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

La forza del destino at Covent Garden

Prima la music, poi la parole? It’s the perennial operatic conundrum which has exercised composers from Monteverdi, to Salieri, to Strauss. But, on this occasion we were reminded that sometimes the answer is a simple one: Non, prima le voci!

Barbara Hannigan sings Berg and Gershwin at the Barbican Hall

I first heard Barbara Hannigan in 2008.

New perceptions: a Royal Academy Opera double bill

‘Once upon a time …’ So fairy-tales begin, although often they don’t conclude with a ‘happy ever after’. Certainly, both Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, paired in this Royal Academy Opera double bill, might be said to present transformations from innocence and ignorance to experience and knowledge, but there is little that is saccharine about their protagonists’ journeys from darkness to enlightenment.

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!

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.

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):