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

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

L’amore dei tre Re at Opera Holland Park:
23 Jul 2015

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: L’amore dei tre Re at Opera Holland Park:

 

In Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges the King of Clubs, the ruler of an imaginary kingdom, tries to cure his son’s hypochondria with laughter.  In Montemezzi’s vicious melodrama a blind king, Archibaldo menacingly guards his son’s wife from her former lover: there is none of Prokofiev’s colour, fairy-tale and satire, just abundant black fiendishness and slaughter.

Written in 1913, L’amore dei tre Re is a rich amalgam of musical influences: Wagner, Debussy, Puccini and Strauss — and the soaring melodic lines also recall the bel canto idiom of the early nineteenth century.  The libretto (by Sam Benelli, based on his play of the same title) bears the heavy imprint of both Pelléas and Mélisande andTristan und Isolde, with, in the closing moments, a dash of Romeo and Juliet thrown in.  But, Montemezzi whips up a psychological maelstrom more than equal to any of his operatic predecessors — and, in a matter of only 95 minutes.  It’s surging, heady stuff — but not without musical sophistication, as Opera Holland Park confirmed in this splendid revival of Martin Lloyd-Evans’s 2007 staging.

The action takes place in the blind King Archibaldo’s castle following his occupation of the kingdom of Altura.  (Archibaldo alludes to the figure of Otto the Great, who was Saxon King from 936 and Holy Roman Emperor from 962 until his death in 973, and who greatly extended his kingdom and power through foreign invasions and strategic marriages, conquering the Kingdom of Italy in 961.)

Princess Fiora of Altura has been forcibly wed to Archibaldo’s son, Manfredo; with the latter away at war, Archibaldothreatens and imprisons Fiora to prevent her meeting with her former betrothed, Avito.  Needless to say, love finds a way … and learning that Fiora has been unfaithful to Manfredo, the King demands the name of her lover.  When she refuses he strangles her and then orders her body to be borne to a tomb.  Convinced that the secret lover will be unable to resist bidding his beloved a final passionate farewell, Archibaldo laces Fiora’s lips with lethal venom.  True to form, Avito does return; but so does Manfredo, and both lover and husband succumb to the poison’s virulent potency.

This neo-medieval verismo, in which the distance of the Dark Ages shrouds the violence in patina of mystery, reaches extremes of psychological melodrama and emotional tension.   Director Martin Lloyd-Evans and designer Jamie Vartan make the sensible decision to ignore the medievalism and minimise the set.  They place an imposing constructivist concrete block centre-stage, with sloping ramps spanning the wide platform, and perilous stairways creating upper levels.  The latter are sensibly used to raise the singers above the enlarged, resplendent and myriad-voiced forces of the City of London Sinfonia who project the relentless score (an almost unalleviated forte or louder) with power and passion.  The effect is a visual echo of the monochrome, gravity-defying stairways of Escher’s lithographs, where those who live among each other occupy different planes of existence.

There are few gimmicks but many nice details, as when Archibaldo’s attire becomes increasingly more military as if to demonstrate the growing strength of his dictatorial grip and his monomaniacal ruthlessness.  The grey is relieved only occasionally; but tellingly, when Fiora’s white silk veil — which Manfredo has asked her to wave as a sign of her love as he departs — billows from the height of the staircase and is embraced by Avito on the ground below.  After Fiora’s death this veil becomes a ribbon of black.  The reference to Mélisande’s luxurious hair in which Pélleas is enveloped is obvious, but deft.  And, to keep the historical context in our minds — both that of the medieval past and the era of post-unification Italy when the opera was composed — two chorus members daub the castle walls with name of the 1920s anti-fascist resistance movement: ‘Giustizia e Libertà’.

It was only at the end of the opera as the chorus stirred themselves to revolutionary action and Fiora lay on a hospital trolley draped with the tricolour bandiera d’Italia that the focus seemed to turn a little too far from the private towards the political.  I wasn’t sure, either, whether in the closing moments it was necessary for the masses, led by Archibaldo’s Italian guard Flaminio, to actually pull the trigger on their oppressor: we are left with the echo of gun-shot rather than the pathos of a blind tyrant with a pistol poised at the back of his head.  Moreover, Archibaldo’s assassination is a directorial addition.  In the libretto, Archibaldo enters the tomb and, finding Manfredodesperately kissing the infected lips of Fiora, assumes that he has trapped the guilty lover.  When he discovers the truth, he wraps his arms about the body of his dying son, and it is the sightless old King’s lament with which the opera ends: ‘Ah! Manfredo! Manfredo! Anehe tu, dunque, Senza rimedio sei con me nell’ombra! Manfredo!  Manfredo!’  (Ah! Manfredo!  You too, then, with no hope of remedy, are with me in the shadows!).

As the focus for the violent passion of the ‘three kings’ — Avito, Manfredo and Archibaldo — and the catalyst of the triple tragedy, Fiora is also the opera’s single female role.  Natalya Romaniw was more than up to the challenges and walked off with the vocal honours, though there was strong competition.  The smooth arches of Montemezzi’s languorous melodic lines were excellently projected with no sign of a lessening of stamina.  Romaniw’s tone was thrilling and radiant: but she was able to capture both Fiora’s sensuousness and her more ethereal delicacy — for upon her death the male chorus ask: ‘Who makes the lily, which has now come fall!  The spring was killed among the flowers!’ (‘Chi ci rende il giglio, che venuto è ormai l'autunno! La primavera fu uccisa tra i fiori!’)

Initially I was not entire convinced by the supposedly all-consuming desire of Fiora and Avito, despite the erotic embraces on stage.  Joel Montero’s characterisation of Avito was slightly one-dimensional to begin with but he found a true Italianate sound of great sweetness in the Act 2 duet and later a heroic, noble ring.  His closing monologue — ‘Fiora, Fiora. È silenzio: siamo soli.’ (Fiora, Fiora. All is silent, we are alone.) — was captivating.  Overcome by emotion, this Avito seemed genuinely close to death when he staggered from the bitter Manfredo and asked, ‘What do you want? … Can you not see that I can scarcely speak?’ (‘Che vuoi tu?  Ma non vedi ch'io non posso quasi parlare?’)

Simon Thorpe used his lyrical baritone particularly well in the calamitous final scene; his tone was well-focused, revealing Manfredo’s humanity.  As the blind patriarch, the American-Russian bass Mikhail Svetlov, reprised his role from 2007.  This was a terrifying, threatening but mesmerising portrait: Mussolini meets a demented Arkel.  In Act 1, Svetlov’s generous, dark-toned voice was occasionally covered at the bottom by the orchestra — one of perils of an open pit — but whenever on stage Svetlov was never less than utterly commanding.  His convincing depiction of a blind man showed real dramatic intelligence: his infirmity added poignancy but also malignancy to his assertions of power.  He paced the portrayal well too: we can see from the start that Archibaldo is insanely fanatical, but Svetlov slowly released his repressed, self-destructive desire for Fiora.  This toxic lust culminated in a chilling and ferocious throttling: Archibaldo slumped over Fiora’s body in post-coital exhaustion, then — when discovered by Manfredo — brusquely kicked her dead body aside.  Aled Hall also recreated his 2007 role and was excellent as Flaminio, pushing what is a fairly minor role to the centre of the drama.

Under Peter Robinson’s baton, the City of London Sinfonia surged with turbo-thrust towards a perennial precipice, much like the protagonists’ pulsing heartbeats.  The score stabbed like a sword, and the outré harmonies swerved unpredictably.  But, despite the orchestral extravagance and extroversion, the details didn’t get lost in the impassioned outbursts.

L’amore dei tre Re is melodramatic and certainly not subtle.  It wouldn’t take much for a staging to slip into the realms of caricature and farce, but this OHP production never strays near parody and as the sun set over South Kensington we were all enveloped by the growing darkness.  It’s compelling stuff.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Fiora:  Natalya Romaniw, Avito:  Joel Montero, Manfredo:  Simon Thorpe, Archibaldo:  Mikhail Svetlov, Flaminio:  Aled Hall, An Old Woman:  Lindsay Bramley, Ancella:  Jessica Eccleston, Una Giovanetta:  Abigail Sudbury, Un Giovanetto:  Timothy Langston, Una Vecchia:  Lindsay Bramley, Voce Interna:  Naomi Kilby; Conductor:  Peter Robinson, Director:  Martin Lloyd-Evans, Associate Director:  Rodula Gaitanou, Designer:  Jamie Vartan, Chorus Master:  John Andrews. Opera Holland Park, Wednesday 22nd July 2013.

L’amore dei tre Re will be performed on 25, 28 and 30 July, and 1 August.

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):