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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Alice Coote as Xerxes and Sarah Tynan as Romilda [Photo ENO / Mike Hoban]
17 Sep 2014

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

Xerxes, ENO

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Alice Coote as Xerxes and Sarah Tynan as Romilda

Photos © ENO / Mike Hoban

 

Receiving its 6th revival on 15 September 2014, revival director Michael Walling, the production is looking as fresh as ever with David Fielding’s designs still bright and crisp. ENO fielded a strong cast mixing experienced singers and newcomers. Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote sang the title role; an experienced Handelian this was her role debut. Having sung Atalanta in the last revival of the production (in 2002) Sarah Tynan moved onto sing Romilda, the more serious dramatic of the two soprano roles. The soubrette role of Atalanta was sung by Harewood Young Artist Rhian Lois, whilst another Harewood Young Artist, Catherine Young sang Amastris. Counter-tenor Andrew Watts sang Arsamenes, with Neal Davies as Ariodates and Adrian Powter as Elviro. Michael Hofstetter conducted.

Hofstetter is the Principal Conductor of the Grossess Orchester Graz and made his ENO debut with La Traviata. But his background is also in early music and he launched the overture at quite a considerable speed. The ENO Orchestra responded brilliantly but I did rather worry about the health of the performance. In fact, I need not have worried and Hofstetter proved a responsive conductor, keeping the show moving but never rushing the singers off their feet.

Whilst the production is in good health, I did rather worry that the general tone had become a little more flippant and satirical than formerly. I was assured by others present that this was not so; Nicholas Hytner was in the audience and reputedly was happy with the revival. It is, after all, 29 years since I saw the opening run with Ann Murray and Valerie Masterson and not only does memory play tricks but my own conception of Handelian opera seria has changed.

ENO-Xerxes--Lois-and-Watts.gifRhian Lois as Atalanta and Andrew Watts as Arsamenes

Not that Xerxes is in any way typical of Handel’s opera. Handel always seems to have had a fondness for using librettos taken from 17th century Venetian operas, but in Xerxes he seems to have kept rather closer to the original. The opera has far more short arias and far fewer extended da capo arias than is general in Handel. And, whilst the piece is not strictly a comedy, it does mix the serious with the satirical in a way which is sometimes downright comic. But getting the tone right is essential. When Act 2 comes, and we have all five principals (Xerxes, Romilda, Arsamenes, Atalanta and Amastris) having problems in love and addressing us in serious tones, it is essential that we believe in them as people. They might get up to comic business, but their emotions are very real. By and large Walling got this right.

Alice Coote’s Xerxes was superbly sung, covering the full range from the short lyric arias through the virtuoso bluff and bluster to the intense pain of the extended da capo arias. Coote has a very personal way with Handel and her performance was a very individual one. Musically she took her time over some things, but showed herself equally capable of bravura passagework. Similarly, in terms of character, she projected Xerxes’ changeability quite brilliantly. Her conception of Xerxes might be rather more flippant than some, but she certainly brought out the idea that living with him was very much living on the edge. You never knew what might happen.

Equally captivating and profoundly poised was Sarah Tynan as Romilda. She started out giving the character a lighter, slightly satirical edge as if she had not left Atalanta behind, but Tynan’s Romilda develop a superb depth. Tynan’s Handel singing is still crystalline and clear, with a lovely sense of style. In fact, the Romilda she reminded me of most was the original one in this production, Valerie Masterson. Tynan didn’t just sing superbly, but brought a real depth to the bleaker moments when Romilda says that if she can’t be with Arsamenes then she will die. Tynan made us believe it, whilst sounding superbly beautiful.

ENO-Xerxes--Powter-and-Youn.gifAdrian Powter as Elviro and Catherine Young as Amastris

Rhian Lois, singing her first Handel opera role, was a great delight as Atalanta. Her coloratura was pin sharp and she was wonderfully sparky (perhaps too much so at first) but she also brought out the more serious moments when the mask slipped. And she developed a very vital relationship with Sarah Tynan’s Romilda. Perhaps Lois took a little time to work up a full head of steam, but that is understandable.

Also singing her first role in Handel opera, Catherine Young made a strikingly tall Amastris. She has a lovely soft-grained voice which you sense will become a great asset in a number of trouser roles; a Xerxes in the making. But Amastris was written for a robust contralto voice and there were moments when, though singing musically and intelligently, Young lacked the necessary heft.

Arsamenes is one of the characters in the opera who gets virtually no comic moments. Andrew Watts was suitably intense and, in the more lyrical arias with great beauty and a lovely sense of Handelian line. But in the more stressful arias, he had a tendency to push his voice too much so that a hardness crept in and there were rather too many acuti which would have been better missed out. This was a shame, because this was a performance of great strength and intensity.

Adrian Powter made a delightful Elviro with good comic timing. He gamely appeared in a dress for act two (definitely not on the original production) and with his beard and long hair, looked startlingly like Conchita Wurst. Neal Davies made what he could of Ariodates giving him a bluff idiocy which was entirely apt and singing the more bravura moments finely.

Hofstetter and the orchestra were on fine form throughout the opera, providing a crisp and nicely historically informed accompaniment.

This was an admirably strong revival, showcasing some extremely fine Handel singing and a production in robust health. Here’s to another 30 years.

Robert Hugill


Cast and production information:

Xerxes: Alice Coote; Romilda: Sarah Tynan; Atalanta: Rhian Lois; Arsamenes: Andrew Watts; Amastris: Catherine Young; Ariodates: Neal Davies; Elviro: Adrian Powter. Director: Nicholas Hytner; Revival Director: Michael Welling. Conductor: Michael Hofstetter. English National Opera at the London Coliseum, 15 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):