now making its first visit to the main house.

Remembering Debussy

This concert might have been re-titled Remembrance of Musical Times Past: the time, that is, when French song, nurtured in the Proustian Parisian salons, began to gain a foothold in public concert halls. But, the madeleine didn’t quite work its magic on this occasion.

A chiaroscuro Orfeo from Iestyn Davies and La Nuova Musica

‘I sought to restrict the music to its true purpose of serving to give expression to the poetry and to strengthen the dramatic situations, without interrupting the action or hampering it with unnecessary and superfluous ornamentations. […] I believed further that I should devote my greatest effort to seeking to achieve a noble simplicity; and I have avoided parading difficulties at the expense of clarity.’

Lessons in Love and Violence: powerful musical utterances but perplexing dramatic motivations

‘What a thrill -/ My thumb instead of an onion. The top quite gone/ Except for a sort of hinge/ Of skin,/ A flap like a hat,/ Dead white. Then that red plush.’ Those who imagined that Sylvia Plath (‘Cut’, 1962) had achieved unassailable aesthetic peaks in fusing pain - mental and physical - with beauty, might think again after seeing and hearing this, the third, collaboration between composer George Benjamin and dramatist/librettist Martin Crimp: Lessons in Love and Violence.

Les Salons de Pauline Viardot: Sabine Devieilhe at Wigmore Hall

Always in demand on French and international stages, the French soprano Sabine Devieihle is, fortunately, becoming an increasingly frequent visitor to these shores. Her first appearance at Wigmore Hall was last month’s performance of works by Handel with Emmanuelle Haïm’s Le Concert d’Astrée. This lunchtime recital, reflecting the meetings of music and minds which took place at Parisian salon of the nineteenth-century mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot (1821-1910), was her solo debut at the venue.

Jesus Christ Superstar at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago is now featuring as its spring musical Jesus Christ Superstar with music and lyrics by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The production originated with the Regent’s Park Theatre, London with additional scenery by Bay Productions, U.K. and Commercial Silk International.

Persephone glows with life in Seattle

As a figure in the history of 20th century art, few deserve to be closer to center stage than Ida Rubenbstein. Without her talent, determination, and vast wealth, Ravel’s Boléro, Debussy’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastien, Honegger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake, and Stravinsky’s Perséphone would not exist.

La concordia de’ pianeti: Imperial flattery set to Baroque splendor in Amsterdam

One trusts the banquet following the world premiere of La concordia de’ pianeti proffered some spicy flavors, because Pietro Pariati’s text is so cloying it causes violent stomach-churning. In contrast, Antonio Caldara’s music sparkles and dances like a blaze of crystal chandeliers.

Kathleen Ferrier Awards Final 2018

The 63rd Competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards 2018 was an unusually ‘home-grown’ affair. Last year’s Final had brought together singers from the UK, the Commonwealth, Europe, the US and beyond, but the six young singers assembled at Wigmore Hall on Friday evening all originated from the UK.

Affecting and Effective Traviata in San Jose

Opera San Jose capped its consistently enjoyable, artistically accomplished 2017-2018 season with a dramatically thoughtful, musically sound rendition of Verdi’s immortal La traviata.

Brahms Liederabend

At his best, Matthias Goerne does serious (ernst) at least as well as anyone else. He may not be everyone’s first choice as Papageno, although what he brings to the role is compelling indeed, quite different from the blithe clowning of some, arguably much closer to its fundamental sadness. (Is that not, after all, what clowns are about?) Yet, individual taste aside, whom would one choose before him to sing Brahms, let alone the Four Serious Songs?

Angel Blue in La Traviata

One of the most beloved operas of all time, Verdi’s “ La Traviata” has never lost its enduring appeal as a tragic tale of love and loss, as potent today as it was during its Venice premiere in 1853.

Matthias Goerne and Seong-Jin Cho at Wigmore Hall

Is it possible, I wonder, to have too much of a ‘good thing’? Baritone Matthias Goerne can spin an extended vocal line and float a lyrical pianissimo with an unrivalled beauty that astonishes no matter how many times one hears and admires the evenness of line, the controlled legato, the tenderness of tone.

Philip Venables: 4.48 Psychosis

Madness - or perhaps, more widely, insanity - in opera goes back centuries. In Handel’s Orlando (1733) it’s the dimension of a character’s jealousy and betrayal that drives him to the state of delusion and madness. Mozart, in Idomeneo, treats Electra’s descent into mania in a more hostile and despairing way. Foucault would probably define these episodic operatic breakdowns as “melancholic”, ones in which the characters are powerless rather than driven by acts of personal violence or suicide.

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Image by Nitrox-Marquez courtesy of Iford Arts Music Festival
06 Jul 2014

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

A review by Sue Loder

Above image by Nitrox-Marquez courtesy of Iford Arts Music Festival

Photos by Rob Coles

 

La Fille has certainly been derided over the years for its vulgarity and jingoistic tendencies. Yet dig a little deeper and you find that the canny Donizetti was also in fact essaying a new direction away from the all-conquering Italian opera of his time and, by a slick piece of “art concealing (or revealing?) art”, he was on the way to creating a new style. Indeed he had more than 20 years of compositional experience behind him by the time Fille hit the stage in 1839/40, and he used all his considerable wiles to achieve his aims. Perhaps Theophile Gautier best summed up this work as “facile et spirituelle” — and certainly it seduces with its infectiously gay (in the original sense),light, and bright music as much as it explores the weightier themes of nationalism, feminism and the human response to loss and war, despite skimming over them with a gossamer thread of catchy tunes. So how to bring all this to a tiny space in the Wiltshire countryside?

La Fille du Regiment - Suzy Shakespeare.pngSuzanne Shakespeare as Marie

Director Jeff Clarke and his designers Nigel Howard & Graham Wynne and conductor Toby Purser simply threw away the rule book for this English-language version and solved the production “problems” with panache, wit, imagination and, well, plenty of va-va-vroom. Literally almost, as the Regiment is converted to a South Californian Hell’s Angels-type biker gang, all six of them beautifully kitted out in full leathers, tattoos and bandanas riding some interesting-looking “Darley Havisons”. They are “at war” with a rival gang and so immediately we understand what Clarke is doing and are seduced into this early 1960’s version of the Napoleonic wars. Marsha Berkenfield, social climber in LA, her daintily-camp butler Mr.Hortensius, Sulpice is “president” of the Regiment gang, Dulcie Crackenthorpe an appalling old heiress, Tonio a Hispanic immigrant (serendipitously cast) and Marie as in the original, an orphan “found” by the Regiment as a baby. True, there is the odd surgical cut: no room, literally, for the opening scene with the “Marquess” and Tyrolean peasants praying for deliverance en masse — but apart from that Clarke has kept very close to the original opera. The libretto however was definitely given a far freer rein by Clarke: plenty of choice biker language, plenty of near-the-knuckle anti-Hispanic invective.

Any “Fille” anywhere has always been an opera which stands or falls by the success of its Daughter of the Regiment; over the decades it has been defined by many by the quality of the soprano singing the role of Marie — from Jenny Lind, via the great Dame Joan Sutherland, and on to such modern day successes as Natalie Dessay. So it was a delight and a relief to hear young Australian-born soprano Suzanne Shakespeare take on the mantle with a fearless display of sparkling coloratura, trills and even a few decorations of her own. Her voice has both a warm middle and a shining top: E flats popped with aplomb, yet with “Il faut partir...” her goodbye to the gang in Act One, she found a touching pathos, ably drawn. A bravura performance from start to finish — a young star on the high road for sure. So then, of course, there is the “will he, won’t he” aspect of Tonio’s (in)famous “Mes amis....”. If young Spanish tenor Jesus Alvarez was nervous, it didn’t show. We might have been nervous for him for in that intimate space and orchestration for just eleven instruments, but yes he delivered all nine of those high Cs with conviction and bang in tune.

La Fille du Regiment - Jesus Alvarez.pngJesús Álvarez as Tonio

However, no matter how thrilling the young leads were, or how convincing their acting, here at Iford it was the role of Sulpice, sung by the excellent Adrian Clarke which held the whole show together. Totally in the part from start to finish, beautifully observed, expressively sung, what a tour de force he gave us. Almost as impressive was Katharine Taylor Jones’ Marsha Berkenfield, a statuesque figure wearing the vintage dresses with assurance and poise, her warm mezzo voice supple through the range. A comically-awful Dulcie Crakenthopre was played in drag by one of the bikers, Philip Cox who obviously had a lot of fun mixing his roles. James Harrison’s mincing butler was the right side of caricature and kept the laughs coming. A word must be said here for the biker gang: sung by Cox, Richard Belshaw, Graham Stone, Martin George, Angus McAllister and Richard Woodall, this was no ordinary “chorus” job. With only six voices to fill out Donizetti’s wonderful music each was a true soloist, each a significant actor. The same must be said of the 11 players of that music: from opening solo trumpet to resounding final chords, nowhere to hide and nowhere needed.

The production team kept it simple but effective with the cloister converted to a tract of dry desert and cacti. The Music Lesson was ingeniously staged with an electronic keyboard masquerading as a grand piano, in turn doing duty as a dance-stage. Clever, witty, and it worked. Which, really, sums up this mini-triumph of the imagination. A must-see if you can.

Sue Loder

La Fille du Regiment (sung in English), Iford Opera, Saturday, July 5th 2014.

Opera della Luna at Iford Opera playing: July 8th, 10th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th.

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):