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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

14 Apr 2016

Donizetti : Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House

When Kasper Holten took the precaution of pre-warning ticket-holders that the Royal Opera House’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor featured scene portraying ‘sexual acts’ and ‘violence’, one assumed that he was aiming to avert a re-run of the jeering and hectoring that accompanied last season’s Guillaume Tell. He even went so far as to offer concerned patrons a refund.

Donizetti :Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera House, London 11th April 2016. A review by Claire Seymour

Above

 

And, perhaps he was wise to be wary as the graphic sex, sadism and barbarism of director Katie Mitchell’s recent production of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed at the National Theatre reportedly caused some audience-members to faint with revulsion and others to flounce out in disgust. Having now seen Mitchell’s Lucia, I wouldn’t be surprised if Holten’s cautionary announcement was not simply designed to generate some interest - for the production itself offers little, though the cast is uniformly impressive.

As the eponymous heroine, Diana Damrau deserves credit for her committed engagement with the physical and psychological extremes of Mitchell’s devising while successfully negotiating Donizetti’s high-wire vocal lines. She didn’t have much plushness or power at the top, but Damrau sang with precision, observing all the details in the mad scene’s disintegrating roulades and spiky staccatos, and holding nothing back in conveying Lucia’s distress - it was good to hear the glass-harmonica’s uncanny whistles too. Earlier in the opera, Damrau had delivered an eerily coloured entrance aria, and she convincingly portrayed the anger and resentment felt by Mitchell’s protagonist - who is more feisty than feminine. But, she didn’t have the strength or warmth to make her presence felt in the sextet.

Charles Castronovo was an ardent, lyrical Edgardo; the American-Italian tenor’s phrasing was refined and he displayed both fullness in the middle range and clarity up high. Castronovo also has a handsome stage presence and was fittingly heroic. Some of the best singing of the night came from Ludovic Tézier as Enrico; his baritone is strong but he uses it with subtlety. The Wolf’s-Crag confrontation between the two enemies was exciting and vigorously sung. Rachael Lloyd, as Alisa, and Taylor Stayton, in the thankless role of Arturo, made a solid contribution.

‘A pure and magnificent tragic romance’ was the critical response of Blackwood’s Magazine to Walter Scott’s novel when it was published in 1819. The novel overflows with the immoderations of Gothic romance - witches, madwomen, Byronic heroes, star-crossed lovers, derelict castles, public disgrace, financial ruin and ominous prophecies - and, burdened by familial, political and psychological fractures, its over-emotional heroine submits to insanity and goes on a murderous rampage. Donizetti and his librettist Salvadore Cammarano were not ones to miss an opportunity for violent contrasts and tragic excess and give us a veritable bel canto soap opera.

Katie Mitchell is not that interested in either Scott’s Bride of Lammermoor or Donizetti’s opera, though. She has a different story to tell, a ‘feminist take’ (‘My focus is 100% on the female characters’) set in the 1830s (updated from the novel’s early-17th-century setting), the decade in which Donizetti’s opera was first seen in Naples and as Mitchell notes, the decade which was ‘a very important period for feminism with the Brontës and all those amazing women like Mary Anning who were early feminists, fossil-hunters and scientists’.

Mitchell’s Lucia is a frustrated proto-feminist, trapped in an oppressive male world, whose refusal to endure a life of passive self-denial and duty results in her cruel and bloody demise. This is not such a radical reading. The mad-scene has been variously interpreted, sometimes as the beautiful but futile expression of female passivity and entrapment, elsewhere as a convention-breaking proclamation of self-determination.

However, while it’s true that in the 19th century, madness, both ‘real’ and ‘operatic’, was stereotypically a ‘female ­malady’, I feel that Mitchell goes too far in her assertion of the work’s ‘cultural meaning’. And, in her endeavour to fill in all the ‘gaps’ and provide us with an unambiguous account of ‘what Lucia does while the male characters are singing about her’, she loads the action with extraneous imagined action.

So, as the guests gather to celebrate the nuptial union of the two families, on the other side of the stage we see Lucia and her maid murder Lucia’s husband of just a few minutes. And, they take an awful long time to do so, for he’s a disobliging victim who survives attempted suffocation, prolonged stabbing and a hatchet to the head and ekes out his death-shakes as long as possible - completely distracting one’s attention from the ‘scripted’ plot being presented alongside.

Then, as if murdering one’s husband would not be enough to send one crazy, Mitchell invents a further reason for Lucia’s insanity: a miscarriage - or self-induced abortion? - which causes Lucia to lose enough blood to drown the entire Ashton and Ravenswood clans. It is disconcerting and uncomfortable to watch, but mental breakdown is disturbing too and Donizetti’s depiction of it is sufficient to stir our disquiet.

As for the reported erotic excesses of the production, the characters did seem to be eternally engaged in taking off their clothes, though they exposed little flesh and the nocturnal assignation of Edgardo and Lucia (fully clothed in men’s attire) in the Lammermoor gardens involved an excruciatingly clichéd ‘sex-scene’ of cartoonish gaucheness. Presumably it was more potent than it looked for in the following scene Lucia rushed to the water closet apparently in the throes of morning sickness, which raised a chuckle in the stalls.

Vicky Mortimer’s set divides the ROH stage into two, fairly shallow rooms. Centre-stage is given, literally and figuratively, to a partition wall. Bedchamber is juxtaposed with bathroom, boudoir with billiard room. The eye doesn’t really know where to settle, and as much of the business occurs towards the far edges of the stage, there’s a danger that ‘crucial’ action is missed.

Lucia’s mental wanderings are almost outdone for grimness by an itinerant interloper - the portentous ghost whom Lucia sees of a girl killed by a jealous Ravenswood ancestor - whom Mitchell introduces in almost every scene. And, the set - admittedly detailed and sumptuous, and naturalistically lit by Jon Clark - is small and cluttered. In Act 2, in the billiard room there is almost no room for ROH Chorus to stand, let alone move.

It’s a rare evening when the ROH Orchestra receive a lukewarm reception, but conductor Daniel Oren’s stately tempos and unresponsive, rigid beat didn’t lift the performances from the pit above the work-a-day.
Thank goodness for Castronovo’s terrific performance in the final scene, where despite the visual distraction of Lucia slitting her wrists in the bathtub next door, Castronovo sang with truly affecting tenderness. Despite Mitchell’s assertion that the focus of this production ‘is 100% on the female characters’ it was Sir Edgardo di Ravenswood who stole the show.

Claire Seymour

Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor
Lucia - Diana Damrau, Enrico Ashton - Ludovic Tézier, Egardo - Charles Castronovo, Normando - Peter Hoare, Alisa - Rachael Lloyd, Raimondo Bidebent - Kwangchul Youn, Arturo Bucklaw - Taylor Stayton; Director - Katie Mitchell, Designer - Vicki Mortimer, Lighting Designer - Jon Clark, Movement Director and Associate Director - Joseph Alford, Fight Directors - Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Monday 11th April 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):