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

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva and Serena Malfi as Rosina © ROH [Photo by Tristram Kenton]
29 Sep 2014

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva and Serena Malfi as Rosina © ROH [Photo by Tristram Kenton]

 

There’s not much subtlety but plenty of mayhem and mischief, and this third revival, which brings together familiar faces and new voices, raised many a guffaw — and, for once, the laughter was prompted as much by the shenanigans on stage as by the surtitles aloft.

Making his Royal Opera debut as Count Almaviva, the Italian-American tenor Michele Angelini took time to settle. He seemed a little nervous and tense in ‘Ecco ridente’; the phrasing lacked elegance and there was some gruffness and untidiness. Similarly, ‘Se il mio nome saper voi bramate’ sounded strained at times. Certainly, Angelini has vocal agility — and physical nimbleness too, springing spryly into the branches of the baobab three beneath his beloved’s balcony. In the cascades each individual pitch was clearly defined, but there was some unnecessary ornamentation which could not compensate for a lack of creamy evenness and brightness. Indeed, Angelini over-complicated his Act 2 ‘Cessa di piu resistere’ too, tiring himself out in the process. But, he seemed more at ease in his Act 2 personae and enjoyed some effective comic romping as the billeted squaddie and fawning music master, wheedling himself deftly into his inamorata’s domain.

American baritone Lucas Meachem was more at home as the eponymous coiffeur, even though this was a Royal Opera role debut, and offered a master-class in comic singing and acting. Meachem has a huge voice but knows when to turn on the power and when to hold back, blending easily in the ensembles. Bellowing his arrival from the rear of the auditorium, Meachem then startled the amused audience, stopping to admire a hairdo or two as he strolled nonchalantly down the aisle. In a carefully paced ‘Largo al factotum’ every word of pithy patter rang clearly, delivered to the far nooks of the auditorium as Meachem seemed to make eye-contact will all. Throughout, this barber was irrepressible and engaging; the moments of exasperation and frustration were entirely natural and convincing. And, in ‘Dunque io son’ Meachem and his Rosina, Serena Malfi, relished the comic fun, Figaro ruefully recognising his equal in guilefulness as Rosina shrewdly whipped the pre-composed letter for ‘Lindoro’ from her bodice.

Malfi’s Rosina gave much pleasure. The Italian has a rich, warm mezzo, with a dash of velvety darkness. The coloratura demands were effortlessly dispensed, Malfi’s technical assurance allowing her to focus on communicating the drama. In ‘Una voce poco fa’ the petulance (stamping, pouting and dart-throwing!) were well-judged, and there was a feisty control about this Rosina that left no doubt that she was more than a match for her hapless guardian, Bartolo. Ebullient of character, voluminous of tone, Malfi sparkled in her house debut.

As her crafty custodian, Alessandro Corbelli returned to the role he sang in the 2009 revival and demonstrated that he has lost none of his buffo nous. In ‘A un dottor delta mia sorte’ Corbelli winningly delivered the musical and dramatic tricks; a perfect portrait of preening presumption, this Bartolo’s comeuppance was richly enjoyed.

The sinister edge in Maurizio Muraro’s full bass added vocal interest to Basilio’s ‘La calumnia’, complementing the predatory rage, while Welsh baritone Wyn Pencarreg (another ROH debut) was strong as Fiorello, quickly pinning the characterisation and singing cleanly and mellifluously.

This production indulges in hyperbole, and I found the shrieks and sneezes of Ambrogio (Jonathan Coad) and Berta (Janis Kelly) a bit tiresome; but Kelly charmingly revealed the secret yearnings beneath the housekeeper’s apparent disapproval of the amorous goings-on, in a sweet-toned ‘Il vecchiotto cerca moglie’. Promoted, like Coad, from the ranks of the ROH chorus, Donaldson Bell and Andrew Macnair acquitted themselves very well as the Officer and Notary respectively.

Having conducted the original run in 2005, Mark Elder returns to the pit, leading the ROH orchestra in a detailed, nuanced performance. The overture’s Andante maestoso was stately, perhaps a touch on the slow side, but the textures were clear and there was some lovely playing, and an expertly controlled trill, from the horn. Things picked up niftily, though, at the Allegro vivace and the final Più mosso was not so much a Rossinian acceleration as a Mo Farah-style final-lap kick, a ferocious injection of pace that initially left a few instrumentalists trailing behind.

I’ve seen this production twice before, and on each occasion the Act 1 finale has come adrift with the ensemble between the stage and pit as wobbly as the Keystone-Cop capers on the tilting stage, as the PVC-caped coppers sway and swoon. Elder took things steady — which made the anarchy on stage even more surreal than Leiser and Caurier perhaps intended — but singers and players still parted company. Overall, though, Elder achieved clarity and nuance; the woodwind solos were drawn to the fore and complemented by stylish string playing, with controlled dynamic grading.

All in all, a surprisingly fresh and engaging revival.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Count Almaviva, Michele Angelini; Figaro, Lucas Meachem; Rosina, Serena Malfi; Doctor Bartolo, Alessandro Corbelli; Don Basilio, Maurizio Muraro; Fiorello, Wyn Pencarreg; Berta, Janis Kelly; Ambrogio, Jonathan Coad; Officer, Donaldson Bell; Notary, Andrew Macnair; Directors, Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser; Revival Director, Thomas Guthrie; Conductor, Mark Elder; Designer, Christian Fenouillat; Costume Designer, Agostino Cavalca; Lighting Designer, Christophe Forey; Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Friday, 19th September 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):