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

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

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):