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

Petrenko Directs Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

The quick rise to prominence and thin catalog of recordings by Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko, outgoing General Music Director of the Bayerische Staatsoper and incoming chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, renders each of his forays into the classic repertoire significant. Last Sunday morning, the Bayerisches Staatsorchester gave the first of three performances of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis under his direction.

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Faust in Marseille

We sat, bewildered, all of us, watching (enduring) Gounod’s sweet little tear jerker as a nasty drug trip. Except for the Australian Marguerite it was an all French cast and they all gamely played along, the sophisticated verse of Offenbach’s librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré clearly sailing out over an abrasive pit.

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

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.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

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.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

18 Jun 2016

Nabucco, Covent Garden

Most of the attention during this revival of Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production of Nabucco has been directed at Plácido Domingo’s reprise of the title role, with the critical reception somewhat mixed.

Nabucco, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

 

But, Domingo is sharing the role with Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias, and on this occasion the latter proved himself a stylish Verdian, with a voice that can rove from heroic to suave, from ringing to whispered, and a dramatic presence equal to the task of representing a King who is both crazed tyrant and tender father.

Platanias’s blazing baritone is even across the range and beautifully coloured. Its sureness and consistency, and his confident musicianship, offers him dramatic freedom; powerfully built, whether vicious destroyer or vulnerable patriarch, he commands the stage. At his first entry, Platanias’s King is both dismissively imperious and disturbingly unstable: when he snatches the crown and declares himself King and God of the Babylonians, his repeated assertions of his own divinity (‘Non son più re, son dio’) signal his impending insanity. He has both the tragic grandeur of Othello and the paranoid delusion of Lear.

Subsequently, when Nabucco pleads for Fenena’s life (‘Oh di qual onta aggravasi questo mio crin canuto’) he becomes a Rigoletto - the role in which Platanias made his debut at Covent Garden in 2012 - a desperate father suffering the loss of the one thing in the world that he loves with selfless honesty. In the final Act, miraculously restored to health and reason - his prayers to the God of Judah answered - Platanias recovered his regal rectitude, leading the final chorus with stentorian power and persuasiveness.

In the pit, Maurizio Benini is reliable and brings the vigour of the young Verdi’s score to the fore. The details of the orchestral accompaniments are clearly heard, but they support the voices and never out-shine them. Benini exercises a tight grip and - from my view in the Amphitheatre - seemed at times to have more eyes, ears and arms than is humanly possible, cueing and guiding all and sundry almost hyperactively during the Act 1 choral finale, furiously flinging the pages of the score while never once glancing down. This was a solid rather than a stirring performance, though, from the ROH Orchestra. There was some dodgy tuning from the trombones at the start of the overture, which fortunately settled when the chorale was later reprised, and the sheer brassiness of the score didn’t quite make the mark it should.

Verdi’s said of the opera with which his artistic career really took off, ‘though I had many difficulties to fight against, it is certain that Nabucco was born under a lucky star’. He might have added that the star shone brightest over ‘Va Pensiero’: operatic myth has it that at the first rehearsal the La Scala stagehands shouted their approval, reinforcing their endorsement with a drumbeat of feet and tools upon the floor and sets. It’s certainly rousing stuff and the ROH Chorus didn’t disappoint. ‘Fly, my thoughts, on gilded wings; fly to rest on hills and mounts’, cry the Hebrew slaves, and the Chorus really did make their prayer take flight, soft-voiced beginnings swelling to urgent, warm waves of sound, then fading to a magical pianissimo, following which the air seemed to echo with the spirit of the hymn.

Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska was a fiery, feverish Abigaille, as power-hungry as Lady Macbeth and sharing all the latter’s coldness of heart, utterly unmoved as she was by Nabucco’s pleas to spare Fenena’s life. Monastyrska exuded self-confidence and self-conviction in ‘Salgo già del trono aurato’ (I already ascend the seat of the golden throne), unhesitatingly seizing the crown when it fell from Nabucco’s head. But her scorching fury was countered by moments of quiet beauty. Framed by a semi-circle of fire, in ‘Anch’io dischiuso un giorno’ she reflected with bitterness and pathos on her present alienation and happy past, fading to a fragile but expertly controlled pianissimo that hinted at a woman heart’s beneath the mask of magisterial haughtiness.

Monastyrska’s powerful dramatic soprano can hit a note at top or bottom bang on and with astonishing steeliness. But, the sound was sometimes a little raw, there was a tendency to stray sharp-wards, and the coloratura was messy. But, if the characterisation lacked nuance, the vocal diversity was satisfying compensation.

The other roles are inevitable overshadowed by the central father-daughter pair, but American mezzo soprano Jamie Barton, making her debut at Convent Garden, and Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo added a welcome touch of lyricism as the ‘star-crossed’ beloveds, Fenena and Ismaele. Barton in particular used her big voice with considerable expressivity, gliding easily and with sumptuousness through the lyrical phrases.

As the High Priest Zaccaria, Canadian bass John Relyea also phrased expressively but he didn’t quite have the vocal authority to conjure the spiritual gravitas that would be necessary to convince the despairing Israelites to trust in their God, who will destroy Babylon. Relyea’s contemplative solo with wistful cello accompaniment was sensitively sung, and played, though.

Alison Chitty’s designs seek to establish a connection between biblical banishment and 20th-century oppression, specifically the Nazi persecution of the Jews; and, the modern business suits by implication also suggest the miseries of present-day mass exile. The colour scheme is monochrome - unalleviated grey - whether we are in the Judaean temple or the Babylonian gardens. And, while the ROH Chorus gives voice to diverse emotions, from terror and torment to fortitude and faith, it’s not always easy to distinguish Israelite from Babylonian. With a nod to the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, the sandpit-stage is strewn with statuesque stone plinths representing the Jerusalem Temple; in Alessandro Carletti’s half-light they evoke the eerie strangeness of a de Chirico public square when first viewed, and subsequently they become stumbling blocks to meaningful stage movement. Though there is some attractive and thoughtful blocking of the Chorus, the back-wall video projections of Luca Scarzella are no substitute for genuine dramatic choreography.

A lot of thought has gone into the visual design; but a neat ‘picture’ doesn’t necessarily result in genuine, gripping drama. Whatever its political suggestiveness, Verdi’s opera is essentially about human emotions - love and hatred - of Shakespearean dimension. And Abbado’s production would benefit from a bit more melodrama and a bit less modern-day migrant misery.

Claire Seymour


Nabucco - Dimitri Platanias, Zaccaria - John Relyea, Abigaille - Liudmyla Monastyrska, Ismaele - Leonardo Capalbo, Fenena - Jamie Barton, Anna - Vlada Borovko, Abdallo - Samuel Sakker, High Priest of Baal - David Shipley; Director - Daniele Abbado, Associate director - Boris Stetka, Conductor - Maurizio Benini, Designer - Alison Chitty, Lighting designer - Alessandro Carletti, Video designer - Luca Scarzella, Movement - Simona Bucci, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Wednesday 15th July 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):