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

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Ambrogio Maestri as Falstaff [Photo © ROH/Catherine Ashmore]
07 Jul 2015

Falstaff, Royal Opera

Director Robert Carsen’s 2012 production of Verdi’s Falstaff, here revived by Christophe Gayral, might be subtitled ‘full of stuff’ or ‘stuffed full’: for it’s a veritable orgy of feasting from first to last - from Falstaff’s breakfast binge-in-bed to the final sumptuous wedding banquet.

Falstaff, Royal Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Ambrogio Maestri as Falstaff

Photos © ROH/Catherine Ashmore

 

Trollies of detritus in the old rogue’s bed-chamber testify to several days of epicurean revelling, the bourgeoisie of Windsor are a quartet of ‘ladies who lunch’, Fenton is a hotel waiter, Falstaff’s thwarted assignation with Alice Ford takes place in the kitchen; even the stable horse who in Act 3 indifferently watches over Falstaff’s glum reflections on the grim state of the world gets in on the act, munching stoically from a hay-bag. Such gastronomic excess seems fitting for an opera whose protagonist avows (in Henry IV Part 1), ‘let a cup of sack be my poison’ and faces his battles with the rallying self-reassurance, ‘To the latter end of a fray and the beginning of a feast/ Fits a dull fighter and a keen guest’.

Carsen transports us from the end of the first Elizabethan era to the beginning of the second — the ‘Golden Age’ of the 1950s — an updating designed (so Ian Burton, Carson’s dramaturg explains) to highlight the loosening of social and class hierarchies characteristic to both periods in which the diminishing aristocracy were challenged by the emergence of ‘new money’ and a rising working-class. Paul Steinberg’s terrific sets are a riot of retro memorabilia — at least, in the opening two Acts — and are matched for period panache by Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s colour-clashing costumes. The Garter Inn is no longer a shabby hostelry but a mid-market country hotel, its panelled walls decorated with the antlered prizes of hunting parties past, and whose guest are a bunch of nouveau-riche social climbers. From the gentleman’s lounge we move to the Fords’ formica kitchen, where the bright yellow colour scheme and plethora of gadgets are evidence of the couple’s consumerist optimism.

2714ashm_131-copy-AINHOA-ARTETA-AS-ALICE-FORD,-AGNES-ZWIERKO-AS-MISTRESS-QUICKLY,-ANNA-DEVIN-AS-NANNETTA,-KAI-RÜÜTEL-AS-MEG-PAGE-©-ROH.--CATHERINE-ASHMORE.pngAinhoa Arteta as Alice Ford, Agnes Zwierko as Mistress Quickly, Anna Devin as Nannetta, and Kai Rüütel as Meg Page

Amid these fashion-conscious upstarts and entrepreneurs, Sir John is a figure of fun and fading fortune: a foul-mouthed reprobate whose waistband expands as his social standing and purse deteriorate. He may don country tweeds and a scarlet hunting frock-coat to impress the ladies, but it’s the filthy long-johns of the opening scene which are the best fit.

The visual apparatus is impressive, but Carsen does not neglect the stagecraft which responds neatly to Verdi’s musical structures. The movement is sometimes frenetic but always just the right side of chaos: and the ransacking of the domestic order by Ford and his grey-suited employees, as they search in vain for his reputedly adulterous wife and the back-stabbing Falstaff is a scream. But, there are moments of intimacy too — significantly aided by Peter Van Praet’s lighting design — which create oases of calm amid the clamour. Fenton and Nannetta snatch brief moments of private tenderness between the courses of a public meal; Ford’s jealous rant is cloaked in an eerie blue half-light.

However imaginative and slick the direction, Verdi’s opera stands or falls by its protagonist, and it’s hard to imagine a baritone better suited to, or more astute in, the role than Ambrogio Maestri, here returning to the role he played in the 2012 first production. In the role-playing scene in Henry IV Part 1, Falstaff (play-acting King Henry IV) describes himself as a ‘virtuous man ... A goodly portly man, i’ faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye and a most noble carriage’ only to have his pomp punctured by Hal’s accusation that the old Knight is an ‘abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan’. Maestri, through his attention to dramatic and musical detail reminds us how difficult it is to ‘pigeon-hole’ Sir John: is he a hard-headed conman or a harmless comic buffoon; a self-gratifying glutton or an aging ‘gentleman’ surrounded by uncaring hangers-on and chancers?

2714ashm_607-copy-ROLAND-WOOD-AS-FORD,-INHOA-ARTETA-AS-ALICE-FORD-©-ROH.--CATHERINE-ASHMORE.pngRoland Wood as Ford and Inhoa Arteta as Alice Ford

The ‘fat rogue’ is defined by his corpulence: without it, he fears ‘my skin hangs about me like an old lady’s loose gown; I am withered like an old apple-john … I shall be out of heart shortly, and then I shall have no strength to repent’. Maestri has the physical and vocal presence, and the relaxed demeanour, to convey Sir John Falstaff’s mythic status and epic bulk, as well as the thoughtfulness and insight to offer subtleties too — to hint at, though not over-play, the complexities, darkness and pathos, beneath the affectionate parody. He may have embodied the aging Knight of the Garter countless times but there was no sense of routine or staleness. We had bombast and bathos; felt repugnance and pity. Maestri is a big man, but he is nimble of footwork and of voice. His is a powerful baritone and whether yelling for ‘another bottle’ or damning the tattered scroungers who linger like scavenging seagulls in Falstaff’s wake, Maestri boomed generously; but he recognised the moments to hold back, occasionally retreating to almost a whisper, and it was at such times that a more vulnerable Sir John showed himself. The sheer beauty of tone, particularly at the top, was beguiling; sufficient to sweep aside any moral misgivings about Falstaff’s selfish debauchery. No less impressive than the vocal control and variety was Maestri’s relish for the words — his appetite for the nuances of the text was equal to the Fat Knight’s craving for capon and Chianti.

When the comic temperature is high, there is always a risk of caricature, but the splendid cast served up real characters whose ostentations and affections were tempered by humanity. Of the merry wives of Windsor, Ainhoa Arteta’s Alice Ford excelled; Arteta relished Verdi’s luxurious melodies, which she coated with the sheen of a pearl, floating glisteningly in the ensembles. As Mistress Quickly, Agnes Zwierko was a busy stage presence and worked hard vocally, colouring her ‘Reverenza’ with faux-veneration; although she needed a bit more fruity contralto depth to really vivify the role, Zwierko acted superbly, especially when delivering the missives of deception and when hoodwinking Falstaff at the Garter Inn.

Kai Rüütel’s Meg Page exhibited a warm vocal sensuality, but it was Anna Devin’s Nannetta who took one’s breath away. Nannetta’s every phrase drew one’s attention, as the floaty lines soared with power and lyricism. I loved the way in her first romantic exchange with Fenton in Act 1 that the high Ab first established Nannetta’s clarity of conviction, then retreated demurely, before surging with burning passion. Such vocal control suggests real artistry and musico-dramatic intelligence.

2714ashm_149-copy-LUKAS-JAKOBSKI-AS-PISTOL,-ALASDAIR-ELLIOTT-AS-BARDOLPH,-LUIS-GOMES-AS-FENTON,-ROLAND-WOOD-AS-FORD,-PETER-HOARE-AS-DR-CAIUS-©-ROH.--CATHERINE-ASHMORE.pngLukas Jakobski as Pistol, Alasdair Elliott as Bardolph, Luis Gomes as Fenton, Roland Wood as Ford, and Peter Hoare as Dr Caius

As Bardolph, Alasdair Elliott’s tenor was agile and focused, and the mis-matched heights of Bardolph and Pistol (Lukas Jakobski) created immediate visual humour; but there is a darkness about the gangsters’ loitering with intent for ill-gotten gain. The pair are tattered scroungers who will steal a diner’s handbag while passing them their dropped napkin, and even find rich-pickings in the Fords’ dirty laundry: one feels that Sir John’s filthy underwear would be filched if the opportunity arose. Peter Hoare’s Dr Caius was characteristically precise and strong.

Roland Wood was engaging as Ford, particular when as ‘Master Brook’ - a Stetson-sporting Texan tycoon — he bantered with Maestri: this was one of the evening’s comic highlights. Wood was able, however, to tip strikingly from jape to jealousy, and his long soliloquy was intense and compelling. Jette Parker Young Artist Luis Gomez was a suave-toned Fenton, but he needed a bit more dramatic vivacity to match Devin’s resolute Nannetta.

Things moved swiftly, but not precipitously, along under the direction of conductor Michael Schønwandt, who launched the opening moments with dazzling bravura and just about kept the complicated finales of Act 1 and 2 under control. The ROH Orchestra were on characteristically good form, although given the way Verdi’s score tells the tale, they occasionally seemed in danger of being over-shadowed by the mad-cap activity on stage. But, woodwind solos - especially clarinet and bassoon — came neatly to the fore, and the horns demonstrated nimbleness and sweetness of tone. The double basses kicked off Act 3 with a delicious growling; the first violins’ steep and speedy tumbles were cleanly executed.

If there is any weakness in Carsen’s direction, it is in the final Act, where the munching horse distracts from the pathos of Falstaff’s post-Thames-dip lamentations, sung by Maestri on a heap of straw at the back of the stage, and where the panelled walls do not sufficiently summon the magic and mystery of Windsor Great Forest, despite the effusions of dry ice. But, as the ‘Queen of the Fairies’, Devlin provided mesmeric musical compensation in ‘Sul fil d'un soffio etesio’, calling the fairies from their hiding place and commanding them to dance; and the final image of a be-horned Falstaff rolling along the gang-plank banqueting table, the target of black-cloaked, knife-wielding figures, was a potent one. In the closing moments of the opera, Carsen restored what might, given the forest setting, be termed a spirit of pastoral harmony and reconciliation. As Boito and Verdi remind us, he who laughs the best is he who laughs last; a fitting sentiment for the audience as we left the theatre with a smile on our faces.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Sir John Falstaff, Ambrogio Maestri; Alice Ford,Ainhoa Arteta; Ford, Roland Wood; Nannetta, Anna Devin; Fenton, Luis Gomes; Mistress Quickly, Agnes Zwierko; Meg Page, Kai Rüütel; Dr Caius, Peter Hoare; Bardolfo, Alasdair Elliott; Pistol, Lukas Jakobski; Director, Robert Carsen; Conductor, Michael Schønwandt; Set designs,Paul Steinberg; Costume designs,Brigitte Reiffenstuel; Lighting design,Robert Carsen; Lighting design, Peter van Praet; Royal Opera Chorus; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Monday 6th July 2015.

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):