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

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Nico Muhly's Marnie at ENO

Winston Graham’s 1961 novel Marnie was bold for its time. Its themes of sexual repression, psychological suspense and criminality set within the dark social fabric of contemporary Britain are but outlier themes of the anti-heroine’s own narrative of deceit, guilt, multiple identities and blackmail.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

Elisabeth Kulman sings Mahler's Rückert-Lieder with Sir Mark Elder and the Britten Sinfonia

Austrian singer Elisabeth Kulman has had an interesting career trajectory. She began her singing life as a soprano but later shifted to mezzo-soprano/contralto territory. Esteemed on the operatic stage, she relinquished the theatre for the concert platform in 2015, following an accident while rehearsing Tristan.

Tremendous revival of Katie Mitchell's Lucia at the ROH

The morning sickness, miscarriage and maundering wraiths are still present, but Katie Mitchell’s Lucia di Lammermoor, receiving its first revival at the ROH, seems less ‘hysterical’ this time round - and all the more harrowing for it.

Manon in San Francisco

Nothing but a wall and a floor (and an enormous battery of unseen lighting instruments) and two perfectly matched artists, the Manon of soprano Ellie Dehn and the des Grieux of tenor Michael Fabiano, the centerpiece of Paris’ operatic Belle Époque found vibrant presence on the War Memorial stage.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

17 Jun 2016

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Four years ago, almost to the day (13th to 12th), I saw Melly Still’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen during its first Glyndebourne run. I found myself surprised how much more warmly I responded to it this time.

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

A review by Mark Berry

 

Speaking to various Glyndebourne people beforehand - you will, I trust, be pleased to learn that I unsubtly went on the offensive for easy box-office prospects, such as Gluck and Nono, to Sebastian Schwarz, the company’s new General Director - I was told that revisions had been made. However, I cannot honestly tell you whether my change of heart were owed to them, to a newfound sunnier disposition (maybe not), or to being able to see the entire stage rather than half of it. I shall leave comparisons on one side, now, then, and respond to what I heard and saw, which I enjoyed very much. (In fact, although I offer a link, I have not actually re-read my earlier review, and you may wish to follow suit.)

Still’s production nicely blurs boundaries between opera and ballet. There is, of course, a good deal of ballet music ‘proper’ in the opera, as well as mime, but there is not always so much of a dividing line anyway, and the visual æsthetic seen here, the animals more stylised, less realistic, than often, strengthens the almost-hybrid impression. Paule Constable’s lighting plays just as important a role as Dinah Collin’s costumes, if a rather different one: it helps to delineate the scenes, in conjunction with Tom Pye’s resourceful sets, themselves visually arresting even before humans and animals litter them (sometimes in more than one sense). Whilst I do not find that the production unduly sentimentalises, and its moments of absurdist humour welcome, I missed a stronger sense of the darkness that also lies at the heart of this tale of lifecycles and the collision of human and animal worlds. Perhaps, though, it is that quasi-balletic æsthetic that most characterises the production as a whole and grants its unity; perhaps it is also that to which I find myself better able to respond, if not entirely without reservation, than I did in 2012.

Jakub Hrůša’s conducting of the London Philharmonic seemed to me to quite close in character and sonority to that of Jiří Bělohlávek in London’s recent concert Jenůfa. Even for a non-Czech speaker such as I, there is no mistaking not only the conductor’s apparently instinctive ease with every musical idiom, but also the give and take between vocal and orchestral lines, not just texturally but also generatively. Having heard quite a bit of my earliest Janáček from Charles Mackerras, whose way with the composer’s music I continue to admire greatly, I often find myself intrigued that what I had taken (perhaps naïvely) to be somehow typically ‘Czech’ is not always the way with Czech conductors, not that they hold any monopoly on Janáčekian wisdom. (The composer, just like Elgar, is far too important to be confined by national considerations.) That almost Viennese sweetness, which in that Jenůfa performance, I hesitantly dubbed Bohemian rather than Moravian, was often to be heard again in the LPO’s playing, without that shading into any smoothing over of lines. So maybe I should be still warier of such easy - too easy? - typologies, and simply enjoy the often golden fruits of what I have heard. That is very much what I have done in practice, anyway. Angularity was certainly not absent; nor, on occasion, was weight of sound that looked forward to From the House of the Dead. But, like the operatic-balletic action on stage, aural impressions were often fleeting, or at least constantly self-transformative. Mackerras, in 2010 at Covent Garden, perhaps granted a still stronger sense of the life-arc of the whole, but a drawback on that occasion was translation into English. This was, in any case, an estimable performance, pretty much irreproachable with respect to orchestral playing.

As with that 2010 performance, indeed as with any performance I can recall having attended, there was an unusually strong sense of the cast acting as a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Somehow, this opera seems to inspire an especially strong sense of ensemble in those taking part; or perhaps it is partly a matter that it would not be worth putting it on if it did not. Elena Tsallagova, who also took the title role in a Paris performance I saw in 2008, has seen neither her vocal nor her stage athleticism dim with greater experience. Quite the contrary: this was a tour de force of effervescence, and thus very much a visual representation of the character herself as well as her deeds. Alžběta Poláčková’s Fox proved an excellent complement, embodying many of the same characteristics in principle, the character’s pride and affection palpable throughout. Christopher Purves made for a characterful and soulful Forester, master of and yet also mastered by the natural world into which he found himself persistently, almost Narnia-like, drawn. Sarah Pring, as his wife, played with, yet never merely relied upon, ‘peasant’ or at least ‘folk’ stereotype; I should never have guessed, without consulting the cast list, that she had doubled up as an equally convincing Owl. Likewise for the other doublings. Alexandre Duhamel revealed a rich yet agile baritone as Harašta. Colin Judson’s turn as the Schoolmaster offered one of many ‘character’ highlights. I could go on, but should essentially be repeating the cast list. As so often, it was the Glyndebourne Chorus, as ever excellently trained (by Jeremy Bines), which bound much of the musical drama together, almost as well as the orchestra. No one hearing this performance would have doubted either the stature or the sheer wonder of this most singular of operas.

Mark Berry

Leoš Janáček, The Cunning Little Vixen

Badger, Priest: Alexander Vassiliev; Forester: Christopher Purves; Cricket: Tate Nicol; Grasshopper: Kitty Casey; Mosquito, Schoolmaster: Colin Judson; Frog: Krishan Shah; Young Vixen Sharp Ears: May Abercombie; Forester’s Wife, Owl: Sarah Pring; Vixen Sharp Ears: Elena Tsallagova; Dog: Marta Fontanals-Simmons; Pepík: Eliza Safjan; Frantík: Rhiannon Llewellyn; Cockerel: Hannah Sandison; Hen: Natalia Tanasii; Pásek, Innkeeper: Michael Wallace; Fox: Alžběta Poláčková; Jay: Shuna Scott Sendall; Woodpecker: Angharad Lyddon; Harašta: Alexander Duhamel; Innkeeper’s Wife: Natalia Brzezińska; Dancers, Fox Cubs. Director: Melly Still; Set designs: Tom Pye; Costumes: Dinah Collin; Choreography: Mike Ashcroft; Lighting: Paule Constable; Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master: Jeremy Bines)/London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jakub Hrůsá (conductor). Glyndebourne Opera House, Sussex, Sunday 12 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):