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

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

‘Schiff’s Surprise’: Haydn

Many of the ingredients for a memorable concert were there, or so they initially seemed to be. Alas, ultimately what we learned more clearly than anything else was that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new Principal Artist, András Schiff, is no conductor.

Recital of French song from Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

It came as quite a surprise throughout much of the first half of this recital of French song, that it was the piano-playing of Susan Manoff that made the greater impression upon me than the singing of Véronique Gens.

Pelléas et Mélisande: Glyndebourne Festival Opera

What might have been? Such was a thought that came to my mind more than once during this, the premiere of Glyndebourne’s new Pelléas et Mélisande. What might have been if Stefan Herheim had not changed his Konzept so late in the day? (I had actually forgotten about that until reminded during the interval, yet had already began to wonder whether the production had been, especially for him, unusually rushed.)

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

There is something very Danish about this Don Giovanni. It isn’t just that the director, Kasper Holten is a Dane, it’s also that the existential, moral and psychological questions Holten asks point to Kierkegaard who wrote of the fusion of the erotic and demonic in this opera in his work Either/Or (1843). However, I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered a production of Don Giovanni - even Bieito’s notorious one for ENO - where Mozart comes off as second best.

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):