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

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

A disappointing Prom from Nathalie Stutzmann and BBCNOW

Nathalie Stutzmann really is an impressive conductor. The sheer elegance she brings to her formidable technique, the effortless drive towards making much of the music she conducts sound so passionate and the ability to shock us into hearing something quite new in music we think we know is really rather refreshing. Why then did this Prom sometimes feel weary, even disappointing at times?

Sandrine Piau: Si j’ai aimé

Sandrine Piau and Le Concert de la Loge (Julien Chauvin), Si j’ai aimé, an eclectic collection of mélodies demonstrating the riches of French orchestral song. Berlioz, Duparc and Massenet are included, but also Saint-Saëns, Charles Bordes, Gabriel Pierné, Théodore Dubois, Louis Vierne and Benjamin Godard.

Merola’s Striking If I Were You

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer have become an indispensable presence in the contemporary opera world, and their latest premiere, If I Were You, found the duo at the very top of their game.

The Thirteenth Child: When She Was Good…

Santa Fe Opera continues its remarkable record for producing World (and American) Premieres with The Thirteenth Child, music by Poul Ruders, libretto by Becky and David Starobin.

The Sopranos at Tanglewood

Among classical music lovers, Wagner inspires equal measures of devotion and disdain. Some travel far and sit for hours to hear his operas live. Others eschew them completely.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

09 Dec 2015

Verdi Giovanna d'Arco, Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Verdi Giovanna d'Arco at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, starting the new season. Primas at La Scala are a state occasion, attended by the President of Italy and other dignitaries.

Giuseppe Verdi : Giovanna d'Arco, Riccardo Chailly, Anna Netrebko, David Cecconi, Francsco Meli, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 7th December 2015

A review by Anne Ozorio

:

 

This year was even more special because, after a long run of Barenboim and German opera, the focus was on Giuseppe Verdi and on Riccardo Chailly, La Scala's "favourite son", who started his career there more than 40 years ago, mentored by Claudio Abbado. Chailly has conducted Giovanna d'Arco many times before, but this performance outstripped expectations : totally committed, utterly magnificent

Giovanna d'Arco is sometimes described as flawed but this performance shows its true worth. The production, directed by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier, deals with the deeper levels in the story. Anna Netrebko is fast making the role her own. Giovanna isn't a glamour figure, but Netrebko makes the part glow, as if, like the saint, she's transfigured from within. This Joan of Arc is vividly portrayed, so inspired by her mission that even her father thinks she's possessed by supernatural forces. No plaster saint, but a personality with depth and conviction, as worthy as any Verdi heroine.

The prologue plays over a stage lit so all we can see is black and white. This forest is a forest of ideas, where nothing is really black and white. Joan of Arc is revered as a saint but was burned at the stake for heresy.. Nowadays, hearing voices would get Giovanna medicated into stupor. Invisible voices rouse her. The dark room fills with colour. From this materializes Carlos VII, (Francesco Meli), a vision of gleaming gold. The idea of a king appealing to a simple girl thus makes psychological sense. The crowd, however, don't understand. Verdi writes hellfire into the orchestration, whips of sound rising like the flames which will eventually destroy Giovanna's body but not her soul. Unlike the chorus, Giovanna is paying attention. Carlo's long aria inspires her to rip her nightgown into a makeshift tunic and cut off her hair. Even as baby-faced gamine, Netrebko looks right. And then she sings "Oh ben s'addice questo, Torbido cielo" and we hear Netrebko transform into the saviour of her nation. The set lights up like a medieval church and Netrebko dons the golden armour Carlo was not worthy to wear.

In Act II, Verdi focuses on Giacomo, and on a father's anxieties, even at this moment of triumph. We see the populace, and soldiers in armour, and glimpses of Rheims cathedral, yet we also see Giovanna's bed. For Giacomo, the real drama revolves around his daughter's soul. Patriot as he is, he's a parent above all. The crowds mill round, but for Giacomo (Devid Cecconi) the bed is a symbol. The bed is also is a consideration which matters in an opera which makes so much of the idea that the king wants to marry Giovanna. Lit with white light, the bed reminds us that Giovanna's soul is pure and will remain forever virginal. Modern minds might detect psycho-sexual complexities in Giovanna's actions. Perhaps Verdi intuited as much, for he wrote the demon chorus "Fuggi, o donna maledetta", here illustrated by blood-red monsters with with phallic horns.

Captured, Giovanna, relives her past victories in her imagination. The crowd dress her in gold plated armour, for she is, indeed, protected by the justice of her mission. Now we see the towers of the Cathedral rise up, and Carlo VII astride a golden horse. But Giovanna is facing death. Soon, though, she divests herself of the worldly glory the armour represents. We see Netrebko again in a simple white shift.

But Giovanna d'Arco is not religious or even particularly spiritual. The plot diverges greatly from what we know of the historical record. Verdi's librettist was Temistocle Solera, who gave the composer Nabucco and I Lombardi, with their coded references to political liberation. Giovanna hears the sounds of battle, and only towards the very end dedicates herself to the Virgin Mary (who is, tellingly, a plaster saint in this production). Thus we don't see flames, or a show trial. This isn't the director's fault. Verdi himself created the final act so it unfolds through a series of dialogues between Giovanna and Giacomo, which could not possibly happen in real time. Even at this point Giacomo seems more bothered by his daughter's virginity than her imminent death. Vocally, Netrebko and Cecconi bounce off each other so well that literal reality isn't relevant., Instead we have emotional truth, which is far more powerful and closer to Verdi's fundamental ideas. Giacomo comes at last to understand Giovanna's sacrifice, and Carlo VII to respect her for what she's done for France Then, at last, can Giovanna be released from mortal concerns, and rise up to the skies, vivid blue like the cloak of the Virgin, only brighter, stronger and more gem-like.

Anne Ozorio

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):