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

A scene from Act I of <em>La Traviata</em> [Photo by Darja Štravs Tisu courtesy of Slovenian National Theatre Ljubljana]
15 Dec 2014

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

A review by Jonathan Sutherland

Above: A scene from Act I of La Traviata [Photo by Darja Štravs Tisu courtesy of Slovenian National Theatre Ljubljana]

 

After a series of directional disasters throughout the Balkans, it was refreshing to find a production which was neither ridiculous, irrelevant or doggedly self-serving. Director Lutz Hochstraate and set designer Rudolf Rischer combined to make a credible interpretation of this overly familiar opera which has certainly suffered more than its fair share of production atrocities. Huge floor to ceiling doors worked well to delineate different scenes and provide multiple entry points for soloists and chorus. Set properties were minimal and uncluttered. The use of enormous silhouettes/shadow figures on a rear scrim to represent the passing Carnival in Act III was particularly effective.

Musically things were more or less in competent hands although the small-ish pit presented certain problems, especially in the reduced string section which numbered only 16 first and second violins. Other than the opening to Aida, it is hard to think of another Verdi opera where the high strings are so exposed as in the Preludio (and later introduction to Act III) in La Traviata. The ppp markings requiring the barest whisper of a melodic line makes these measures acoustically easier in smaller houses, but the most minute flaws are cruelly apparent, and in the Slovenian National Theatre uneven string tone and intonation imprecision were evident at the outset. Czech conductor and Janaček specialist Jaroslav Kyslink maintained a brisk pace throughout, although a little more attention to fermate, rubati and a wider breadth of tempi would have been preferable. He certainly kept the reduced Verdian orchestra from overpowering the singers, but in such a small house (530 seats) one would have expected better projection from the stage.

The large corowas vocally impressive although the Italian diction should have been clearer. This could be due to the fact that many operas in Ljubljana (and all buffo repertoire) are still sung in Slovenian. Although the ensemble singing was strong, the comprimario roles were for the most part disappointing. Gastone (Rusmir Redžić); Douphol (Anton Habjan); the Marchese (Juan Vasle) and Giuseppe (Edvard Strah) sang adequately but without distinction. The Flora of Galja Gorčeva had reasonable stage presence but very poor diction. Annina was more sympathetically sung and acted by Galja Gorčeva. The most impressive of the smaller roles was the Dr. Grenvil of young Slovenian bass-baritone Rok Bavčar who in the limited amount he has to sing, displayed a warm timbre and commendable phrasing. He may have been better cast as Père Germont. This role was interpreted by Ivan Andres Arnšek who was regrettably dramatically and vocally unconvincing - perhaps too affable for one of the most hypocritical if not despicable characters Francesco Piave adapted from Dumas’ roman. His physical appearance, despite a shock of grey hair, suggested more Alfredo’s older brother and the addition of a walking stick was more a hindrance than a dramatic asset as he forgot to use it most of the time. Mr Arnšek’s voice was not disagreeable but lacked depth and resonance and his dramatic denunciation of Alfredo at the beginning of the Act II Sc. ii finale (Di sprezzo degno) had no gravitas or impact at all.

Alfredo was performed by Alijaž Farasin. While he sang the notes (except the Act II O mio rimorso cabaletta) there was something rather bland about his performance. Dei miei bollenti spiriti was about as boiling as a plate of cold bucatini. This was no passionate young man hopelessly in love with a seductive courtesan, but a rather pedestrian provincial out of his emotional depth. A slightly nasal timbre marred the ideal lyricism of the role, although he was more effective expressing rage in Act II Sc. ii Ah, comprendo! basta, basta. One certainly missed the impassioned exuberance of Rolando Villazón, Jonas Kaufmann or Joseph Calleja.

The greatest interest of the evening was the unscheduled Violetta of Russian soprano Natalia Ushakova. This is a singer who is currently singing everything from the Königin der Nacht and Manon Lescaut to Salomé. It is hard to define exactly what kind of soprano she is, which in a sense is helpful in an opera which requires at least three different kinds of voices for the lead role. Although enjoying frequent collaboration with Plácido Domingo and apparent success at La Scala with Mimi, Covent Garden with Amelia (Simon Boccanegra) and Violetta in Vienna, from this performance it is hard to understand how she has achieved such accolades. With such great interpreters of the role as Ileana Cotrubaş, Teresa Stratas, Angela Gheorghiu, Natalie Dessay and Renée Fleming still in recent memory, Violetta is a role which should not be attempted lightly. Apart from a rather irritating habit of squinting like a Smiley icon when taking high notes, Madame Ushakova’s voice is definitely uneven. While the F minor semiquavers at the beginning of Ah, fors'è lui in Act I were crisply detached as marked, the A natural at the end of addio del passato in Act III perfectly pitched without any annoying vibrato and her mezzavoce in dite alla giovine in Act II Sc.i the most moving singing of the evening, there were numerous intonation problems and awkward portamenti throughout her performance. Sheseemed to have no trill technique at all, which was especially noticeable on the Db, Ab and F’s on Ora son forte in the closing duet with Alfredo. The fioratura in the Act I Sempre libera lacked ease and elegance (definitely no Joan Sutherland) especially in the unaccompanied semiquaver ornamentation on ‘ah’ preceding the tempo change to allegro on follie, follie. Similarly, the fioratura on gioir was rushed and poorly defined. The top Db immediately before the allegro brillante change was dangerously unfocussed. It is hard to imagine this soprano coping with the high F’s in Der Hölle Rache. Although having formidable projection, the wrenching Amami, Alfredo, quant'io t'amo phrase in Act II Sc.iwas surprisinglylacking in vocal power and dramatic conviction. This Violetta’s stage presence was also a long way from that of the Alexandre Dumas’ seductive dame aux camélias. More cheerful babushka than sophisticated femme fatale, there was a contadina quality about her persona which might have appealed to the provincial in Alfredo but certainly not the worldly Baron Douphol. All in all, a rather mixed bag from Madame Ushakova. The enthusiastic audience gave the performance a very warm reception and a number of curtain calls. But Ljubljana is still a long way from La Scala.

Jonathan Sutherland


Cast and production information:

La Traviata Slovenian National Theatre Ljubljana 5th December 2014 Conductor: Jaroslav Kyzlink, Director: Lutz Hochstraate, Set design: Rudolf Rischer, Costume Design: Bettina Richter, Choreography: Ivo Kosi Violetta Valery: Natalia Ushakova, Flora: Galja Gorčeva, Annina: Dunja Spruk, Alfrredo Germont: Alijaž Farasin, George Germont: Ivan Andres Arnšek, Gaston: Rusmir Redžić, Baron Douphol: Anton Habjan, Marchese d’Obigny: Juan Vasle, Dr. Grenvil: Rok Bavčar, Giuseppe: Edvard Strah

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):