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

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).

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.

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.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susannah Biller as Costanza and Tim Mead as Richard the Lionheart [Photo © Ken Howard]
22 Jun 2015

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

For Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, “everything old is new again.”

Luminous Handel in Saint Louis

A review by James Sohre

Above: Susannah Biller as Costanza and Tim Mead as Richard the Lionheart

Photos © Ken Howard

 

Remarkably, George Friedrich Handel’s 1727 opera Richard the Lionheart (Riccardo Primo) is receiving its US premiere in this 40th Anniversary season in a felicitous and eminently singable English translation OTSL commissioned for the occasion from Lee Blakely and Damian Thantrey.

I am not sure what the rest of the opera world is doing for virtuosic singers this month since they all seem to have converged on the stage of the Loretto Hilton Theatre for this memorable production. OTSL has assembled a brilliant cast of vocalists that more than meets the interpretive challenges of this rich and diverse Handelian score.

In the title role, counter tenor Tim Mead is a revelation. His is a major operatic talent. His pliable, meaty vocal gifts are wedded to a trip hammer technique that not only accommodates unimaginable rapid-fire delivery, but can also bend to the requirements of limpid, bel canto singing of the first rank. As an interpreter, he is meticulously stylish but also quite fearless.

RL_0358a.pngTai Oney as Oronte

Mr. Mead’s take-no-prisoners presentation of his Act One closing aria was one of the most exciting, raw moments I have experienced in many a day. He is a consummate technician, to be sure, but Tim also takes risks. He lets it all hang out. His abandoned emotional investment in the moment worked the audience into a cheering frenzy at curtain. Later, he paired with Costanza in a languid, extended duet of romantic lyricism that bordered on the erotic. With this totally winning traversal of Handel’s Richard, Tim Mead has served notice that he is a new star in the operatic firmament.

As Costanza, Susannah Biller was every bit his equal. Having only ever experienced her accomplished Adina in last summer’s Elixir of Love I had no idea that she was capable of such depth and daring. As one of the “dueling divas of the day” in this opus, the role of Costanza has much of the pained, limpid, melancholy singing at which Ms. Biller certainly excels. But there is much more in reserve in her arsenal.

When real spunk and fire are required, she can deliver the goods with astonishing results, refulgent tone, and apparent ease. The duet I already mentioned was a highpoint, the emotional and musical core of the production. But Susannah also made the most of her opportunities to shock and awe with confrontational outbursts when her soprano found even more delicious fullness.

Her rival (and “diva challenger”) Pulcheria was no demurring seconda donna, no. Devon Guthrie took the stage with consummate professionalism and knocked our socks off with pyrotechnical vocal displays that make the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney Harbor pale in comparison. And while we were sitting there duly dazzled, Ms. Guthrie changed gears and showed an effortless affinity for comedy and dramatic commitment alike. Her aggressive, flashy soprano reminds me of the colorful Simone Kermes, without the eccentricity.

I can remember a time in a galaxy far away when the world’s counter tenor roster began and ended with Paul Esswood. How times have changed. It is a case of an embarrassment of riches that the Richard the Lionheart cast list also includes the likes of countertenor Tai Oney as Oronte. Mr. Oney sports a sound technique and spotless coloratura delivery, but what I especially liked was his personalized, dusky timbre. His handsome bearing is icing on the cake of such distinctive artistry.

RL_3280a.pngSusannah Biller as Costanza and Devon Guthrie as Pulcheria

Brandon Cedel excels as the calculating Isacio, his virile, resonant baritone rolling out effortlessly through the house. Mr. Cedel is a skilled villain and his poised vocalism made us love him in spite of himself. This is a gorgeous, mellifluous instrument. Even in the least flashy role of Berardo, Adam Lau makes a substantial impact with his full throated, robust baritone. He is one of the most sympathetic characters in the opera, and his vocal performance was emphatically in a league with his colleagues.

The physical production was a thing of sublime achievement. Jean-Marc Puissant has devised sets and costumes that give significant pleasure. I loved the simplicity of the raked platform with the textured ground cloth. I loved the presence of the “artistic” ship wreck upstage in Act One, and the re-invention of that concept in subsequent scenes. Act Two might have provided a rustic hut for Peter Grimes had it not also included a royal throne. In fact, each scene uses “the shipwreck” as its visual inspiration. Puissant’s evocative, luxurious costumes were grounded in the century of the opera’s premiere, rather than the Crusades of Richard’s experience.

The peripatetic Christopher Akerlind designed lighting that was in complete service of the direction and the dramatic moment. The lantern effect for the love duet alone was worth the price of admission. Gorgeous atmospheric illumination from first to last. As always, Tom Watson’s wigs and make-up were so good as to be taken for granted. Mr. Watson is a real company treasure.

RL_2868a.pngBrandon Cedel as Isacio and Devon Guthrie as Pulcheria

Director Lee Blakely has contributed a vision seeming so spontaneous as to be invisible. But make no mistake, Mr. Blakely has made some bold and innovative decisions. I loved the uses of levels to convey power struggles. The character relationships are richly detailed and commendably specific. How about that incestuous kiss dad Isacio forces on daughter Pulcheria in Act One? The audience shifted in their seats uncomfortably. Electric!

Grant Lewellyn led a taut performance that gave much musical satisfaction. Some judicious cuts may not please all purists, but the flow and running time of the show benefited greatly. Maestro Lewellyn exerted supreme control over his forces, and conducted a commendable, dramatically and musically compelling performance of Handel’s Richard the Lionheart.

My only quibble in a night that went from strength to strength is that the exit of soloists immediately after they had finished singing a few of the arias prompted the audience to applaud over the remaining orchestral playoffs. I would very much like to have heard those pieces through to musical conclusion. But that is a small (and fixable) consideration in a totally enjoyable evening spent reveling in the discovery of a ‘new’ opera.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Richard the Lionheart: Tim Mead; Costanza: Susannah Biller; Pulcheria: Devon Guthrie; Oronte: Tai Oney; Isacio: Brandon Cedel; Berardo: Adam Lau; Conductor: Grant Lewellyn; Director: Lee Blakely; Set and Costume Design: Jean-Marc Puissant; Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind; Wig and Make-Up Design: Tom Watson; Choreography: Seán Curran

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):