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 Reviews

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

11 Oct 2015

Bellini I puritani : gripping musical theatre

Vividly gripping drama is perhaps not phrase which you might expect to be used to refer to Bellini's I Puritani, but that was the phrase which came into my mind after seen Annilese

Miskimmon's new production of the opera, presented by Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre on Sunday 4 October 2015. Carlo Rizzi conducted, with designs by Leslie Travers, lighting by Mark Jonathan and choreography by Kally Lloyd Jones. Rosa Feola was Elvira, Barry Banks was Arturo, with David Kempster as Riccardo, Wojtek Gierlach as Giorgio, Simon Crosby Buttle as Bruno, Aidan Smith as Gualtiero and Sian Meinir as Enrichetta.

Bellini's final opera was written for Paris, and having fallen out with Felice Romani librettist of his previous operas including Norma and La Sonnambula, Bellini was forced to rely on Count Carlo Pepoli who happened to be resident in Paris. Pepoli's libretto has some strong situations, but overall the drama is full of holes and, despite Bellini's superb music, directors often struggle to create drama out of the piece. Andrei Serban's much travelled production, originally created for WNO in 1982, took the drama at face value and set the piece in 17th century England relying on strong performances from the principals to hold the drama together (when I saw the production in Amsterdam, I'm afraid it occasionned a number of laughs from the audience). More recently, Stephen Langridge at Grange Park Opera in 2013 (see my review) seemed to struggle to create a coherent drama at all and relied on strong musical performances.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that the story, set in 17th century Plymouth amidst the conflict between Cavaliers and Roundheads, rather struggles if taken out of context. Annilese Miskimmon's brilliant solution is to move the plot to Northern Ireland in the 1960's, with Cavaliers and Roundheads replaced by Catholics and Protestants. Act One takes place in an Orange lodge and the war, which the men refer to, is the on-going struggle with the Catholics. Of course, the way the opera has Elvira (a Protestant/Roundhead) marrying Arturo (a Catholic/Cavalier) is completely improbable in the context of 1960's Belfast. Miskimmon solves this by having Elvira be subject to hallucinations from the start, seeing a 17th century version of herself. At the moment when the chorus welcomes Arturo towards the end of Act One, the drama takes a lurch as Elvira's mind fractures and suddenly there are two Elviras and one is firmly 17th century with the welcoming chorus similarly clad. The silent Elvira is a spectator as the action takes place in an increasingly 17th century milieu, and her fractured mind is reflected in the way the scenery itself becomes distorted and fractured. Act Two is set entirely there, and as Act Three returns to the 1960's, we still get flashbacks. Arturo's return is not welcome, and Elvira's mind remains fragile. In the brilliant denouement, as Arturo is killed by the Protestants, the Royal pardon occurs solely in Elvira's head (the messenger is firmly in 17th century costume and seen only by her) and the rapturous finale sees the chorus triumphing over the dead Arturo whilst Elvira is away with the fairies.

The central problem of the opera is Act Two, which is entirely static and brings nothing new. Miskimmon and designer Leslie Travers set it in a larger, plainer and more stylised 17th century version of the Orange lodge, with costumes firmly 17th century. Mark Jonathan's lighting is dramatic and Miskimmon's personenregie ensures that the whole act is about Riccardo's guilt at allowing Arturo to escape at the end of Act One, thus bringing on Elvira's mental collapse. The final duet Suoni la tromba between Riccardo and Giorgio (in 17th century costume) was accompanied by a visual coup as as the men of the 1960's Orange lodge marched slowly across stage with their banner, and suddenly the war which Riccardo and Giorgio sung about took on entirely a new meaning.

It helped of course that this dramatic intelligence was partnered by a superbly musical performance from the cast. Rosa Feola, making her debut with Welsh National Opera, was coruscating as Elvira. Feola seems to have sung mainly coloratura/lyric roles but here combined a fluency in the coloratura with a great sense of strength. Not quite a spinto performance, but something in that direction; this Elvira was no demented canary, and Feola made Elvira's madness truly a reality whilst giving us a superb series of fioriture and roulades, and a stunning sense of line. Technically adept, she folded the ornamental elaborations into the very fabric of the vocal line as Bellini intended and brought a scary intensity to the whole performance.

She was superbly partnered by Barry Banks in fearless form as Arturo. He brought his familiar sense of strong line to the part and was certainly not scared of the high tessitura. I loved the way he combined this with a feeling of musical drama, and responded to the intensity of Feola's performance. The gentler moments, like Act Three's Vieni fra questa braccia had a lovely gentle caress to the line, but elsewhere it was clear that this Arturo was a fighter too.

Wojtek Gierlach was a younger than usual Giorgio, made a Protestant minister in the 1960's which makes sense of his calmer, more rational point of view. Gierlach had a nice way round Bellini's lines and contributed superbly to the various ensembles and duets which he was part of, thrilling at the right moments and intelligently supportive at other. David Kempster was frighteningly intense as Riccardo, both in the 20th and the 17th centuries, combining this with a lovely feel for Bellini's lines. Gierlach and Kempster's duet at the end of Act Two was rightly thrilling musically and balanced Miskimmon's introduction of the Orange lodge march brilliantly.

The smaller roles were all well taken, with Simon Crosby Buttle as Bruno, Aidan Smith as Gualtiero and Sian Meinir as Enrichetta. They and the chorus brought a frightening intensity to the 20th century scenes and made the 17th century Protestants scarily serious and accusing.

In the pit, the WNO Orchestra played superbly as ever for Carlo Rizzi, a former musical director of the company. Rizzi showed great sympathy with Bellini's music, but the sympathy and space for the singers never degenerated into self-indulgence. The orchestral contribution was as taut and as fluid as the drama on stage.
This performance was a notable achievement for WNO and all concerned, bringing a new sense of drama into Bellini's opera but never losing the essential quality of the music. This always sounded like Bellini, with a superb sense of line and fine ornamentation. It helped that Miskimmon had a clear sense of what is, and is not, possible in updating an opera. Whilst the 20th century scenes were firmly realistic and almost naturalistic, Miskimmon always made room for the singers and the extra action never pulled focus from the music drama. At all the key moments, we were free to concentrate on what counted, the musical performance.

Robert Hugill

Bellini I Puritani
Elvira: Rosa Feola, Arturo: Barry Banks, Giorgio: Wojtek Gierlach, Riccardo: David Kempster
Directed: Annilese Miskimmon, conducted: Carlo Rizzi
Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre

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):