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 Performances

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

A beguiling Il barbiere di Siviglia from GTO

I had mixed feelings about Annabel Arden’s production of Il barbiere di Siviglia when it was first seen at Glyndebourne in 2016. Now reprised (revival director, Sinéad O’Neill) for the autumn 2017 tour, the designs remain a vibrant mosaic of rich hues and Moorish motifs, the supernumeraries - commedia stereotypes cum comic interlopers - infiltrate and interact even more piquantly, and the harpsichords are still flying in, unfathomably, from all angles. But, the drama is a little less hyperactive, the characterisation less larger-than-life. And, this Saturday evening performance went down a treat with the Canterbury crowd on the final night of GTO’s brief residency at the Marlowe Theatre.

Brett Dean's Hamlet: GTO in Canterbury

‘There is no such thing as Hamlet,’ says Matthew Jocelyn in an interview printed in the 2017 Glyndebourne programme book. The librettist of Australian composer Brett Dean’s opera based on the Bard’s most oft-performed tragedy, which was premiered to acclaim in June this year, was noting the variants between the extant sources for the play - the First, or ‘Bad’, Quarto of 1603, which contains just over half of the text of the Second Quarto which published the following year, and the First Folio of 1623 - no one of which can reliably be guaranteed superiority over the other.

WNO's Russian Revolution series: the grim repetitions of the house of the dead

‘We lived in a heap together in one barrack. The flooring was rotten and an inch deep in filth, so that we slipped and fell. When wood was put into the stove no heat came out, only a terrible smell that lasted through the winter.’ So wrote Dostoevsky, in a letter to his brother, about his experiences in the Siberian prison camp at Omsk where he was incarcerated between 1850-54, because of his association with a group of political dissidents who had tried to assassinate the Tsar. Dostoevsky’s ‘house of the dead’ is harrowingly reproduced by Maria Björsen’s set - a dark, Dantesque pit from which there is no possibility of escape - for David Pountney’s 1982 production of Janáček’s final opera, here revived as part of Welsh National Opera’s Russian Revolution series.

The 2017 Glyndebourne Tour arrives in Canterbury with a satisfying Così fan tutte

A Così fan tutte set in the 18th century, in Naples, beside the sea: what, no meddling with Mozart? Whatever next! First seen in 2006, and now on its final run before ‘retirement’, Nicholas Hytner’s straightforward account (revived by Bruno Ravella) of Mozart’s part-playful, part-piquant tale of amorous entanglements was a refreshing opener at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury where Glyndebourne Festival Opera arrived this week for the first sojourn of the 2017 tour.

Richard Jones's Rodelinda returns to ENO

Shameless grabs for power; vicious, self-destructive dynastic in-fighting; a self-righteous and unwavering sense of entitlement; bruised egos and integrity jettisoned. One might be forgiven for thinking that it was the current Tory government that was being described. However, we are not in twenty-first-century Westminster, but rather in seventh-century Lombardy, the setting for Handel’s 1725 opera, Rodelinda, Richard Jones’s 2014 production of which is currently being revived at English National Opera.

Amusing Old Movie Becomes Engrossing New Opera

Director Mario Bava’s motion picture, Hercules in the Haunted World, was released in Italy in November 1961, and in the United States in April 1964. In 2010 composer Patrick Morganelli wrote a chamber opera entitled Hercules vs. Vampires for Opera Theater Oregon.

Rigoletto at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If a credible portrayal of the title character in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is vital to any performance, the success of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s current, exciting production hinges very much on the memorable court jester and father sung by baritone Quinn Kelsey.

Wexford Festival Opera 2017

‘What’s the delay? A little wind and rain are nothing to worry about!’ The villagers’ indifference to the inclement weather which occurs mid-way through Jacopo Foroni’s opera Margherita - as the townsfolk set off in pursuit of two mystery assailants seen attacking a man in the forest - acquired an unintentionally ironic slant in Wexford Opera House on the opening night of Michael Sturm’s production, raising a wry chuckle from the audience.

The Genius of Purcell: Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort at the Wigmore Hall

This celebration of The Genius of Purcell by Carolyn Sampson and The King’s Consort at the Wigmore Hall was music-making of the most absorbing and invigorating kind: unmannered, direct and refreshing.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Anthony Michaels-Moore as Don Carlo di Vargas [Photo by Robert Workman]
14 Nov 2015

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Anthony Michaels-Moore as Don Carlo di Vargas

Photos by Robert Workman

 

Seated at a grandiose table, a black silhouette, swirled in mist, is suddenly illuminated by blazing white light, next framed by a towering triangle of light whose tip points upwards like an aspiring cathedral tower (lighting design by Tim Mitchell). But, we are in a world wrenched by violence and chaos, and the Church will offer no consolation or salvation. Bieito’s milieu is Spain, during the Civil War: the only brief flashes of colour are provided by the waving of the red-yellow nationalist flag and the shedding of blood.

It’s also a world that Bieito feels close to: born in northern Spain’s Miranda de Ebro in 1963, Bieito tells us, in a programme note, of his grandmother’s stories of ‘shots being fired behind the cemetery walls as she lay in her bed at night […] every morning she would be greeted by the same scene: a pile of dead bodies in the forecourt by the wall’. Her ‘terrible stories’ are invoked by the production’s visual imagery. Upon the white, balconied façades which border the public square — then swivel, slide and tilt to form depressing back-alleys and fire-escapes — contemporary newsreels of marching armies, public protests and the wailing distress of a dying child are projected. Alongside them, Picasso’s icons of pain and anguish tell their own story: agonised faces, severed limbs, gaping wounds, a horse falling in agony, the bare lightbulb of a torturer’s cell (video designs by Sarah Derendinger).

Updating Verdi’s opera to the years of the Spanish Civil War makes sense. Both Picasso and Verdi employ a big canvas; and, the cover-image of the ENO programme — a sword up to its hilt in blood and casting a crucifix-shadow on an ochre wall — may allude to the toxic tensions between the Catholic hierarchy and the Republic, and the Church’s role in adding fuel to the flames when conflict broke out.

But, the drama of Verdi’s opera hinges on the private and not the public world; specifically the triangle formed by Leonora, her beloved Alvaro, and her vengeful brother Carlo di Vargas. Here, Bieito’s touch is less sure. The static nature of the thought-provoking images he and his designer, Rebecca Ringst, present ultimately hinders the dramatic currents that Verdi’s score articulates. We are presented with photographic snap-shops but these do not come alive to form a tragic narrative. The ENO chorus, in tremendous voice, stand and deliver. Even the principals seem barely to communicate; all the relationships are dysfunctional. In the opening scene Leonora and her father, the Marquis of Calatrava, sit at the table, immobile, paralysed by patriarchal disapproval and oppression. During the impassioned duets — for Alvaro and Leonora in Act 1, and Alvaro and Carlo in Act 3 — the protagonists’ emotions are sung but not dramatized.

There are no assassins from whom Alvaro may rescue Carlo. And, there is no sign of army life or military action. When Alvaro sings of his misery in his Act 3 aria, ‘La vita è inferno all’infelice’, he appears, not among his fellow troops but poking through, and isolated by, the gaping window of one of the sloping façades. He is later joined, in another window frame, by the surgeon — whose white apron might have been stained as much by blood from the abattoir as from the battlefield. The only thing that moves is the scenery: and even this paradoxically hindered the momentum when, after Carlo and Alvaro had dashed off to fight their duel, a lengthy pause intervened as the stage-hands struggled to re-position the façades, forcing Leonora to put her great prayer for peace, ‘Pace, pace mio Dio!’, on hold.

14554.pngScene from The Force of Destiny

The significance of some of Bieito’s smaller gestures was not immediately fathomable. Why, when she crouches over her father’s dead body in the opening Act, does Leonora remove his belt? What does the image of a girl scribbling on a blackboard — which is projected onto the front-cloth during the second interview — portend? On the other hand, the symbolism of some motifs is heavy-handed: Don Carlo’s Act 2 aria, in which he pretends to be a student from Salamanca named Pereda, was ‘sabotaged’ by the noisy shredding of books by the peasant crowd — an allusion, one presumes, to the burning by Franco’s troops in 1939 of the entire library of Pompeu Fabra, who had dedicated himself to the study of the Catalan language — an act of cultural vandalism which was accompanied by cries of ‘Abajo la inteligencia!’ (Down with intelligentsia!)

The directorial gestures leave us in no doubt, though, of the cruelty of the world depicted. In Act 3, Preziosilla’s ‘Rataplan’ hymn of praise to military life becomes an incitement to brutality: the soldiers oblige by executing some of the starving refugees, while Preziosilla indulges her own bloodlust by savagely kicking a pregnant woman. Fra Melitone’s chastisement of their godlessness feels ineffectual and impotent in the face of such depravity. On becoming a hermit, Leonora is crowned with a barbed wire laurel — with which she later chokes herself.

If the human relationships between the protagonists interest Bieito less than abstract notions of fanatical hatred and passion, then the singers still create compelling portraits. As Alvaro, Gwyn Hughes Jones demonstrated a gallant Verdian power: in Jeremy Sams’ rather clunky and mundane translation, Alvaro sings of a ‘fiery beacon’ and ‘glory and splendour’ in his Act 1 aria, apposite terms for Hughes Jones’s vocal heroism. However, it didn’t always feel comfortable: he reached the top, but the effort required was evident, and Hughes Jones’s tone and intonation lost focus in some of the quieter passages.

Anthony Michaels-Moore convincingly portrayed Carlo’s bitter, obsessive vengefulness. This was a well-judged performance: Michaels-Moore took command of the stage at the start of Act 4 when Carlo forces Alvaro to fight. Throughout he used his baritone expressively, and employed a range of colours which conveyed Carlo’s private torments.

The real star, though, was American soprano, Tamara Wilson, making her role debut as Leonora and her first appearance in the UK. She has a magnificent voice, a gleaming lirico-spinto which can soar with enormous power at the top but which also has richness, depth and hints of darkness at the bottom. Able to modulate the dynamics with sure control, Wilson rode the dramatic climaxes with ease, effortlessly ascending above and cutting through the orchestra. Her intonation was unfailingly true, and in Act 1 Leonora was tender and vulnerable. Wilson brightened her soprano in the monastery scene, floating above the monks’ chanting, perhaps intimating hope; but she saved her best for a resplendent ‘Pace, pace, mio Dio!’ in the last Act.

14559.pngMatthew Best as Marquis of Calatrava, Tamara Wilson as Donna Leonora di Vargas, Clare Presland as Curra, and Gwyn Hughes Jones as Don Alvaro

Rinat Shaham’s Preziosilla was feisty and vivacious, and Andrew Shore — who is coming to the end of his run as Bartolo’s in ENO Barber of Seville — swapped comic foolishness for ecclesiastical menace and, as a petulant Fra Melitone, found some surprisingly dark baritonal tones. He was effectively complemented by James Cresswell’s mellifluous and well-projected Padre Guardiano. Replacing the indisposed Matthew Best, Robert Winslade —Anderson sang the short role of the Marquis of Calatrava with a firmly supported bass-baritone; when accidentally shot by Alvaro, he slid with impressive melodrama to the floor, dragging table-cloth and candelabras with him.

Conductor Mark Wigglesworth chose to perform Verdi’s original, shorter Overture. During the evening, he drew playing of tremendous vigour and strength from the ENO orchestra, moving swiftly through the score — sometimes thwarting the audience’s desire to applaud individual arias — and injecting momentum which went some way to compensate for the lack of movement on stage.

Overall, Bieito presents many arresting moments but they are not connected by a sustained dramatic thread and this weakens the impact of the score’s own dramatic persuasiveness. The director cites Antoine Saint-Exupéry: ‘Civil war is not war, but disease. The enemy is internal, people fighting themselves.’ Perhaps that is why Bieito has decided that Leonora should take her own life, rather than die at the hands of the mortally wounded Carlo who, in Piave’s libretto, stabs her as bends over his body. But, in so doing — and though Carlo sings, ‘I am weary of this struggle with fate’ — Bieito denies us a revelation of the tragic force of destiny.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Don Alvaro: Gwyn Hughes Jones, Donna Leonora di Vargas: Tamara Wilson, Don Carlo di Vargas:Anthony Michaels-Moore, Padre Guardiano: James Creswell, Fra Melitone: Andrew Shore, Preziosilla: Rinat Shaham, Marquis of Calatrava: Robert Winslade Anderson, Curra: Clare Presland, Trabuco: Adrian Dwyer, Alcade: Nicholas Folwell; Director: Calixto Bieito, Conductor:Mark Wigglesworth, Set Designer: Rebecca Ringst, Costume Designer: Ingo Krügler, Lighting Designer: Tim Mitchell, Video Designer: Sarah Derendinger, Orchestra and Chorus of English National Opera. English National Opera, London Coliseum, Monday 9th November 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):