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

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

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):