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 Reviews

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

Kenshiro Sakairi and the Tokyo Juventus Philharmonic in Mahler’s Eighth

Although some works by a number of composers have had to wait uncommonly lengthy periods of time to receive Japanese premieres - one thinks of both Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Fifth (1918), Handel’s Messiah (1929), Wagner’s Parsifal (1967), Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette (1966) and even Bruckner’s Eighth (1959, given its premiere by Herbert von Karajan) - Mahler might be considered to have fared somewhat better.

Don Giovanni in Paris

A brutalist Don Giovanni at the Palais Garnier, Belgian set designer Jan Versweyveld installed three huge, a vista raw cement towers that overwhelmed the Opéra Garnier’s Second Empire opulence. The eight principals faced off in a battle royale instigated by stage director Ivo van Hove. Conductor Philippe Jordan thrust the Mozart score into the depths of expressionistic conflict.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

19 Dec 2014

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Giuseppi Verdi : Un ballo in maschera, Royal O[pera House, London

A review by Anne Ozorio

 

On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

Although the designs may seem retro, it is as conceptually radical as any minimalist "modern" production. What it demonstrates is that good opera lies not in external decoration but in creative imagination.

This Un ballo in m,aschera also works extremely well because it places full focus on the singing. The drama unfolds through a series of showpieces, providing the singers with opportunities to display their skills. It's perfect for artists like Joseph Calleja and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, both of them highly charismatic personalities. They created Riccardo and Renato as convincing characters, but, perhaps even more unusually, ctreated a powerful dynmaic between themselves as artists.The bond between them felt personal and energizing, and went far further than good singing. They seemed to be challenging each other with evident glee. One star turn after another, carried off with exuberance. Calleja's natural warmth suffused his portrayal of Riccardo, adding elements of good nature and good humour, which go a long way in overcoming the weaknesses in the plot. Calleja doesn't need to act in a naturalistic fashion: he makes you feel that under the costume beats the heart of a sturdy, ardent Maltese tenor.

This is very much a "singer's opera" so the other parts are also strongly cast. Liudmyla Monastyrska. sang Amelia, over whom Riccardo and Renato fall out. There isn't much character development for the part in the libretto, so Monastyrska fills it out with the feminine timbre of her singing. Serena Gamberoni, as Oscar, Riccardo's page, was impressive. She replaced Rosemary Joshua, who is unwell, but has put her own individual stamp on the role, When Gamberoni sings the "laughter" passages, her voice sparkles with agility and energy. Anatoli Sivko sang Samuel and Jihoon Kim sang Tom. It's interesting how little background detail the score gives about the parts, but Siv ko and Kim sang with such clear conviction that the roles had genuine conviction. They felt like parrallel versions of Renato and Riccardo. Marianne Cornetti sings Ulrica, a delicious part that must be fun to sing. .

Katharina Thoma directed Richard Strauss Ariadne auf Naxos for Glyndebourne in 2013. Read my analysis here. On a superficial level, this Un ballo in maschera and Ariadne auf Naxos might seem very different, but Thoma is far too adept to be doing a sudden change of style. Ariadne auf Naxos is a satire on the making of an opera, juxtaposing the "reality" of the players and the opera they are contracted to take part in. In Un ballo in maschera, Thoma balances the "reality" of cast and staging with the way they are used to create performance. The acting is stylised by modern standards, but that fits the meticulously archaic use of stage equipment. At one point, stagehands fold up the flats we've just been admiring: art and artifice at once.

This studied theatricality pays off brilliantly in the scene where Amelia goes to the graveyard to consult Ulrica, the soothsayer. This is a glorious bit of Gothic High Camp, with graves, urns, weeping willows and statues that come alive to dance. Verdi's libretto was an adaptation of a play by Eugene Scribe. Hence the similarity to Scribe's libretto for Meyerbeer Robert le Diable. Horror movies entertain when they're so bad, they're good. Part of the fun is the frisson of implausibility. After the performance, I bumped into someone whose taste in opera is impeccable. He was delighted: "Funny, yet not offensive". Thoma's Un ballo in maschera is a lot more subversive - and thoughtful - than meets the eye. Audiences who hate anything modern on principle will love this production, but will its subtle satire be lost on other audiences?

Anne Ozorio

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):