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

15 Oct 2015

The Tales of Hoffmann — English Touring Orchestra

Jacques Offenbach’s opéra fantastique, The Tales of Hoffmann, is a notoriously Protean beast: the composer’s death during rehearsals, four months before the premiere left the opera in an ‘non-definitive’ state which has since led to the acts being shuffled like cards, music being added, spoken dialogue and recitative vying for supremacy, the number of singers performing the principal roles varying, and even changes to the story itself — the latter being an amalgam of three tales by E.T.A. Hoffmann.

In this production, the third of English Touring Opera’s autumn-tour French triptych, The Tales of Hoffmann is given coherence - and imbued with irony, wit and dramatic impact - by director James’ Bonas’s decision to employ the frame of the ‘silent screen’ through which Hoffmann, and we, re-visit his confused, alcohol-befuddled memories of his obsessive love for his muse, the singer Stella. And, Bonas is served well by his terrific cast whose singing prowess is complemented by some virtuoso acting.

In the Prologue, the credits roll for a Hollywood reel which will chart Hoffmann’s tragic pursuit of ideal love - a sort of home-movie for the dubious delectation and moral instruction of his disreputable comrades. The screening of this ‘lesson in love’ is overseen by Sam Furness’s jaded and disillusioned Hoffmann, a slumped figure of dejection, pathos blending with mundanity - a former Romantic hero now reduced to an idler blowing smoke rings.

Offenbach’s Prologue can sometimes feel a little slow off the mark, with its choruses and situation-setting, but Bonas quickly establishes a lively dynamic and narrative propulsion. Visually, the retro cinema screen and tripod lights create a mood of anticipation; physically, the hyperbolic comedy, sharp parody and smart, slick timing are immediately engaging. Warwick Fyfe’s Lindorf is a walking Gothic horror show, with his bandy knees, angular gait, sickly pallor and sunken eye-sockets. And, Hoffmann’s ghastly nemesis seems to become ever more cadaverous as the evening progresses, emerging from a closet like a literal and proverbial skeleton. Oliver Townsend’s designs are wonderfully lit by Mark Howland, with excellent use of shadow.

The cinematic trope is sustained throughout the three main acts - I’m sure there were countless direct filmic allusions but I’m insufficiently au fait with the big screen ‘canon’ to have spotted them - and images and text from the movies which Hoffmann and the boys watch are projected atmospherically across the stage and onto the stage-side screens. In the Epilogue, the film screen is ripped enabling Stella and the Muse to appear out of the screen - further emphasizing the conflict between reality and fantasy which the opera dramatizes.

Each Act has a distinct style and mood, and Bonas’s realisations of Hoffmann’s increasingly desperate slide into self-destructive obsession are imaginative and original. Coppélius’s mechanical masterpiece is a shrivelled, transparent doll whose garish pink and purple ‘blood-vessels’ are clearly visible as they pump electricity around her twisted form, as - manipulated like a bunraku puppet by Ilona Domnich (singing the soprano triple-role) and an assistant - she dances, cavorts and then whirls like a dervish, with Domnich occasionally stepping in to take the automaton’s place, the stage flooding with a lurid pink glare. One critic has questioned the credulity of this scene: ‘the audience is asked to accept a small, faceless light-doll as the object of his desires, albeit one that’s bewilderingly interlaced with flash appearances by soprano in person’. But, surely this is the point: Hoffmann is duped by Cupid - like the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream he looks with ‘parted eye’, as love works its ‘magic’ on his imagination and vision, just as surely Coppélius’s magic glasses make Olympia appear as a real woman. Thus, the moments when Domnich assumes the doll’s place painfully reveal the hopelessness of his infatuation; he really does believe that he is dancing with the woman he reveres.

The Antonia and Giulietta Acts are full of similar, surreal devices and symbols: disembodied heads appear through small trap-doors in the set, a chaise longue replaces the gondola in the ‘Barcarolle’; and, the whole of the Antonia Act is a grotesque extravaganza of German Expressionism, with Lindoro transformed into Dr Miracle aka the evil Count Orlok from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

Sam Furness was tireless in the title role and blended an ethereally beautiful head voice with focused lyrical power and rich warmth. Furness also showed good sense in pacing himself and ensuring that he had the stamina to sustain the lyrical intensity; indeed, he began strongly, but held enough in reserve to offer some thrillingly impassioned singing in the Antonia and Giulietta Acts. He was utterly convincing as the somewhat shabby poet-turned-filmmaker.

Domnich has a smooth, lustrous soprano which she used expressively and elegantly. She found the upper reaches of the ‘Doll aria’ quite demanding and the tuning wasn’t always spot on, but as Antonio and Guiletta she made an enormous contribution to the compelling power of the drama portrayed; her arias were unfailing stylish and polished, seductive fare for Hoffmann’s romantic appetite.

Making his British debut, Australian baritone Warwick Fyfe was superb as the four vampiric villains, acting with persuasively macabre excess and offering plenty of vocal punch too, even if the line was not always completely controlled and occasionally the timbre a little rough round the edges. But, one might equally argue that a slight lack of vocal suavity was just right for the four incarnations of wickedness, and Fyfe traversed the wide compass of the roles securely.

As the Muse and Nicklausse, Louise Mott demonstrated a firm, precise mezzo which she used to good musical and dramatic effect, especially in her manifestation as Antonia’s mother and in the Muse’s aria in the Epilogue. A petulant schoolboy in long shorts, knee-high socks and schoolboy cap, this Nicklausse didn’t just hang around in the background, in the moments when he has no direct involvement in the action, but got on with his homework or other such business.

The supporting cast worked hard, doubling roles and serving as a ‘chorus’, and we got a strong sense of individualised characters from the first. The Kleinzach interlude in the Prologue was wittily done, and there was a convincing air of camaraderie, foolery and fun. Adam Tunnicliffe was strong-voiced as Spalanzani and Pitichinaccio (perhaps a little too strong at times?), and Matt R. J. Ward hammed up the role of Frantz, the family servant, delightfully in the Antonia Act, singing and dancing with side-splitting ineptitude. Tim Dawkins, too, acted and sang commandingly as Antonia’s father, Crespel.

The small band of players might have lacked timbral lushness but they brought forth the melodic splendour of Offenbach’s score - solo instrumental utterances were an affecting commentary on the on-stage action - and conductor Philip Sunderland showed good appreciation of the style and pace of the work. The opera was sung in English - with diversions into French and Italian in appropriate contexts - and Jeff Clarke’s translation settled well into the Hollywood milieu; the spoken dialogue (there was some recitative too) was clearly enunciated by the cast.

This may not have been a ‘grand opera’ such as Offenbach (we imagine) envisaged, but in paring away some of the luxuriousness, Bonas has produced a convincing, stylish drama, mixing parody and horror to excellent effect: an inebriating cocktail of the Romantic and the Gothic.

Claire Seymour

Offenbach : The Tales of Hoffmann, English Touring OIpera, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London.
Saturday 10th October 2015

Hoffmann - Sam Furness, Stella/Olympia/Antonia/Guiletta - Ilona Domnich, Lindorf/Coppélius/Dr Miracle/Dappertutto - Warwick Fyfe Muse/Nicklausse/Antonia’s mother - Louise Mott, Nathaniel/Spalanzani/Pitichinaccio - Adam Tunnicliffe, Andrès/Cochenille/Frantz - Matt R. J. Ward, Luther/Crespel - Tim Dawkins, Hermann/Schlémil - Ashley Mercer; director - James Bonas, conductor - Philip Sunderland, designer - Oliver Townsend, lighting designer - Mark Howland, choreographer - Ewan Jones, video designer - Zakk Hein.

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):