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

Glyndebourne Festival Opera: <em>A Midsummer Night’s Dream</em>
19 Aug 2016

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Glyndebourne Festival Opera: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A review by Anne Ozorio

Above: Matthew Rose as Bottom, Kathleen Kim as Tytania

Photo credit: Robert Workman, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

 

The First Act takes place in dense forest, at night, when nothing is as it might seem. Do we see trees or projections thereof, or both? What do the shadows conceal, even when the moon slips fleetingly through clouds? John Bury's designs are immortal because they are so abstract, and surprisingly ‘modern’, though they ostensibly resemble the well-known Victorian painting by John Noel Paton - another reversal of visual imagery. Since Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream operates on so many simultaneous levels, the one thing to be wary of is literal realism.

How Britten must have relished the opportunities to express in music what could not be said in words. Like Shakespeare, Britten was poking fun at a world that mistakes power for virtue and convention for truth. Theseus and Hippolyta - ancient Greeks in Elizabethan costume - sneer at the Mechanical's play. But perhaps the joke is on them. A Bergomask before bedtime might just have unforeseen consequences. Britten's Gloriana was long misunderstood by audiences who took it at face value. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, written barely seven years later, has an infinitely superior plot and the music is much more sophisticated, but there are parallels. And in A Midsummer Night's Dream there are levels which would have had personal resonance for the composer.

Jakub Hrůša's conducting is so idiomatic that we can almost feel the caustic bite of Britten's humour, while also feeling the pain that lies beneath the surface. Britten's score sparkles with variety. Figures shape shift as swiftly as they are delineated, Elizabethan forms pop up from the endlessly elusive and very contemporary stream of consciousness. Hrůša doesn't smooth over the spikiness, but keeps the pace animated, so the orchestral playing seems to fly free, like the Fairies - the Elementals to the earthbound Mechanicals. The moments of reverie glowed, the lower woodwinds and brass breathing ominous mystery. The London Philharmonic Orchestra seemed to shine for Hrůša, even more than they usually do. Perhaps Hrůša brought insight from having conductedRusalka and The Cunning Little Vixen at Glyndebourne in the past, two operas which also have close affinity with A Midsummer Night's Dream. Hrůša seems to intuit how pertinent the variety in the score is to the meaning of the opera. Everything changes at the turn of a point, themes transform, like magic, nothing can be taken for granted. Because Hrůša got such alert, taut playing from the orchestra, he could bring out the innate anarchy beneath Britten's elegantly defined orchestration. Orchestrally, this was an exceptionally vivid performance, so strong that it will live in the memory.

Glyndebourne 2 mechanicals.png Matthew Rose (centre) as Bottom, with the Mechanicals. Photo credit: Robert Workman.

The cast, acting as well as singing, were of an equally high order. Matthew Rose first sang Bottom ten years ago. Now, he's matured and so has his characterization of the part, which will probably now be hard for anyone else to improve upon. Bottom is Everyman but no fool. Rose's voice carries authority, which is why his friends turn to him as leader. Even with the head of an ass, and his bottom in the air, Rose makes the part dignified and sympathetic. Rose makes the ‘donkey’ wheeze in Bottom's lines sound so natural that, even in the palace in the final Act, a bit of donkey-ese breaks through irreverently. Even his body movements worked in synch. Equally strongly cast were the

Mechanicals - David Soar (Quince), Sion Goronwy (Snug), William Dazeley (Starveling), Anthony Gregory (Flute) and Colin Judson (Snout). In ensemble, they were superb, singing and speaking as if to the manner born. In the play, and in the opera they are much more significant than Theseus (Michael Sumuel) and Hippolyta (Claudia Huckle).

As Oberon, Tim Mead's high, sharp timbre dripping malevolence, reversing the more usual baroque stereotype of counter tenor as hero. He towered over Kathleen Kim, as Tytania. Good visual casting, reflecting the power play between them. Kim, though, was no submissive. She sang forcefully and with élan - no surprise that she's a Glyndebourne favourite. Oberon's hair was styled in two peaks, resembling the ears of an ass. Wonderfully subtle touch. The lovers, Lysander (Benjamin Hulett), Hermia (Elisabeth DeShong), Helena (Kate Royal) and Demetrius (Duncan Rock) were also well cast, DeShong creating Hermia's feisty, strong-willed personality with particular definition.

Puck Oberon Glyndebourne 3.png David Evans (Puck) and Tim Mead (Oberon). Photo credit: Robert Workman.


But Puck is the agent of insurrection, upon which the plot turns, and particularly symbolic for Britten himself. Puck is not a singing part, but David Evans stole the show, quite an achievement for an actor stepping in at short notice, into a part that's so demanding that it's notoriously difficult to cast. Britten dreamed that it could be played by a young athlete whose voice was beginning to break: a changeling between two worlds, a Britten innocent on the cusp of corruption. Tadzio, with a voice. And what a voice! Evans is cheeky and shrill like a boy, yet also rebellious and assertive like someone passing into his teens, though he looks younger. He also projects with great force, while respecting the curious rhythm in the text. Evans runs up and down stage, sailing into space on a guy rope, popping in and out of the scenery, without missing a note. Did Britten identify with Puck, who could get away with things a nice, obedient boy like Young Ben could not? And yet Puck is a tragic figure, not so much because he doesn't belong but because his freedom cannot last. Will he be sucked into Oberon's sick games? Evans will grow up, but this moment of glory will live with him for the rest of his life.

Catch this Glyndebourne A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Anne Ozorio

Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Theseus (Michael Sumuel), Hippolyta (Claudia Huckle), Tim Mead (Oberon), Kathleen Kim (Tytania), David Evans (Puck), Benjamin Hulett (Lysander), Elisabeth DeShong (Hermia), Kate Royal (Helena) and Duncan Rock (Demetrius), Matthew Rose (Bottom), David Soar (Quince), Sion Goronwy (Snug), William Dazeley (Starveling), Anthony Gregory (Flute) and Colin Judson (Snout); Director, Peter Hall; Conductor, Jakub Hrůša, Designer, John Bury; London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera; August 16, 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):