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

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.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Jun 2016

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

Opportunities to see Idomeneo are not so frequent as they might be, certainly not so frequent as they should be.

Idomeneo, re di Creta, Garsington

A review by Mark Berry

 

Even so fervent a Gluckian as I should happily admit that Mozart here goes beyond his great predecessor (and contemporary), perhaps not consistently, but Mozart is saddled with a vastly inferior libretto. In any case, that Gluckian musico-dramatic line is only one of the many facets of Idomeneo’s greatness. Its Salzburg luxuriance - yes, I know it was written for Munich; I refer here to the Salzburg Mozart as opposed to his Viennese successor - has its own extravagant rewards, even when the musico-dramatic focus is not quite so tightly disciplined as that of, say, Iphigénie en Tauride. Moreover, no Iphigenia is a match for Mozart’s Elettra. As for the orchestral and choral writing, it is surely a match for Don Giovanni; even its chromaticism, its masterly exploration of remote reaches of the tonal system, do not come so very far behind. And yet, even so fervent a devotee as I was only seeing the work in the theatre for the fourth time. Following the Vienna State Opera (2006), ENO (2010) , and the Royal Opera (2014), here came Garsington Opera to the rescue.

For that, and indeed for much else, Garsington deserves a hearty vote of thanks. Musically, this was a strong performance, despite cuts that scarred the work more than I should have preferred. I can, to a certain extent, understand the temptation to make considerable cuts to the recitatives, although Mozart’s achievement here is surely not his least. To do so to the extent that the story does not quite hang together, though, is a disfigurement that seems to misunderstand the role of recitative, whether dry or accompanied, in eighteenth-century opera. One can probably fill in the gaps, but is that really the point? And unlike, say, Don Giovanni, which suffers greatly from use of the ridiculous composite of Prague and Vienna versions, this is a work for which superfluity, is part of the attraction: let us have as much of the rest as we can. I could not help but wonder whether certain arias were not present in order to facilitate a transformation of three acts into two. There will always be choices to be made, for there is no ideal ‘version’, but so far as this listener is concerned, the more one can hear, for the most part the better. The loss of the ballet music I mind more than once I did; once one realises how dramatic ballet can be, especially in the magnificent French tradition in which Idomeneo partly stands, there is no turning back. Martin Kušej’s tableau for Covent Garden is doubtless a one-off; as a visual, harrowing instantiation of regime change, it made its dramatic point to those willing to think. (Needless to say, that excluded most of the audience.) Still, we had what we had.

That is still more the case with a fine cast and chorus as here. The work of Susanna Stranders is training the Garsington Chorus had clearly been thorough and well directed; choral singing proved lithe and weighty, as required, very much in consonance with the kaleidoscope of colours offered by the excellent orchestra. In the title role, Toby Spence offered a typically thoughtful performance, quite different from any I have heard (and which I retain in my head), but that is no reason to criticise. Idomeneo’s torment was starkly apparent from the outset, visually and vocally, still more so as a broken man (and king) at the conclusion. I have heard no finer, no more moving Ilia than Louise Alder’s, taking its leave from words and music alike, and above all from the alchemic synthesis of the two. After a first aria shaky of intonation, Caitlin Hulcup’s Idamante proved equally impressive; indeed, so convincing was she as the prince that I initially thought I was hearing a countertenor. Rebecca von Lipinski’s Elettra was just the tour de force that one needs; if only the production (on which more anon) had helped give more context to her fury and equally to a humanity too often lost in performance, but not here. Timothy Robinson’s attentive Arbace, the perfect counsellor, had one miss more than usual his aria (not, even I should admit, Mozart at his greatest). Robert Murray’s relatively small role as the High Priest did not disappoint: a typically intelligent, intriguingly ambiguous performance. Even Neptune (who appears, rather convincingly, as a neo-Monteverdian apparition, rather than being mediated by an oracle) was convincingly brought to life by Nicholas Masters.

If Tobias Ringborg’s conducting had a few too many Harnoncourtisms for my taste, not least drastic, rhetorical gear changes in the Overture, then it was dramatic throughout. (I hasten to add that I have nothing whatsoever against tempo variation; but few Mozart conductors seem able to convince in that respect today, Daniel Barenboim, who has never conducted the work, an obvious exception.) Ringborg also proved somewhat of the interventionist school in his fortepiano (what is wrong with a modern piano?) continuo. Balanced against such irritants, there was no doubting the conductor’s living and breathing the music. His enthusiasm was infectious; the orchestra’s vivid response - perhaps a little vivid in the case of clattering (period?) timpani - was not the least of the evening’s special qualities.

I am afraid a ‘but’ is coming, and it relates to Tim Albery’s production. As with his Wagner productions for the Royal Opera House, Albery creates, insofar as I could discern, little beyond a string of clichés. The principal characters appear in stylised eighteenth-century dress, whilst the set designs and the chorus evoke a contemporary port. (Alas, I could not help but recall Katie Mitchell’s catastrophic ENO staging , its second act in an airport terminal - which I only later discovered had been a ferry terminal, as if that made all the difference.) There is almost always something one can do with such juxtaposition; I assumed Albery would at least do something with the large seafaring container, opened to reveal an eighteenth-century room. But no, that seems to be it: different dress, and opening and shutting of the container. It seems designed to flatter people who wanted to say they had seen something ‘modern’, without engaging with any of the possibilities of contemporary theatre, let alone presenting something as outré as a concept. The story ‘itself’ actually comes across quite strongly, despite the cuts, and that, I admit, is not an insignificant achievement. By the same token, though, it might as well have been entirely in eighteenth-century dress and in an eighteenth-century setting.

Mark Berry

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Idomeneo, re di Creta

Ilia: Louise Alder; Idamante: Caitlin Hulcup; Elettra: Rebecca von Lipinski; Arbace: Timothy Robinson; Idomeneo: Toby Spence; High Priest: Robert Murray; Neptune: Nicholas Masters. Director: Tim Albery; Designs: Hannah Clark; Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth; Movement: Tim Claydon. Garsington Opera Chorus (chorus master: Susanna Stranders)/Garsington Opera Orchestra/Tobias Ringborg (conductor). Garsington Opera House, Wormsley Park, Oxfordshire, Sunday 19 June 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):