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

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

Manitoba Opera: The Barber of Seville

Manitoba Opera capped its season on a high note with its latest production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, sung in the key of goofiness that has inspired even a certain “pesky wabbit,” a.k.a. Bugs Bunny’s The Rabbit of Seville.

Handel and the Rival Queens

From Leonardo vs. Michelangelo to Picasso vs. Matisse; from Mozart vs. Salieri to Reich v. Glass: whether it’s Maria Callas vs. Renata Tebaldi or Herbert von Karajan vs. Wilhelm Furtwängler, the history of culture is also a history of rivalries nurtured and reputations derided - more often by coteries and aficionados than by the artists themselves.

Britten's Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House

“Billy always attracted me, of course, the radiant young figure; I felt there was going to be quite an opportunity for writing nice dark music for Claggart; but I must admit that Vere, who has what seems to me the main moral problem of the whole work, round [him] the drama was going to centre.”

Cool beauty in Dutch National Opera’s Madama Butterfly

It is hard to imagine a more beautifully sung Cio-Cio-San than Elena Stikhina’s.

Kurt Weill’s Street Scene

Kurt Weill’s “American opera,” Street Scene debuted this past weekend in the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, with a diverse young cast comprised of students and alumni of the Maryland Opera Studio (MOS).

Handel's Brockes-Passion: The Academy of Ancient Music at the Barbican Hall

Perhaps it is too fanciful to suggest that the German poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680-1747) was the Metastasio of Hamburg?

POP Butterfly: Oooh, Cho-Cho San!

I was decidedly not the only one who thought I was witnessing the birth of a new star, as cover artist Janet Todd stepped in to make a triumphant appearance in the title role of Pacific Opera Project’s absorbing Madama Butterfly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Violeta Urmana as Azucena with Koor van De Nationale Opera [Photo © Dutch National Opera, Photographer Ruth Walz]
09 Oct 2015

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

Four lonely people, bound by love and fate, with inexpressible feelings that boil over in the pressure cooker of war. Àlex Ollé’s conception of Il Trovatore for Dutch National Opera hits the bull’s eye.

Il Trovatore at Dutch National Opera

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Violeta Urmana as Azucena with chorus

Photos © Dutch National Opera, Photographer Ruth Walz

 

Alas, an imposing set both realizes his basic premise and physically restricts its development. It was left mostly up to the cast to unfold Verdi’s unique brand of widescreen but searchingly intimate drama.

At its unveiling, the forbidding set, encrusted with World War I mud, lowered the atmosphere to a macabre chill. After all, Il Trovatore is also a ghost story. As the captain of the guard tells us, the old gypsy, burned at the stake for witchcraft, literally haunts the castle where the soldiers are garrisoned. The soldiers sat on fire-lit slabs, which were soon revealed to be parallel rows of square pillars that could be raised up in the air or sunk into holes in the ground. They reconfigured to represent trees, graveyards, trenches and, cleverly, the prison-tower in Act IV. Combined with the time-stamped costumes, the grim pilasters created resonant images, even suggesting genocidal graves while the soldiers baited Roma for sport. The historical parallel with Gutiérrez's nineteenth-century play, the source for the libretto, was intentionally disturbing. Mirror-lined walls reproduced the pillars endlessly, just as the gypsy’s fate replicates itself through intergenerational hatred. Theoretically ingenious­—in practice, however, the pillars and wells inhibited the singers’ movements and turned them into tableaux figures. The initial visual impact was watered down by persevering darkness and the upstage mirror unwittingly placed the conductor on the stage. This problem could be solved before the production visits its co-parent, the Paris Opera, next year. Trickier are the unsightly wires trapping the performers whenever the pillars are lowered to ground level.

orchesterdress00009.pngSimone Piazzola as Il Conte di Luna, Violeta Urmana as Azucena, Roberto Tagliavini as Ferrando with Koor van De Nationale Opera

Fortunately, the success of this work chiefly depends on the singers, and this cast has the right Trovatore stuff. This was not a night of strict bel canto observance and vocal grandstanding. Cabalettas and strettas, the short, fast arias expressing urgent resolve, were not repeated. Interpolated high notes were hit but not sustained. In his letters, Verdi repeatedly expressed a preference for singing with theatrical heart and soul over technical prowess, but this cast delivered plenty of both. That most of them are native Italian speakers with a natural linguistic cadence was a plus.

Bass Roberto Tagliavini sang Ferrando’s fright-night narrative elegantly, with clean sixteenth notes and lip-smacking relish. In fact, his whole performance was praiseworthy. His commander, Simone Piazzola was a rare Di Luna who did not run out of breath in the Act I jealousy trio, unspooling effortless, bronze-coloured lines. Mr Piazzola’s voice may not be a Sherman tank (or, since this is the Great War, a Liberty tank), but it is free of the bluster that sometimes comes with larger voices. Carmen Giannattasio was his erotic obsession. Dressed and coiffed severely, she gave us a confidently sung Leonora. The thick cream of her middle voice was highly gratifying and her flint-edged top notes proclaimed that this Lady would stop at nothing to save her troubadour. In her how-we-met aria, “Tacea la notte placida”, Ms Giannattasio missed a rung or two on her runs, but she was both technically steadfast and moving and in her long Act IV scene, adding a beautifully chiselled cadenza to her aria.

As the traumatized gypsy who haplessly burns her own baby while trying to avenge her mother, Violeta Urmana plumbed the depths of Azucena’s music with shuddering power. Her upper register now has a wild vibrato, but there was no ducking her vocal and theatrical dominance. Her high B-flats were half-sung, half-screamed, but one-hundred-percent petrifying. She hallucinated stupendously in the dungeon scene and sang hauntingly in her duet with Manrico, which exploits the most luxurious segment of her voice. Equally golden in this duet was Francesco Meli, who brought a thrilling mix of radiance and red-bloodedness to the title role. Mr Meli’s voice is hefty enough to handle the big, swaggering moments, but the noble colour of his tenor blooms best in lyrical music. Fervent applause followed his affecting wedding night aria, “Ah sì, ben mio, coll'essere”.

orchesterdress00067.pngSimone Piazzola as Il Conte di Luna and Carmen Giannattasio as Leonora

Antonio Lozano was a shaggy-locked and –voiced Ruiz and Peter Arink made the most of the Old Gypsy’s few lines. Florieke Beelen sang Ines, Leonora’s lady’s maid, with glass-bell clarity. Maurizio Benini led the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra with fleet tempi alternated with slow-and-gape braking. Crucially, the orchestra never submerged the singers, and one assumes that the few muddled cues and tempo distemper will disappear during the run. However, both the orchestra and the Dutch National Opera Choir are capable of subtler shading and articulation and should have been utilized beyond mere competence level. But the singing was in capable hands, and, in the case of Il Trovatore, that spells victory.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Manrico — Francesco Meli, Leonora — Carmen Giannattasio, Azucena — Violeta Urmana, Ferrando — Roberto Tagliavini, Ines — Florieke Beelen, Ruiz— Antonio Lozano, An old gypsy— Peter Arink, A messenger— Richard Prada, Director — Àlex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus), Co-director — Valentina Carrasco, Conductor — Maurizio Benini, Set Designer — Alfons Flores, Costume Designer — Lluc Castells, Lighting Designer — Urs Schönebaum, Dutch National Opera Choir, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Heard at Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam, Thursday, 8th October 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):