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

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

05 Apr 2016

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

One may think of Tosca as the most Roman of all operas, after all it has been performed at the Teatro Costanzi (Rome’s opera house) well over a thousand times since 1900. Though equally, maybe even more Roman is Hector Berlioz’ Benvenuto Cellini that has had only a dozen or so performances in Rome since 1838.

Benvenuto Cellini in Rome

A review by Michael Milenski

Benvenuto Cellini (John Osborn) disguised as a monk [all photos copyright Yasuko Kageayama / TOR courtesy of the Opera di Roma]

 

This is the one where the young sculptor Cellini must cast a statue of Perseus (the Greek hero who killed Medusa) commissioned (only in the opera) by Pope Clement VII, the high renaissance Medici pope. A true Renaissance man Cellini was a sculptor, soldier, flute player (like Berlioz), rogue, lover and author — his famous autobiography self-celebrates his considerable exploits in all these fields.

Hector Berlioz and Benvenuto Cellini were kindred spirits. They both thought big, very big, and imagined grandiose accomplishment. Both had absolute certainty of their genius and never doubted their abilities. This got Cellini into quite a lot of trouble. While Berlioz steered clear of the law he heroically schemed to effect the politics or raise the money to realize huge symphonic and operatic projects. Case in point Benvenuto Cellini — four horns, four trumpets, three trombones plus tuba, winds, two harps, seven percussion players, fifty-eight strings [the count in Rome], seven principal singers and the trappings of grand opera (huge choruses and lots of fire) to tell this far-larger-than-life exploit of a far-larger-than-life personage.

So you must think big if you want to attempt Berlioz’ Cellini opera. It is not said if film director Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas among many more films and many Oscar nominations) initiated the idea to exploit this opera, or if English National Opera seized the opportunity to exploit the resources and processes of big time film making to create something really big.

Cellini_Rome2.pngThe commedia dell'arte performance in Act I

Mr. Gilliam’s team for this 2014 ENO production included scenographer Aaron Marsden (the film Moulin Rouge!), choreographer Leah Hausmann, costumer Katrina Lindsay and lighting designer Paule Constable (recipient of many Oliver and Tony awards), and videographer Finn Ross. The result is a huge and spectacularly cinematic production. Along with Cellini’s struggles to cast his statue in bronze and Berlioz’ struggles to conceive, compose and get his opera produced, you viscerally felt the tremendous creative energy and talent expounded by Mr. Gilliam’s team. It propelled this opera to an ultimate theatrical level.

Every note of Berlioz’ sprawling, elaborate, generally manic, often naive score was taken into consideration and turned into big time, let us say manic theater. It sat splendidly in the Teatro Costanzi, filling the proscenium width with wide screen presence, equalling in scope the enormous sound and color emanating from the expanded pit.

Conductor Roberto Abbado offered breadth and sympathy to the Berlioz score, underscoring its out-of-left-field musicality. Mo. Abbado allowed what seem to be illogical musical ideas to flow straight-on, avoiding compromise to ears (like the Parisian public of the 1830’s) that are (and were) accustomed to classic French grand operas like La Juive (1835) and to Roberto Devereux (Paris, 1838), operas that I had seen/heard only days before. Benvenuto Cellini was not a success in 1838. Even now musically it was a strange, long haul that profited greatly from expansive production values.

After its London premiere the production traveled to Amsterdam in 2015 where American tenor John Osborne took on the role of Benvenuto Cellini with solid success, a success repeated just now in Rome. Mr. Osborn is a very physical performer, a real actor and a beautifully voiced singer. Vocally he is a more lyric Bellini tenor than an heroic tenor, but this allows him to soar through the role’s high tessitura with ease. At the end when we expected and maybe wanted a physically exhausted Cellini Mr. Osborn sounded like he could take it from the top all over again.

Cellini_Rome3.png Mariangela Sicilia as Teresa, Nicola Ulivieri as Balducci

Teresa, the daughter of the pope’s banker and betrothed to Cellini’s untalented rival Fieramosca, was Mariangela Sicilia, again from the Amsterdam cast. This young Italian soprano brought spunk, sassiness and brilliant high notes galore to seduce Cellini, as well as several moments of pitch and vocal uncertainty. Ascanio, Cellini’s apprentice/sidekick was Armenian mezzo soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan, new to the production. A confident, strong voiced singer she perhaps too soberly anchored this trouser role character as the sole voice of good sense amongst a field of buffo males (let us include Cellini among these guys).

The three lively buffo baritone/bass roles, Fieramosca, Balducci, Pope Clement were entrusted here in Rome to Italians who simply did what the Italians alone can do best — buffo!

Michael Milenski


Casts and production information:

Ascanio: Varduhi Abrahamyan; Benvenuto Cellini: John Osborn; Fieramosca: Alessandro Luongo; Giacomo Balkducci: Nicola Ulivieri; Pope Clement: Marco Spotti; Pompeo: Andrea Giovannini; Teresa: Mariangela Sicilia; Francesco: Matteo Falcier; Le Cabaretier: Vladimir Reutov; Bernardino: Graziano Dallavalle. Chorus and Orchestra of the Opera di Roma. Conductor: Roberto Abbado; Stage Director: Terry Gilliam; Co-director and Choreography: Leah Hausman; Set Design: Terry Gilliam and Aaron Marsden, originally conceived by Rae Smith; Costume Design: Katrina Lindsay; Lighting: Paule Constable; Video: Finn Ross. Teatro Costanzi, Rome, Italy, March 29, 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):