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

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

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):