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

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

Puccini's Le Willis: a fine new recording from Opera Rara

The 23-year-old Giacomo Puccini was still three months from the end of his studies at the Conservatoire in Milan when, in April 1883, he spotted an announcement of a competition for a one-act opera in Il teatro illustrato, a journal was published by Edoardo Sonzogno, the Italian publisher of Bizet's Carmen.

Little magic in Zauberland at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

To try to conceive of Schumann’s Dichterliebe as a unified formal entity is to deny the song cycle its essential meaning. For, its formal ambiguities, its disintegrations, its sudden breaks in both textual image and musical sound are the very embodiment of the early Romantic aesthetic of fragmentation.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale packs a psychological punch at the ROH

Is Donizetti’s Don Pasquale a charming comedy with a satirical punch, or a sharp psychological study of the irresolvable conflicts of human existence?

Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi's first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

Until Verdi turned his attention to Shakespeare’s Fat Knight in 1893, Il giorno di regno (A King for a Day), first performed at La Scala in 1840, was the composer’s only comic opera.

Liszt: O lieb! – Lieder and Mélodie

O Lieb! presents the lieder of Franz Liszt with a distinctive spark from Cyrille Dubois and Tristan Raës, from Aparté. Though young, Dubois is very highly regarded. His voice has a luminous natural elegance, ideal for the Mélodie and French operatic repertoire he does so well. With these settings by Franz Liszt, Dubois brings out the refinement and sophistication of Liszt’s approach to song.

A humourless hike to Hades: Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld at ENO

Q. “Is there an art form you don't relate to?” A. “Opera. It's a dreadful sound - it just doesn't sound like the human voice.”

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With a charmingly detailed revival of Gioachino Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia Lyric Opera of Chicago has opened its 2019-2020 season. The company has assembled a cast clearly well-schooled in the craft of stage movement, the action tumbling with lively motion throughout individual solo numbers and ensembles.

Romantic lieder at Wigmore Hall: Elizabeth Watts and Julius Drake

When she won the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, soprano Elizabeth Watts placed rarely performed songs by a female composer, Elizabeth Maconchy, alongside Austro-German lieder from the late nineteenth century.

ETO's The Silver Lake at the Hackney Empire

‘If the present is already lost, then I want to save the future.’

Roméo et Juliette in San Francisco (bis)

The final performance of San Francisco Opera’s deeply flawed production of the Gounod masterpiece became, in fact, a triumph — for the Romeo of Pene Pati, the Juliet of Amina Edris, and for Charles Gounod in the hands of conductor Yves Abel.

William Alwyn's Miss Julie at the Barbican Hall

“Opera is not a play”, or so William Alwyn wrote when faced with criticism that his adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie wasn’t purist enough. The plot is, in fact, largely intact; what Alwyn tends to strip out is some of Strindberg’s symbolism, especially that which links to what were (then) revolutionary nineteenth-century ideas based around social Darwinism. What the opera and play do share, however, is a view of class - of both its mobility and immobility - and this was something this BBC concert performance very much played on.

The Academy of Ancient Music's superb recording of Handel's Brockes-Passion

The Academy of Ancient Music’s new release of Handel’s Brockes-Passion - recorded around the AAM's live performance at the Barbican Hall on the 300th anniversary of the first performance in 1719 - combines serious musicological and historical scholarship with vibrant musicianship and artistry.

Cast salvages unfunny Così fan tutte at Dutch National Opera

Dutch National Opera’s October offering is Così fan tutte, a revival of a 2006 production directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, originally part of a Mozart triptych that elicited strong audience reactions. This Così, set in a hotel, was the most positively received.

English Touring Opera's Autumn Tour 2019 opens with a stylish Seraglio

As the cheerfully optimistic opening bars of the overture to Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (here The Seraglio) sailed buoyantly from the Hackney Empire pit, it was clear that this would be a youthful, fresh-spirited Ottoman escapade - charming, elegant and stylishly exuberant, if not always plumbing the humanist depths of the opera.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice: Wayne McGregor's dance-opera opens ENO's 2019-20 season

ENO’s 2019-20 season opens by going back to opera’s roots, so to speak, presenting four explorations of the mythical status of that most powerful of musicians and singers, Orpheus.

Olli Mustonen's Taivaanvalot receives its UK premiere at Wigmore Hall

This recital at Wigmore Hall, by Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen was thought-provoking and engaging, but at first glance appeared something of a Chinese menu. And, several re-orderings of the courses plus the late addition of a Hungarian aperitif suggested that the participants had had difficulty in deciding the best order to serve up the dishes.

Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo: laBarocca at Wigmore Hall

Handel’s English pastoral masque Acis and Galatea was commissioned by James Brydges, Earl of Carnavon and later Duke of Chandos, and had it first performance sometime between 1718-20 at Cannons, the stately home on the grand Middlesex estate where Brydges maintained a group of musicians for his chapel and private entertainments.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>La Cenerentola</em>, Opera Holland Park
15 Jul 2016

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Victoria Simmonds (Angelina), Nico Darmanin (Ramiro), Nicholas Lester (Dandini), Jonathan Veira (Don Magnifico).

Photo credit: Robert Workman.

 

One wakes to tentative summer sunshine and then remembers that the social, political, cultural and financial storm-clouds are looming - as this morning’s newspapers, with their reports of the Bastille Day attack in Nice, remind us.

Art can never assuage reality but it can provide a momentary escape, where imagination and fantasy can, for a moment, hold sway. What better than a fairy-tale to show us that sometimes rags really can turn to riches, coal to diamonds, and the poverina truly can become a Principessa.

Oliver Platt’s sparkling new production of La Cenerentola at Opera Holland Park is timely, then. True, Rossini does not indulge in sentiment: it’s out with the glass slipper and in with his-and-hers bracelets. Pumpkins and fairy godmothers are usurped by beggars and philosophers. But while Rossini may ironize tender feeling and romantic display, Platt’s new production surely seduces with its suave stagecraft and deft, but never hyperbolic, wit.

This is a production where - I’ll risk a cliché in relation to a work which relies on formulae, both musical and narrative - director, designers and musical dirigent are all singing from the same hymn sheet, and the cumulative effect is as magnificent as the ‘Wicked Stepfather’s’ nomer.

Neil Irish’s designs are splendid without calling for excessive splendour. The lurid excesses of Angelina’s two sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe, all hot-pink and poisonous-green, are contrasted with cool elegance of Prince Ramiro’s black-and-white retinue, while the courtiers’ classical understatement is attractively alleviated by a flash of glamour in the form of their gleaming hunters’ red-coats. Don Magnifico’s mediocre apartment - the pompous patriarch snoozes under a crumpled brown counterpane while his daughters boast in their brassy boudoirs - is counter-balanced by the glitzy stylishness of Ramiro’s palatial ballroom. Mark Jonathan’s lighting design emphasises both the realistic emotional arguments (cool blue is superseded by warm orange during Angelina’s first meeting with the disguised Ramiro) and the shifts between honest naturalism and fictional caprice.

Shape-shifting and transformation are the essence of fairy-tale so it’s fitting, but still impressive, when the papered panels of Don Magnifico’s bed-chamber swivel to transport us to the luxurious majesty of Ramiro’s court. As with all marvellous magical effects, if you blink, you’ll miss it.

Platt is well aided too by Movement Director Emma Brunton whose choreography - particularly of the OHP Chorus who are in as fine a voice as when I heard them in the opening production of this OHP season (review) - is polished. Individuals and ensembles slide in-and-out through doors and trompe-l’oeil apertures with the slickness, but not the slapstick, of the sharpest farce.

Platt may not delve too deeply into the opera’s incipient moral issues, but then neither does the composer. But, the director does overcome the formulaic inevitabilities of a score which was composed by the 25-year Rossini in just three weeks and which makes considerable use of self-borrowings. Platt gives us witty gags a plenty while never straying into hyperbole. The visual jokes are never laboured, and are frequently side-tickling and clever. The final disillusionment of Magnifico is a gem, a set-piece of punctured pomposity. The storm episode - one of Rossini’s favourite tropes - is a tour de force as twirling brollies enact the progress, ultimately calamitous, of Ramiro’s carriage through the tempest.

Director and designers are superbly partnered by conductor Dane Lam, who exhibits an intuitive feeling for the Rossinian idiom matched by a confident baton technique. Though Rossini and his librettist Jacopo Ferretti cannot avoid some musical and dramatic longeurs as they go through the dramma giocoso motions, Lam keeps the musical momentum swinging. The Rossinian accelerandos are perfectly geared up, the crescendos expertly flared. The left-handed Lam’s confidence gave punch and brilliance to the score and he was well-served by his woodwind players who bubbled along with a sensitive ear open to what was going on behind them. All the details were pin-pointed, but there was never any hint of fussiness, or bombast.

Of the cast, Jonathan Veira’s slightly down-at-heel Don Magnifico led the way. The virtuosic patter of ‘Sia qualunque delle figlie’ was precision-perfect and Veira struck the delicate balance between oppressive bullying and vulnerable charm. He was almost equalled by Nicholas Lester’s arch, stylish Dandini; Lester sang with lots of brio and in his Act 1 number, ‘Come un’ape ne’ giorni d’aprile’, used the text well. The only, small, concern was just how the tall, elegant Lester and the more compact Nico Darmanin would ever have convinced their entourage during the role-swapping of master and servant.

As the eponymous scullery-maid-cum-princess, Victoria Simmonds took a little while to warm up; her identify-defining ‘Una volta c’era un re’ was gentle and sweet but did not quite make the moral mark it should. Subsequently, Simmonds had the notes, if they didn’t always trip along as if on overdrive. But, if her coloratura was not as finely etched as it might have been she grew in confidence when drab bandana was supplanted by diamante ball-gown - the silvery exuberance of her gown trimmed with an ebony glint served to underscore that charcoal and gem are cut from the same seam. La Cenerentola’s showpiece aria, with which the opera concludes, didn’t bring the house down but it was honest and enchanting.

Ball Scene.pngThe Ball Scene. Photo Credit: Robert Workman.

Maltese tenor Nico Darmanin had enough agility to leap up on high, but not a lot of freedom once he’d arrived; he dispatched his Act II showcase aria, ‘Si, ritrovarla io giuro’, confidently, but his is not a very ingratiating tone. Darmanin was proficient but a bit charmless for Prince Charming.

Barnaby Rea used his resonant bass well as the philosopher Alidore who serves as both tutor to Ramiro and fairy-godmother to Angelina. His one aria ‘La del ciel nell’arcano profondo’ was competent though the intonation strayed at times.

As the ‘ugly’ sisters - who are in fact ‘beautiful’ of voice and visage, but certainly not of virtue and moral compass - soprano Fleur de Bray and mezzo-soprano Heather Lowe were excellent as Cinders’ stepsisters, Clorinda and Tisbe respectively.

Vocally, the ensemble pieces - the Act 1 quintet and Act 2 sextet - didn’t quite hit the musical peaks, although there was some lovely sotto voce singing in the latter to express the collective incredulity and bewilderment as Cenerentola’s real identity is revealed. But, minor caveats aside, this is a terrific production. In unsettled times, we all need to be reassured that it’s still possible, to paraphrase the opera’s subtitle, for Virtue to triumph. Rossini may not give us a fairy-godmother, but if your heart and hopes need a bit of a boost, this show will wave a magic wand.

This production of La Cenerentola is a co-production with Danish National Opera. It will tour in Denmark from 7 October 2016 until 3 December 2016. For more information see this link.

Claire Seymour

Rossini: La Cenerentola

Angelina - Victoria Simmonds, Prince Ramiro - Nico Darmanin, Dandini - Nicholas Lester, Don Magnifico - Jonathan Veira, Alidoro - Barnaby Rea, Clorinda - Fleur de Bray, Tisbe - Heather Lowe Conductor - Dane Lam, Director - Oliver Platt, Designer - Neil Irish, Lighting Designer - Mark Jonathan, Movement Director - Emma Brunton, Chorus Master - Harry Ogg, City of London Sinfonia and Opera Holland Park Chorus.

Opera Holland Park, London; Thursday 14th 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):