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 Performances

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Burying the Dead: Ceruleo offer 'Baroque at the Edge'

“Who are you? And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

Brenda Rae's superb debut at Wigmore Hall

My last visit of the year to Wigmore Hall also proved to be one of the best of 2018. American soprano Brenda Rae has been lauded for her superb performances in the lyric coloratura repertory, in the US and in Europe, and her interpretation of the title role in ENO’s 2016 production of Berg’s Lulu had the UK critics reaching for their superlatives.

POP Bohème: Melodic, Manic, Misbehaving Hipsters

Pacific Opera Project is in its fourth annual, sold out run of Puccini’s La bohème: AKA 'The Hipsters', and it may seem at first blush that nothing succeeds like success.

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Annick Massis [Photo by Gianni Ugolini]
17 May 2016

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

This concert version of La straniera felt like a compulsory musicology field trip, but it had enough vocal flashes to lobby for more frequent performances of this midway Bellini.

Valiant but tentative: La straniera at the Concertgebouw

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Annick Massis [Photo by Gianni Ugolini]

 

La straniera ’s rarity on the opera stage is often blamed on Felice Romani’s libretto, perhaps a tad unfairly. Neither plot nor subject matter is more unlikely than your average early nineteenth century Italian opera. Like Rossini’s La donna del lago and Donizetti’s La favorite, La straniera features an alluring leading lady with royal affiliations in idyllic and/or gothic surroundings. The plot line is stop-and-go because of the lengthy scenes. Bellini intersperses his melodious arias and scampering cabalettas with half-sung recitatives. This canto declamato, innovative at the 1829 première, requires fine singing actors to set it alight. The many tropes in the plot are a weakness: bucolic surroundings, persecution of outsiders, love versus duty, a love triangle (or two), and more. However, Bellini’s spicy brass and percussion and gracefully coiling melodies, effortlessly evoking everything from crystal lakes to a vigilante mob, almost justify this thematic patchwork.

The plot is tenuously historical. Around the end of the twelfth century, Philip II of France became a bigamist when the Pope refused to recognize the annulment of his first marriage. After sending Ingeborg of Denmark away after their wedding night, Philip married Agnes of Merania. Brandishing excommunication and worse, the Pope forced him to take Ingeborg back. The real Agnes died of a broken heart, ending Philip’s papal problems, but at the end of the opera it is Ingeborg who dies, and Agnese, aka Alaide, the “foreigner” of the title, is revealed as the rightful queen. Because Alaide lives alone in a hut, the local peasants naturally accuse her of witchcraft. Equally naturally, a young nobleman, Arturo, becomes smitten with her. Her brother has moved close by, to watch over her, disguised as Baron Valdeburgo, and when he advises Arturo to forget her, the latter takes him for a rival and wounds him in a duel. Alaide is tried for Valdeburgo’s murder before the Prior of the Knights Hospitallers. To complicate matters, Arturo is engaged to Isoletta, the daughter of the local lord. Although she is in love with him, Alaide urges Arturo to go through with the wedding. He almost does, but abandons Isoletta at the altar, only to fall on his sword when he learns Alaide’s true identity. The opera ends in her anguished final aria, aflutter with trills and hopefully ending in a cracking high D-flat.

Soprano Annick Massis held on to that glorious final note for no less than eight seconds. Indeed, her top notes were piercing and pleasingly metallic. After a quavering opening cadenza, her technique settled, revealing an impressive virtuosic toolbox. Despite less than steadfast pitch, her phrasing was sensitive and stylish. Unfortunately, her voice was too small and soft-grained for the role, and her diction not sharp enough to compensate for the lack of dramatic scale. She deftly negotiated chromatic runs, but they were rendered uneven by timbral differences in the registers — her voice loses quality the lower it goes. Ms Massis was frequently inaudible in the big ensembles. In fact, none of the singers except Alisa Kolosova had the volume to match conductor Giancarlo Andretta’s decibels. Although her first appearance had some pitch issues, with her rich, shiny mezzo and emotional intensity Ms Kolosova was immediately a flesh-and-blood Isoletta. Her heartfelt rejected bride aria was one of the few moments when this mostly earthbound performance took flight.

With most of the singers glued to the score most of the time, acting, vocal and otherwise, was inhibited. Tenor Leonardo Capalbo tried his best, and mostly succeeded, in transmitting Arturo’s pain. He was sweetly ardent in the love duet and thereafter increasingly distraught, his clear enunciation injecting drama into the fast strettas. He has a very attractive, light lyric voice with a tendency to press at forte and to end beautifully emitted phrases with unsupported notes. His was a rather exasperating performance — copious natural talent and a lovely mezza-voce, but also some decidedly unlovely pushing. Like Mr Capalbo, baritone Luca Grassi had excellent diction, but his grayscale performance suffered from unreliable intonation and was relentlessly dour. That is, until his animated Act II aria, “Meco tu vieni, o misera” when Valdeburgo, presumed dead, appears at the trial to acquit his sister. Supporting roles were well-sung. Bass Massimiliano Catellani was a dignified Montolino, Isoletta’s father. Refreshingly unhitched from his score, bass-baritone Roberto Lorenzi sang a commanding Prior with a voice of melted chocolate. It is a pity that Osburgo, Arturo’s confidant, sings mostly with the chorus. In his few solo lines, Luis Gomes displayed a pliant, brightly coloured tenor. Hopefully, Amsterdam will get to hear him in a bigger role.

Mr Andretta led the Royal Flemish Philharmonic at a forward tilt, with rhythmic tightness, but the overall impression was one of underprepared commitment. Uncertain entrances and tempo tugs-of-war indicated insufficient rehearsal time. It took a while for the men of the Netherlands Radio Choir to line up properly and the chorus as a whole lacked finish. Similarly, the orchestra showed little interpretative flair, despite many fine instrumental intros, including fragrant flute and oboe solos. Mr Andretta led thrilling crescendos, but elsewhere gloopy strings and matt dynamics robbed the score of its airiness. In spite of these reservations, the NTR ZaterdagMatinee deserves high praise for programming this kind of repertoire. The loudly enthusiastic Concertgebouw audience would certainly welcome more of it.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Alaide: Annick Massis; Isoletta: Alisa Kolosova; Arturo: Leonardo Capalbo; Baron Valdeburgo: Luca Grassi; the Duke of Montolino: Massimiliano Catalani; the Prior of the Knights Hospitallers: Roberto Lorenzi; Osburgo: Luis Gomez. Netherlands Radio Choir, Royal Flemish Philharmonic. Conductor: Giancarlo Andretta. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Saturday, 14th 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):