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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

The doors at The Metropolitan Opera will not open to live audiences until 2021 at the earliest, and the likelihood of normal operatic life resuming in cities around the world looks but a distant dream at present. But, while we may not be invited from our homes into the opera house for some time yet, with its free daily screenings of past productions and its pay-per-view Met Stars Live in Concert series, the Met continues to bring opera into our homes.

Precipice: The Grange Festival

Music-making at this year’s Grange Festival Opera may have fallen silent in June and July, but the country house and extensive grounds of The Grange provided an ideal setting for a weekend of twelve specially conceived ‘promenade’ performances encompassing music and dance.

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

There’s a “slide of harmony” and “all the bones leave your body at that moment and you collapse to the floor, it’s so extraordinary.”

Music for a While: Rowan Pierce and Christopher Glynn at Ryedale Online

“Music for a while, shall all your cares beguile.”

A Musical Reunion at Garsington Opera

The hum of bees rising from myriad scented blooms; gentle strains of birdsong; the cheerful chatter of picnickers beside a still lake; decorous thwacks of leather on willow; song and music floating through the warm evening air.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Bryn Terfel as Tevye [Photo © Robert Workman]
27 Jul 2015

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Bryn Terfel as Tevye

Photos © Robert Workman

 

Perhaps this was a sign that I was in for an unusual evening: after all, it was Grange Park Opera’s first appearance at the Proms and the first time that Fiddler on the Roof — the 1964 Broadway hit by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics), based on Yiddish tales by Sholem Aleichem — had been performed at the Proms. To add to the novelty, there was the casting of Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as the deep-thinking Russian dairyman, Tevye, who struggles to maintain his Jewish cultural traditions in the face of his daughters’ wishes to marry for love and the Tsar’s efforts to expel the Jews from the Anatevka shtetl in 1905.

But, then again, diversity of genres has become a staple feature of the Proms scheduling over recent years: European dance music, a ‘grime symphony’, Bollywood and bhangra music all feature this year. Moreover, opera companies are increasingly turning their attention to ‘popular’ repertoire which, one presumes, they hope will fill seats and win new audiences for opera (whether they are right or not is open to debate). Thus, Opera North will follow this season’s Carousel with Kiss Me Kate in 2015-16; at Welsh National Opera Sweeney Todd is scheduled for the autumn, hot on the heels of this summer’s production of Sondheim’s musical thriller at ENO. In the case of Grange Park Opera, they tested the waters ten or so years ago with productions of Anything Goes, Wonderful Town and South Pacific. This year, the opportunity to see a ‘star’ of Terfel’s calibre and renown may have tempted some of those who travelled to bucolic Hampshire in June to see director/designer Antony McDonald’s production of Fiddler at The Grange. Terfel’s certainly not new to the genre having shown his musical theatre calibre as the Demon Barber in several productions since 2007. So, maybe this was ‘first’ was simply a sign of the times rather than a revolution.

I’ll get my major criticism out of the way first. Not surprisingly, and perhaps necessarily, the performance was amplified; but, either the engineers seriously misjudged the volume level or the singers’ unfamiliarity with the venue led them to fear inaudibility, because the amplification was simply too loud. Ear-splittingly so at the start. I assume adjustments were made, or perhaps the singers adapted — because things did improve and were markedly better after the interval.

GPO_FiddlerOnTheRoof_2015_Robert_Workman_021.png

Terfel himself must take some of the blame. In contrast to his fellow performers with their light-weight music theatre voices, his Wagnerian bass-baritone can undoubtedly swell to the far reaches of the vast auditorium unassisted Yet, he boomed the opening dialogue, completely obliterating the solo Fiddler perched in the organ loft (a somewhat dishevelled and melancholy Houcheng Kian, who played suavely and linked the scenes effectively, but who, except when he was front of stage, might have benefited from some magnification himself), and encouraging the chorus members to strive to match his thunder. It would have been an exciting opening but for the painful rattling of my ear-drums. Perhaps if I was a habitual rave or gig attendee I’d have had no objection. Fortunately, things did improve but throughout the performance spoken text in particular was frequently yelled, sometimes at the expense of emotional intimacy between the characters on stage.

With that complaint out of the way, I should say that this was an absorbing and highly entertaining evening, one in which Terfel perhaps inevitably outshone his fellow cast members vocally, although there were some strong performances. Dressed in his milkman’s apron, lamenting the changes that were sweeping away heritage and homeland, but relishing a wedding knees-up, Terfel looked utterly at home in the role. The sung text was crystal clear, with a relaxed sense of rhythmic give-and-take which showed a natural feeling for the idiom.

Reviewing Terfel’s first essay as Dulcamara in the revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the ROH last November, I expressed admiration for his comic judgement and pacing. I had feared that he would over-egg the sleaze and slap-stick but the bass-baritone showed discernment and imagination: his Dulcamara had seemed to be a ruthless conman with little care for his victims or his own personal hygiene but later revealed himself as a mischievous charmer with twinkling charisma. It was a winning transformation. Here, too, Terfel balanced worldly authority with familial warmth: his temper may have been quick to spark but it was just as readily tempered by love and reflection.

GPO_FiddlerOnTheRoof_2015_Robert_Workman_030.png

The big numbers all come early in the show. ‘If I were a rich man’ may have been a trifle stentorian in places — as Terfel stood like an imperious Wotan, each foot atop a milk churn — but he used his voice intelligently and during the evening conveyed touching, diverse emotions. And, there were more intimate moments, as in his lovely duet, ‘Do you love me?’ with Janet Fullerlove’s Golde; although there was some vocal mismatch in terms of timbre and projection, there was convincing feeling, and Fullerlove demonstrated her neat comic timing, deftly and wryly denying he husband a kiss in the song’s final moments.

Charlotte Harwood was a characterful Tzeitel, Tevye’s eldest daughter, and her scenes with Anthony Flaum’s Motel, the tailor who convinces Tevye to give both his blessing and his permission to their marriage, were touching. Flaum’s strong singing and responsive acting made him an appealing presence. Katie Hall sang Hodel’s ‘Far From the Home I Love’ sweetly and without affectation, abandoning the nasal twang and exaggerated American accent which had marred some of her earlier numbers (exacerbated by the miking — and, she was not alone in this regard); as her beloved, Simon Pollard was a dynamic Perchik. The more tentative sentiments of Molly Lynch (Chava) and Craig Fletcher (Fyedka) complemented the older pairings nicely. Rebecca Wheatley was the busybody matchmaker Yente, with a tendency to shriek her dialogue; Cameron Blakely proved nimble of voice and footwork as the butcher, Lazar Wolf, who believes he has won his dream bride only to be denied by Tevye in the face of Tzeitel’s sincere entreaty

Much of the driving momentum of the work comes from its wonderful ensemble set-pieces. The GPO Chorus sang with gusto and mastered the complex, inventive choreography (Lucy Burge) with aplomb. Even more impressive were the Cossack-leaps, bottle-balancing routines and wild whirlings of the dancers. The BBC Concert Orchestra, seated behind the performers, gave a sparkling reading of the score. They seemed to be having fun rendering the rich orchestrations, guided by nimble direction from conductor David Charles Abell.

The semi-staging was simple but serviceable — a few tables on wheels, assorted chairs and beds, and a fine chuppah for the matrimonial ceremony. The musical is somewhat imbalanced: the best-known numbers and the most up-beat ensembles are clustered into the long first part, with the emotional barometer swinging from festive to forlorn after the interval, as Tevye and his community face a battle for survive at home or uncertainty in the ‘promised land’ of America. It’s probably not the fault of McDonald, stage director Peter Relton, or the performers that the ending felt somewhat rushed, with the pathos of the uncertain ending not fully conveyed.

Though Terfel received a rapturous reception at the curtain call, he seemed keen to insist this was an ensemble performance, taking his place among the ranks despite the Prommers’ wish to laud his individual triumph. But, at the final reckoning it was Terfel’s vocal expertise and allure, and his stage magnetism, which made this such a heart-warming evening.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Tevye: Bryn Terfel, Golde: Janet Fullerlove, Tzeitel: Charlotte Harwood, Hodel: Katie Hall, Chava: Molly Lynch, Yente: Rebecca Wheatley, Motel: Anthony Flaum, Perchik: Jordan Pollard, Lazar Wolf: Cameron Blakely, Constable: Mark Heenehan, Fyedka: Craig Fletcher, Fiddler: Houcheng Kian; Conductor: David Charles Abell, Stage director: Peter Relton (based on the production by Antony McDonald), Choreographer: Lucy Burge, Costume designer, Gabrelle Dalton, BBC Concert Orchestra, Grange Park Opera Chorus. BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London, Saturday 25th 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):