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

<em>Die Fledermaus</em>, Opera Holland Park
20 Jul 2016

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The champagne aria

 

Opera Holland Park have given us three smashing productions so far this season (Iris;La bohème;La Cenerentola) and this new production of Strauss’s champagne-fuelled Die Fledermaus, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, fizzes along like a glass of bubbly.

Lloyd-Evans pulls off the trick of balancing tongue-in-cheek farce with dramatic credibility. Rather than the inanities of a Carry-On caper, this show presents a romp with the wit and sparkle of an Ayckbourn farce enjoyed in a seaside theatre in mid-summer.

It’s true that there’s little of the ‘darkness’ which casts a subtle shadow over Strauss’s escapist fantasy. And, for those who remember Christopher Alden’s 2013 ENO production, which buried the fun beneath Freudian symbolism and envisaged the protagonists as psychiatric case-studies, that might be a good thing. But, there’s little sense of Viennese nostalgia either. Strauss may have recreated the debonair congeniality of aristocratic life in fin-de-siècle Vienna, but the world he presents was resting on a precipice: the ‘fall’ to come was swift and deep, and the operetta spares neither working-class ambition nor the apathy, frivolity and superciliousness of the Viennese elite in a time of economic and political uncertainty. Alfred’s seductive plaint to Rosalinde, ‘Happy are those who forget that which cannot be changed’, might be seen as a comment on bourgeois attitudes following the stock-market crash of 1873.

Act 1 Fledermaus.jpgAct 1: Ben Johnston (Eisenstein), Robert Burt (Dr Blind), Susanna Hurrell (Rosalinde)

What we have instead is stunningly lit (Howard Hudson) Art Deco decadence. Designer takis replaces the curves of Art Nouveau with the angles of Art Deco, and in Act 1 uses elegant glass and metal screens to partition the stage, thereby creating the Eisensteins’ intimate but uncluttered boudoir and bathroom. With the extant walls of the Elizabethan Holland House visible in the background, the effect was the blend of medieval royal palace and cutting-edge modernity that one finds at Eltham Palace, the colour-schemes of which takis’ palette recalled. The design was economical too. The screens were swivelled to expose the Holland House portico and entrance steps, and a pyramid of champagne coupes, a trio of round gold pedestals, heaps of sumptuous pillows, and a sprinkle of some topless male waiters, bunny-girls and cross-dressing revellers transported us from private chamber to public ballroom. Prince Orlofsky’s palace was an ironic meeting-place of burlesque and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

The Opera Holland Park Chorus were once again superb in this Act 2 ball scene, the vocal precision and vitality even more impressive as Adam Scown’s slick, detailed choreography kept them busy. They were naturalistic as party-goers and showman-like as whirling dancers. They were permitted a brief rest during the ballet sequence in which burlesque dancer Didi Derriere (yes, really) tickled their fancies with a beguiling ostrich-feather fan display.

After the carousing highs of Act 2, the final act always struggles to maintain momentum and a distinct hang-over pall descended in Act 3, as the glittering screens and colours faded to leave us in grey prison, sparsely adorned with desk and filing cabinets. Ingeniously, though, we were afforded a glimpse into the cells where the merrymakers slept off the excesses of the night: stage-right, a square-patterned frame which had lurked in the distance all evening, inconspicuously according with the general design, was now brought the fore and populated with inebriate-strewn mattresses.

Lloyd-Evans’ slapstick requires nimbleness and good comic timing from his cast, and they oblige. Prison governor Frank - sporting a Clousseau mac - can’t enter a room without tripping over the doorstep and ends up asleep with his head in a bucket; horse-play with cuff-links and overcoats repeatedly leaves the characters tied in knots. Alfred’s attempt to infiltrate his beloved’s bedchamber via a ladder is thwarted, time and time again, by a slamming of the window: what could have been hackneyed instead became the delightful fulfilment of expectation - was it my imagination, or was there a slightly longer, playfully teasing, delay before each successive crash? The ‘off-kilter choreography’ of the four Keystone Cops who accompany Frank to arrest Eisenstein is charming - as is the bashful smile of the fourth, and somewhat tardy, diminutive copper. Their bobbing and baton routines, their over-swift departure and sheepish return, last just long enough to tickle without irritating. And, it takes a lot of practice to get the sequences that ‘wrong’.

The farce is aided by Alistair Beaton’s rhyme-wielding translation. The verbal gags are engagingly modern but in keeping with the spirit of the original. And who could fail to be impressed by the blustering Dr Blind’s neologistic invention: ‘magnifying’, ‘modifying’, ‘ratifying’, ‘verifying’, ‘speechifying’, ‘simplifying’, classifying’, ‘disqualifying’ […] ‘alibi-ing’! The spoken dialogue came across well, the Eisenstein’s RP contrasting with Falke’s Irish brogue. Adele’s neat switch between Home Counties and northern working-class exemplified her social aspirations and get-up-and-go.

Indeed, as Jennifer France perched in Eisenstein’s bathroom excitedly poring over the invitation from her sister, Ida, to attend the Prince’s ball, it was clear that this was a chambermaid who knew her own mind and was going places. France negotiated the bravura coloratura with ease and the Act 2 ‘Mein Herr Marquis’ was a dramatic and musical delight: unceremoniously spun and dumped into a pile of cushions, Ben Johnson’s Eisenstein was no match for this sassy lass.

Jennifer France.jpgJennifer France (Adele)

Johnson and Susanna Hurrell were a good comic duo in Act 1 and the Act 2 seduction-duet was fun, as Hurrell taunted her frustrated, belittled husband with his pocket-watch. Johnson has an elegant voice, but it is quite light, though nimble and warm; I’d have liked a bit more authority - after all he is the ‘master’ of the house - but he stamped his presence more forcefully when convincingly disguised as Dr Blind. Hurrell’s Rosalinde was glamorous in a rose-pink pyjama suit and exotic in a fabulous green-and-gold get-up as the Hungarian princess. This was a winning impersonation, full of disingenuous wile. Her voice is expressive and the tone beautiful, though at times I’d have liked a fuller sound: the final note of ‘Klänge der Heimat’ was a bit snatched - which was disappointing following such a charismatic rendition, though the tempo felt a bit ponderous.

Peter Davoren’s Alfred had a nice golden sound and despite his unintelligible Italian accent - his text is peppered with Italian - he successfully avoided the ‘Italian tenor’ stereotype. Alfred can be a bit wearing, but Davoren was more puppyish than preening; his willingness to suffer and spare his lover’s blushes won our sympathy, all the more so when he appeared from the cells in Act 3, trussed like a chicken, reduced to hopping feebly about in disorientated bewilderment.

Gavan Ring was excellent as a suave Falke, his baritone supple and smooth. Falke’s ‘Brüderlein, Brüderlein und Schwesterlein’ can be played quite hauntingly, but here his paean to brotherhood was so persuasive that the partyers instantly stripped to their underwear, fulfilling Falke’s observation that ‘pairs have formed, that many hearts in love are bound’ - as the macho waiters deftly swept up the discarded fineries.

I enjoyed Samantha Price’s Orlofsky: her mezzo is vibrant and assured, and she was the perfect party host - hospitable and indefatigable. Joanna Marie Skillett was a characterful Ida and as Dr Blind Robert Burt bluffed and puffed through his unmusical monotones.

Czardas.jpgSusanna Hurrell (Rosalinde) and Samantha Price (Prince Orlofsky)

Ian Jervis was a curmudgeonly Frosch whose Act Three monologue spiked several Conservative MPs - Brexiteers, Remainer and Regrexiteers alike - prompting some belly laughs in the prison gloom.

Guiding the show, conductor John Rigby exhibited a no-nonsense approach borne of his experience in musical theatre, and the shirt-sleeved City of London Sinfonia served him well. Rigby’s West End credits include The King and I and Sinatra at the London Palladium, Marguerite at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, Les Misérables at the Palace Theatre, The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and The Producers at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; and this was a wise conducting appointment for the score danced to a tight beat, while the woodwind players were allowed some slack for their expressive rubatos. The overture took off like a shot and the momentum did not flag - though I felt some empathy for the second fiddles and violas whose right elbows must have been drooping by the end of the sweltering evening - all that oom-cha-cha waltzing! Perhaps some of the orchestral details and tonal variety didn’t come across - more might have been made of the orchestration of the Czardas, all flutes, clarinets, and tambourines, which so differs from the prevailing string-dominated idiom - but the Straussian spirit was heeded.

Die Fledermaus is essentially an ensemble piece with the emphasis on dramatic interplay as much as on vocal sparkle. Here, the waltzes swirled, the corks popped and the pleasure-seekers rocked, as Lloyd-Jones and his team raised their glasses to this Dom Perignon of operettas.

Claire Seymour

Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus

Gabriel von Eisenstein - Ben Johnson, Rosalinde - Susanna Hurrell, Adele - Jennifer France, Ida - Joanna Marie Skillett; Alfred - Peter Davoren, Falke - Gavan Ring, Dr Blind - Robert Burt, Frank -John Lofthouse, Prince Orlofsky - Samantha Price, Frosch - Ian Jervis; Director - Martin Lloyd-Evans, Conductor - John Rigby, Designer - takis, Lighting Designer - Howard Hudson, Choreographer - Adam Scown, Chorus Master - Harry Ogg, City of London Sinfonia, Chorus of Opera Holland Park.

Opera Holland Park, Kensington, London; Tuesday 19th 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):