Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

Madama Butterfly at the Princeton Festival

The Princeton Festival brings a run of three high-quality opera performances to town each summer, alternating between a modern opera and a traditional warhorse. John Adams’ Nixon in China has been announced for next summer. So this year Princeton got Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, for which the Festival assembled an impressive cast and delivered a polished performance.

‘Schiff’s Surprise’: Haydn

Many of the ingredients for a memorable concert were there, or so they initially seemed to be. Alas, ultimately what we learned more clearly than anything else was that the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new Principal Artist, András Schiff, is no conductor.

Recital of French song from Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff

It came as quite a surprise throughout much of the first half of this recital of French song, that it was the piano-playing of Susan Manoff that made the greater impression upon me than the singing of Véronique Gens.

Pelléas et Mélisande: Glyndebourne Festival Opera

What might have been? Such was a thought that came to my mind more than once during this, the premiere of Glyndebourne’s new Pelléas et Mélisande. What might have been if Stefan Herheim had not changed his Konzept so late in the day? (I had actually forgotten about that until reminded during the interval, yet had already began to wonder whether the production had been, especially for him, unusually rushed.)

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Royal Opera House

There is something very Danish about this Don Giovanni. It isn’t just that the director, Kasper Holten is a Dane, it’s also that the existential, moral and psychological questions Holten asks point to Kierkegaard who wrote of the fusion of the erotic and demonic in this opera in his work Either/Or (1843). However, I’ve rarely, if ever, encountered a production of Don Giovanni - even Bieito’s notorious one for ENO - where Mozart comes off as second best.

Superb Schoenberg Gurrelieder - Salonen, Philharmonia, London

Schoenberg Gurrelieder at the Royal Festival Hall, with Esa-Pekka Salonen, demonstrating how well the Philharmonia Orchestra has absorbed Schoenberg's idiom. A blazing performance, formidably dramatic, executed with stunning assurance. Salonen has made his mark on the Philharmonia through in-depth explorations of the 20th century repertoire he loves so well.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

11 Oct 2015

Strong music values in 1940's setting for Handel's opera examining madness

As part of their Madness season, presenting three very contrasting music theatre treatments of madness (Handel's Orlando, Bellini's I Puritani and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd) Welsh National Opera (WNO) presented Handel's Orlando at the Wales Millennium Centre on Saturday 3 October 2015.

Directed by Harry Fehr, designed by Yannis Thavoris, lighting by Anna Watson, video by Andrzej Goulding, movement Kelly Lloyd-Jones (also associate director), the production was originally created for Scottish Opera. The WNO performances featured Lawrence Zazzo as Orlando, Daniel Grice as Zoroastro, Fflur Wyn as Dorinda, Rebecca Evans as Angelica and Robin Blaze as Medoro. Rinaldo Alessandrini conducted the Welsh National Opera Orchestra.

From the first notes of the overture, played with the curtain down, it was clear that Rinaldo Aessandrini, who is best known for his work with period instrument groups, had developed a creative partnership with the modern instruments of the WNO orchestra. The overture was crisp and lively with some lovely firm playing, not too much vibrato, and a clear feel of period style.

When the curtain did go up for the first scene, Zoroastro's great scena as he looks at the stars, the setting was a 1940's hospital and instead of the stars, Zoroastro (Daniel Grice) was looking at the output from a device hooked up to Orlando's (Lawrence Zazzo) brain. Harry Fehr and Yannis Zavoris had transported the opera to the 1940's with Orlando and Medoro (Robin Blaze) as injured airmen. Dorinda (Fflur Wyn) was now a nurse with Angelica (Rebecca Evans) a glamorous socialite. There were some neat touches; when, in Act One, Zoroastro talks to Orlando of following the path of glory rather than love, he showed Orlando pictures of the Abdication and the subsequent aftermath with the Duke of Windsor being pictured with Nazis.

But Orlando is a pastoral piece, and not only is Dorinda meant to be a shepherdess but many of the characters talk of the beauty of the place and the loss they will feel when they leave. More problematic, for me, was the relentless and busy naturalism of Fehr's production. His style seems to owe something to Katie Mitchell, as the whole opera had a sense of continuous narrative with something constantly happening, as if Handel's drama was somehow insufficient. When Lawrence Zazzo's Orlando sang, a group of doctors were constantly checking charts. I found it at best annoying, and at worst rather reductive. Zoroastro's opening scene seemed reduced when sung by Daniel Grice poring over medical charts in a busy hospital room. And despite Lawrence Zazzo's vivid performance in Orlando's mad scene, the drama seemed lessened by the obsessive detail of the surrounding action with Daniel Grice's Zoroastro and his group of doctor and nurses scurrying round in response to Orlando's actions. The new raison d'etre of the plot never really found a reason why Orlando was allowed so much lee-way, and despite the apparent naturalism of the presentation there was still a lot of suspension of disbelief required.

Handel wrote Orlando in 1733 at a difficult period in the business of Italian opera in London. Orlando would be the last role which his star castrato created for Handel, as Senesino and a number of leading singers then defected to the rival Opera of the Nobility. Perhaps Senesino did not really appreciate the daring way Handel had written the role of Orlando, with his highly innovative mad scene where all the musical rules are broken. And to show of the talents of the great bass Montagnana, Handel and his librettist effectively created the role of Zoroastro adding moments like the opening scene to the existing libretto. Orlando was not a great success at its premiere, and Handel never revived the work again.

Daniel Grice was a capable and effective Zoroastro, singing with a nice sense of firmness. But he did not really dominate the role, and was certainly not helped by the staging so that his great accompanied recitatives at the opening of Act 1 and the end of Act 3 were both a little too matter of fact.

Inevitably the opera was cut, but reasonably discreetly. Act 1 ran to 80 minutes, with Acts 2 and 3 each 40 minutes. Rinaldo Alessandrini kept speeds brisk, so we covered a lot of ground, and there were not waits for scene changes, so that the whole piece flowed well. And whilst speeds may have been fast-ish, there was never a sense of being driven and Alessandrini kept a lovely sense of flow with space for the singers. The orchestra kept up the promise given in the overture, and the arias and accompanied recitatives were all a series of stylish, vivid delights.
Yannis Thavoris' set, which was essentially a single piece set on a revolve, was elegantly imaginative and enabled the varied locations needed in the opera to flow without interrupting the music.

I have yet to see my idea production of Orlando but Harry Fehr's 1940's incarnation at least had the virtues of treating the story with seriousness, presenting the drama in his own way but treating it as serious drama and never guying it. Within this framework, Alessandrini, the singers and the orchestra created a series of very fine moments and ultimately, a rather moving drama.

Robert Hugill

Handel Orlando;
Orlando:Lawrence Zazzo, Angelica: Rebecca Evans, Medoro: Robin Blaze, Dorinda: Fflur Wyn, Zoroastro: Daniel Grice
Directed: Harry Fehr, Design: Yannis Thavoris, Conductor: Rinaldo Alessandrini;
Welsh National Opera at the Wales Millennium Centre
3 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):