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

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Enea Scala and Daniela Barcellona with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Opera Rara Chorus and conductor Daniele Rustioni<br/><br/>Photos © Russell Duncan
13 May 2016

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A foiled abduction, a castle-threatening inferno, romantic infatuation, guilt-laden near-suicide, gun-shots and knife-blows: Andrea Leone Tottola’s libretto for Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, certainly does not lack dramatic incident.

Bellini’s Adelson e Salvini, London

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Enea Scala and Daniela Barcellona with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Opera Rara Chorus and conductor Daniele Rustioni

Photos © Russell Duncan

 

This opera semi-seria also has a counter-element in the form of Bellini’s only comic operatic role, although just as much laughter is generated by the more farcical improbabilities of the melodrama — a knife swung in a desperate frenzy gets caught in a cloak and misses the heart; a lover prepared to kill himself in unrequited misery is cured of his infatuation in the twinkling of an eye.

If the comic and serious elements don’t knit into a coherent whole, the fault probably lies with the minor French writer François-Thomas de Baculard d’Arnaud (1718-1805) whose novella Anecdote anglaise provides the raw material for Tottola’s libretto (which had previously been used by Valentino Fioravanti for the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples in 1816). D’Arnaud’s sappy text is less a narrative than a series of implausible episodes but it is typical of the sort of sentimental drama so popular in Neapolitan theatres during the early nineteenth century — indeed, several of d’Arnaud’s novels and verse dramas were the sources for opera plots, including Donizetti’s La Favoriteand we should probably not judge librettist or composer too harshly for the undeveloped characterisation and haphazard dramatic development.

As always, Opera Rara deserve credit and gratitude for once again mining the archives in order to resurrect forgotten works of the past and allowing us to re-assess composers’ reputations and development. This fine performance at the Barbican Hall, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniele Rustioni, has resulted in the production of a new critical edition using Bellini’s original score. And, the concert staging revealed a young Bellini keen to impress the Neapolitans — his teachers, fellow students and, he hoped, the paying public — absorbing elements of the new ‘Rossinian’ style and showing distinct, if only intermittent, signs of his own musical voice and of the long-breathed melodic curves that would earn him the nickname, ‘the Swan of Catania’.

Kathryn Rudge, Leah Marian-Jones & David Soar with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Opera Rara Chorus and conductor Daniele Rustioni_(c) Russell Duncan.png

Kathryn Rudge, Leah Marian-Jones and David Soar

Bellini must have had high hopes for this ‘graduation piece’ for the Real Collegio di Musica di San Sebastiano in Naples. Performed originally by an all-male cast — even though there are three female roles — it proved so popular that it was reprised at the Conservatory every Sunday for a year, and the Intendant at the Teatro di San Carlo was prompted to commission Bellini’s first professional opera. It has also been suggested that the opera was also designed to impress the parents of Maddalena Fumaroli, a singing pupil of the composer, whom he hoped to marry.

There was disappointment all round though: the Fumarolis were not moved by the opera’s success and Bellini’s attempt to secure a professional production proved fruitless. He revised the original three-act score (which was never published), creating a two-act opera buffa version which remained unperformed. Bellini must have recognised the work’s musical merits though, for he plundered it, cherry-picking some of the best bits for re-cycling in later works. So, Salvini’s cabaletta turns up in Il pirata, the cantabile interlude ‘Ecco signor la sposa’ from the Act 2 finale was recast for La straniera, and Nelly’s romanza ‘Dopo l’oscuro nembo’ was reshaped into Giulettia’s ‘Ah, quante volte!’ in I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

The action is set in seventeenth-century Ireland and concerns the melancholy Lord Adelson and his impassioned protégé, the Italian painter Salvini, whom Adelson has befriended. Unfortunately, back on M’Lord’s Irish estate Salvini becomes starry-eyed when he meets Nelly, Adelson’s betrothed. Nelly’s exiled uncle, Colonel Struley, uses Salvini’s adoration as a means to get revenge on his ‘enemy’ Adelson: while the latter is in London, the first of several false letters arrives. Apparently written by Adelson’s father, it tells of Adelson’s impending marriage to a London noblewoman. Salvini, who has been charged by his master with the care of Nelly, tries to comfort her in her distress but as his ardour grows he becomes increasingly distraught, bordering on insane. With the help of Adelson’s unscrupulous servant, Geronio, Struley attempts to abduct Nelly so that he can force to her wed a rich French friend. Salvini foils his plot but during the chaotic kidnapping and chase, fears that he has killed Nelly. Adelson’s return ensures a happy ending. Despite Salvini’s fears, Nelly is safe and sound and preparing to marry Adelson. Salvini, miraculously purged of his romantic fixation, is given an allowance and despatched back to Italy. He vows to return in a year, to wed his young pupil, the orphan Fanny — his compensation prize.

Maurizio Muraro, Daniela Barcellona, Simone Alberghini, Kathryn Rudge, Leah-Marian Jones & David Soar with conductor Daniele Rustioni_(c) Russell Duncan.png

Maurizio Muraro, Daniela Barcellona, Simone Alberghini, Kathryn Rudge, Leah-Marian Jones and David Soar

There were several changes of cast from the originally advertised line-up, but fortunately Italian bass-baritone Maurizio Muraro stepped into the shoes of Salvini’s servant, Bonifacio, as planned, for he instantly leapt light-footedly to life and created a three-dimensional character whose irreverent pragmatism in the face of the prevailing over-emotionalism was entirely winning. Bonifacio sings in Neapolitan dialect and Muraro relished the text, dealing deftly with the patter in his Act 1 cavatina, ‘Bonifacio Beccheria qui presente’ and resonantly questioning why Salvini believes he’ll never find another girl as sweet and beautiful as Nelly. After all, whether named Nell-y, Mariann-y, Ros-ì, Pepp-ì, Che-cchì Fann-y, or Caro-lì … all those who end with ‘i’ are equally devilish [diavol-i]! Muraro’s full-voiced artistry was as subtle as his acting; this was a superb performance.

Replacing Lawrence Brownlee as the would-be Werther (Goethe’s eponymous novella was published two years after d’Arnaud’s Anecdote), Italian tenor Enea Scala was fittingly handsome and ardent, but he didn’t get into his stride until the second act. Perhaps this is forgivable for Salvini is introduced to us in a wickedly stratospheric cabaletta which forms part of a duet with Bonifacio — but which is the first full solo statement for the lead tenor and so functions like an entrance aria — and which includes an outlandish surfeit of high Cs, Ds and even an E. Scala nailed them all and the hypersensitive painter’s extravagant vocal roulades — ‘Pietà crudele!’ — but not without some strain and a rather hard edge to the tone. The elegance of line required rather more mellifluousness.

However, the tension in Scala’s tenor lessened markedly once the testing opening was under his belt and his Act 2 duet with Simone Alberghini’s Adelson, ‘Torna, o caro, a questo seno’, was moving and dramatic: unaware that they are rivals in love, Adelson asks Salvini to safeguard Nelly in his absence while the painter is increasingly destabilised by the thought of the forthcoming nuptials. Best of all was the Act 3 aria in which Salvini begs to be killed; this number was meltingly beautiful and utterly entrancing, and Scala revealed a greater flexibility and polish than Act 1 might have led us to imagine he possessed.

Alberghini (who replaced the scheduled Nicola Alaimo) initially lacked vocal colour and impact, and he did not seem entirely comfortable embodying an Irish patrician, but the Italian baritone was technically secure: muscular in the broader phrases, nimble in the more elaborate passages.

Daniela Barcellona was a gentle-natured Nelly. She sang her Act 1 romanza with delicacy and a soft-grained mezzo which, while beautiful and affecting, needed greater ampleness to travel through and over the orchestral fabric. Barcellona was quite subdued, too, in more florid passages but she imbued the role with great dignity.

In the minor roles, bass David Soar (Geronio) and Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov (Struley) were a dastardly pair whose characterisations were energetic, but whose attractive tone and vocal restraint prevented them slipping into parody. Mezzo-sopranos Kathryn Rudge (Fanny) and Leah-Marian Jones (replacing Patricia Bardon as Madam Rivers) had little to do except satisfy the conventional balance of vocal forces but they both acquitted themselves well.

The (scaled-down) BBC Symphony Orchestra were on sparkling form under Daniele Rustioni’s baton, playing with impressive rhythmic bite, bright tone and varied colours, obviously inspired by their conductor’s lively engagement with the drama. The playing of the four horns particularly impressed: we were treated to spot-on intonation, appealing tone, impressive clarity and subtle pianos. Rustioni bounced and bopped on the podium, constantly involved with the characters, glancing over his shoulder to cue, coax or embolden his cast. The overture was full of interest — harmonic, rhythmic and dynamic. Rustioni demonstrated equal instinct for the eloquence of the bel canto idiom and the score’s Rossinian gestures. The graded crescendos and hastenings were perfectly judged, though at times I felt that the conductor wanted to push even harder on the accelerator pedal, but was sensitive to his singers. The male voices of the Opera Rara Chorus (replacing the BBC Singers) were strong of tone as Adelson’s servants, and if the basses and baritones tended to out-sing the tenors, then the ensemble had been well-marshalled by chorus master, Eamonn Dougan.

This was a concert staging, but stage director Kenneth Richardson’s slick managing of the singers’ entrances and exits created a sense of dramatic continuity that would not have been achieved had the cast been seated on stage — and which was often not present in the libretto! Somewhat oddly, Bellini chose to employ the French opéra comique convention of spoken dialogue rather than secco recitative, but with the majority of the spoken text delivered by native Italians, dialogue director Daniel Dooner must have had a fairly easy task.

Bellini’s score may be a rather loose dramatic concoction and have more than a few melodic clichés but it contains much of interest too. It points intriguingly to the composer’s all too brief future career. And, with only ten other operas for the Bellini aficionado to enjoy, it’s good to add another to the list.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production details:

Nelly — Daniela Barcellona, Salvini — Enea Scala, Bonifacio — Maurizio Muraro, Madame Rivers — Leah-Marian Jones, Lord Adelson — Simone Albergini, Fanny — Kathryn Rudge, Struley — Rodion Pogossov, Geronio — David Soar; conductor — Daniele Rustioni, stage director — Kenneth Richardson, dialogue director — Daniel Dooner, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Opera Rara Chorus. Barbican Hall, London. Wednesday 11th May 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):