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

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Emily Vine
01 Feb 2016

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

I’m not sure that St John’s Smith Square was the most appropriate venue for Opera Danube’s latest production: Jacques Offenbach’s satirical frolic, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Orpheus in the Underworld, Opera Danube

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Emily Vine (Eurydice)

 

The company continues its laudable dual mission to facilitate the burgeoning careers of recently graduated young singers and to resurrect the frivolous blend of the grotesque and the erotic, the preposterous and the satirical, which characterises the world of operetta. But, the imposing elegance of St John’s, with its corner towers, monumental pediments and lofty spacious interior — scarlet curtain, dark timber gallery, giant white Corinthian columns and barrel-vaulted roof — made an odd backdrop for this madcap, and at times maniacal, journey with Orpheus and the amoral Olympian deities to the Underworld, courtesy of Simon Butteriss’s adaptation of Offenbach’s opera bouffe.

The tale was swiftly told and the major numbers preserved, with several of the operetta’s ‘supplementary numbers’ included in the final Act — Styx’s ‘I was a King’, the ‘Fly Duet’ for Eurydice and Jupiter, and the final ‘Hymn to Bacchus’ for Eurydice and the Chorus — presumably to allow further opportunity for comic excess. At times, though, the burlesque veered dangerously close to pantomime farce. Offenbach’s satire is a sophisticated parody on a revered Classical legend — a myth which lies at the heart of the ‘birth of opera’ itself. A domestic squabble between disenchanted lovers, the vulgar Eurydice and boorish Orpheus, results in the latter reluctantly (coerced by Public Opinion) heading down to Hades to seek out his wife who has run off with the shepherd Aristaeus (the disguised, lecherous Pluto). This barbed ridicule combines with sharp mockery of the wooden performances of Classical drama at the Comédie-Française in Offenbach’s contemporary Paris, and biting critique of the social and political scandals of the Second French Empire. It’s a work which needs charm and elegance to counter the buffoonery, qualities which Butteriss and movement director Lauren Zolezzi rather overlooked in favour of zany horseplay.

william_morgan_1196406.pngWilliam Morgan (Orpheus) [Photo by Laurent Compagnon]

Butteriss wore many hats in preparing and performing this production: in addition to directing the young cast, he penned the expeditious spoken dialogue, adapted some of the lyrics (J.R. Planché’s translation was used), served as a smooth-tongued narrator, sang the role of Jupiter with stylish verve, and imitated a bluebottle. An experienced ‘man of the theatre’ — director, translator, actor and presenter, singer — he was a relaxed and debonair presence amid the comic antics, swapping evening-dress for silk dressing-gown, then sporting black tights and outsized visor to impersonate a buzzing insect. Occasionally Butteriss strayed a bit too close to the camp territory of Kenneth Williams or John Inman, but he judiciously held back; a wicked sense of fun was tempered by the wisdom of experience.

Among the cast, sopranos Emily Vine and Hannah Sawle stood out. As a soubrettish Eurydice, Vine span a beautiful line and had no trouble hitting the highs, while looking equally classy in Greek tunic and sparkling evening gown. Sawle sang with impressive focus and bright tone, as the categorically unchaste Diana, and was a strong presence in the ensembles. William Morgan proved that his fingers are as nimble as his vocal chords, giving a creditable — if rather hasty — rendition of the overture’s renowned violin solo; despite his musical acrobatics — he twirled impetuously around the haughty Eurydice and slid along the floor on his back, with no obvious negative effect on intonation or finger-work — Orpheus was unable to impress his indifferent wife. But, the multi-tasking — and the overly boisterous characterisation — did somewhat diminish the refinement of his vocal delivery.

Mezzo-soprano Kathy Steffan quietened the agitation as a prim Juno and the pompous Public Opinion, and revealed a wide vocal range and sure intonation. As John Styx, attired in a fluffy, grey onesie — a sort of one-headed Cerberus in a jumpsuit — Matthew Buswell demonstrated richness and variety of tone but his tuning was less secure. Tenor Tristan Stocks gambolled manically as Mercury, but couldn’t quite get his tongue around the rapid patter of his aria. In contrast, Jan Capinski’s diction was excellent; he was a stentorian Pluto/Aristaeus and a persuasive stage presence, particularly in the ensembles, where there was not a hint of the uncertainty about the text which seemed to afflict one or two of his colleagues on occasion. Felicity Buckland completed the cast as a charming Cupid.

Conductor Oliver Gooch led the excellent Orpheus Sinfonia. There was much sensitive string playing and clarinettists Rosemary Taylor and Joseph Shiner added a smooth suavity, a soothing counterpart to the hectic activity on stage (which was deftly choreographed by Zolezzi). The energetic contribution of percussionist Timothy Evans did much to swell the sound, adding excitement and verve at the climactic moments. Gooch swept proceedings along and took the singers with him, although at times the tempo seemed to run away with itself — the ‘Can Can’ went at such a lick that the cast struggled to deliver their high kicks.

Opera Danube’s ambitions are certainly praiseworthy, and artistic director Andrew Dickinson, who welcomed us to this matinee performance, deserves commendation for his aim to ‘showcase’ the work of gifted young professionals through performances of operettas which have the ‘fizz and exuberant quality … so suited to the ambition of emerging talent’. All the more so because it’s all done on a shoe-string. This was a performance of irrepressible vivacity and jollity; just the thing for a Sunday afternoon in dreary January, even if the froth and bubbles did overflow.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Orpheus: William Morgan, Eurydice: Emily Vine, Public Opinion/Juno: Kathy Steffan, Pluto/Aristaeus: Jan Capinski, Diana: Hannah Sawle, Cupid: Felicity Buckland, Mercury: Tristan Stocks, Mars/John Styx: Matthew Buswell; Director/Narrator: Simon Butteriss; Conductor: Oliver Gooch, Lauren Zolezzi: Choreographer, Orpheus Sinfonia. St John’s Smith Square, London, Sunday 31st January 2016.

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):