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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

18 Apr 2016

Roméo et Juliette: Dutch National Opera and Ballet seal merger with leaden Berlioz

Choral symphony, oratorio, symphonic poem — Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette does not fit into any mould. It has the potential to work as an opera-ballet, but incoherent storytelling and uninspired conducting undermined this production.

Roméo et Juliette in Amsterdam

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Dancers Igone de Jongh as Juliette and James Stout as Roméo [All photos copyright Monika Rittershaus, courtesy Dutch National Opera and Ballet]

 

To mark their recent merger, the Dutch National Opera and Ballet companies are collaborating as equal partners for the first time. Last season, DNO presented Sasha Waltz's choreographed opera L’Orfeo, which was favourably received. But while her Monteverdi was dramatically lucid and moving, this Roméo et Juliette, which premiered in 2007 at the Opéra Bastille, is inchoate and emotionally hollow. The music, rich in thematic tracery, willingly lends itself to Tanztheater’s fusion of dance, movement and drama. The plot lacks linearity and only one of the three vocal soloists plays a character, Friar Laurence. He only appears in the final cantata, to harangue the warring Capulets and Montagues, a double chorus, into a peace treaty. The orchestra takes on the main roles. Rather than retelling Shakespeare, Berlioz tried to capture his genius in music that is both wonderfully descriptive and wrenchingly evocative. There is the clink and glint of clashing rapiers in the opening fugue, and profound longing in Roméo seul, which contains the seed of Wagner’s Tristan chord. The great love scene is achingly beautiful and Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech is transliterated into the flitting filigree of the Scherzo.

Romeo2.pngIgone de Jongh as Juliette and James Stout as Romeo

Choreography could have fleshed out the plot and complemented the orchestral characterization. This staging, however, is vague, emotionally dormant and at times utterly wrong-headed. It is very handsome visually, thanks to Bernd Skodzig’s black and cream costumes, which understatedly reference the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. Specific characters are assigned, but it was difficult to tell who was who. Romeo’s lovingly teasing friends, Mercutio and Benvolio (Bastiaan Stoop and Peter Leung), were the most clearly drawn individuals. Dancing barefoot, the cast deftly executed the jerky, twitchy steps, linking their bodies into sinuous chains. At first they were confined to an inclined platform, one of two white surfaces forming what could be taken for a book. The reduced space precluded runs and spectacular jumps and some of the sequences became repetitious. Attempts at humour fell flat. The Capulets scoffed their banquet like hogs at a trough and the dances at the ball were irritating nervous tics. The drunken guests walked tortuously home like puppet zombies. None of this was funny. Once the ramp was hoisted up, opening the book, the choreography became more spacious. But then, puzzlingly, the music paused. Romeo danced his desperation unaccompanied, trying to scale a smooth wall.

At least James Stout, moving in short, energetic bursts, got a chance to give Romeo an emotional profile, as opposed to Igone de Jongh as Juliet. She is a slender dancer who moves in long, fluids line, but, limited to sudden jumps and propeller arms, she was all elbows and other angles. During the balcony scene there was no hint of chemistry between the lovers. They kept gingerly running away from each other and then colliding amicably. Juliet was directed as a worldly-wise girl for whom the secret meeting is mildly rebellious fun — hardly the state of mind that would motivate elopement, feigned death and suicide. Ironically, Ms De Jongh was most graceful and tender as a sleeping corpse, when the mourners gently lifted and swung Juliet at her funeral.

Romeo3.png

Failing to compensate for the theatrical aridness, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra under Kazushi Ono sounded under-rehearsed in a grey, matted performance. The usually excellent woodwinds lacked expression and the brass skidded in harshly over and over again. After a tentative Introduction, a leaden Prologue was somewhat relieved by Alisa Kolosova’s full-bodied mezzo-soprano — a thing of beauty, despite undifferentiated diction and a vibrato that widens slightly on the top notes. Tenor Benjamin Bernheim then delivered a snappy, bright-toned Scherzetto. After that, dullness had the upper hand until the poignant funeral dirge by the Dutch National Opera Chorus. Even they, affected by the general malaise, were no more than efficiently competent most of the time. Diffuse orchestral phrasing marred Romeo’s melancholy pages and the enthralling love scene was, just like the pas de deux, devoid of lyricism. The Mab music buzzed aimlessly like a fly trapped in a jar. Applauding politely, the audience only cheered for bass-baritone Paul Gay, maybe because he shook it from its torpor with his resounding “Silence!”. It was a slight shock when he came out in a black sarong, belatedly revealing that the athletic Vito Mazzeo, in identical garb, was, in fact, his dancing counterpart. Mr. Gay sang persuasively, with a firmly anchored lower range, and he and the chorus provided a confident, if not exactly rousing, finale. Here’s hoping that the next joint venture by the National Opera and Ballet will be more fortunate that this one.

Jenny Camilleri


Casts and production information:

Singers Mezzo-soprano: Alisa Kolosova; Tenor: Benjamin Bernheim; Friar Laurence (bass-baritone): Paul Gay. Dancers Roméo: James Stout; Juliette: Igone de Jongh; Friar Laurence: Vito Mazzeo. Dutch National Opera Choir, Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Kazushi Ono; Director and Choreographer: Sasha Waltz; Set Designers: Pia Maier Schriever, Thomas Schenk, Sasha Waltz; Costume Designer: Bernd Skodzig: Lighting Designer: David Finn. Dutch National Opera & Ballet, Amsterdam, Friday, 15th 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):