Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

A Donizetti world premiere: Opera Rara at the Royal Opera House

There may be sixty or so operas by Donizetti to choose from, but if you’ve put together the remnants of another one, why not give everyone a chance to hear it? And so, Opera Rara brought L’Ange de Nisida to the concert stage last night, 180 years after it was composed for the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris, conductor Sir Mark Elder leading a team of bel canto soloists and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in a committed and at times stirring performance.

A stellar Ariadne auf Naxos at Investec Opera Holland Park

Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos is a strange operatic beast. Originally a Molière-Hofmannsthal-Strauss hybrid, the 1916 version presented in Vienna ditched Le bourgeois gentilhomme, which had preceded an operatic telling of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus, and replaced it with a Prologue in which buffa met seria as competing factions prepared to present an entertainment for ‘the richest man in Vienna’. He’s a man who has ordered two entertainments, to follow an epicurean feast, and he wants these dramatic digestifs served simultaneously.

PROM 5: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande

Stefan Herheim’s production of Debussy’s magnificent 1902 opera for Glyndebourne has not been universally acclaimed. The Royal Albert Hall brought with it, in this semi-staged production, a different set of problems - and even imitated some of the production’s original ones, notably the vast shadow of the organ which somewhat replicates Glyndebourne’s 1920’s Organ Room, and by a huge stretch of the imagination the forest in which so much of the opera’s action is set.

Thought-Provoking Concert in Honor of Bastille Day

Sopranos Elise Brancheau and Shannon Jones, along with pianists Martin Néron and Keith Chambers, presented a thrilling evening of French-themed music in an evening entitled: “Salut à la France,” at the South Oxford Space in Brooklyn this past Saturday, July 14th.

Dido in Deptford: Blackheath Halls Community Opera

Polly Graham’s vision of Dido and Aeneas is earthy, vigorous and gritty. The artistic director of Longborough Festival Opera has overseen a production which brings together professional soloists, students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and a cast of more than 80 south-east London adults and children for this, the 12th, annual Blackheath Halls Community Opera.

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Mefistofele at Orange’s Chorégies

This is the one where a very personable devil tells God that mankind is so far gone it isn’t worth his time to bother corrupting it further.

Mascagni's Isabeau rides again at Investec Opera Holland Park

There seemed to me to be something distinctly Chaucerian about Martin Lloyd-Evans’ new production of Mascagni’s Isabeau (the first UK production of the opera) for Investec Opera Holland Park.

The 2018 BBC Proms opens in flamboyant fashion

Anniversaries and commemorations will, as usual, feature significantly during the 2018 BBC Proms, with the works of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger all prominently programmed during the season’s myriad orchestral, vocal and chamber concerts.

Banff’s Hell of an Orphée+

Against the Grain Theatre brought its award winning adaptation of Gluck’s opera to the Banff Festival billed as “an electronic baroque burlesque descent into hell.”

A Choral Trilogy at the Aix Festival

What Seven Stones (the amazing accentus / axe 21), and Dido and Aeneas (the splendid Ensemble Pygmalion) and Orfeo & Majnun (the ensemble [too many to count] of eleven local amateur choruses) share, and virtually nothing else, is spectacular use of chorus.

Vintage Audi — Parsifal, Kaufmann, Pape

From the Bayerisches Staatsoper Munich, Wagner Parsifal with a dream cast - René Pape, Jonas Kaufmann and Nina Stemme, Christian Gerhaher and Wolfgang Koch, conducted by Kirill Petrenko, directed by Pierre Audi. The production is vintage Audi - stylized, austere, but solidly thought-through.

Flight Soars High in Des Moines

Jonathan Dove’s innovative opera Flight is being lavished with an absolutely riveting new production at Des Moines Metro Opera’s resoundingly successful 2018 Festival.

Fledermaus Pops the Cork in Iowa

Like a fizzy bottle of champagne, Des Moines Metro Opera uncorked a zesty tasting of Johan Strauss’s vintage Die Fledermaus (The Bat).

A spritely summer revival of Falstaff at the ROH

Robert Carson’s 2012 ROH Falstaff is a bit of a hotchpotch, but delightful nevertheless. The panelled oak, exuding Elizabethan ambience, of the first Act’s gravy-stained country club reeks of the Wodehouse-ian 1930s, but has also has to serve as the final Act’s grubby stable and the Forest of Windsor, while the central Act is firmly situated in the domestic perfection of Alice Ford’s 1950s kitchen.

Down on the Farm with Des Moines’ Copland

Ingenious Des Moines Metro Opera continued its string of site-specific hits with an endearing production of Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land on the grounds of the Maytag Dairy farm.

Des Moines’ Ravishing Rusalka

Let me get right to the point: This is the Rusalka I have been waiting for all my life.

L'Ange de feu (The Fiery Angel)
in Aix

Prokofiev’s Fiery Angel is rarely performed. This new Aix Festival production to be shared with Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki exemplifies why.

Ariane à Naxos (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Aix

Yes, of course British stage director Katie Mitchell served up Richard Strauss’ uber tragic Ariadne on Naxos at a dinner table. Over the past few years Mme. Mitchell has staged quite a few household tragedies at the Aix Festival, mostly at dinner tables, though some on doorsteps.

The Skating Rink: Garsington Opera premiere

Having premiered Roxanna Panufnik’s opera Silver Birch in 2017 as part of its work with local community groups, Garsington Opera’s 2018 season included its first commission for the main opera season. David Sawer's The Skating Rink premiered at Garsington Opera this week; the opera is based on the novel by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano with a libretto by playwright Rory Mullarkey.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Rodion Pogossov (Raimbaud), Lawrence Brownlee (Count Ory) and members of the Seattle Opera Chorus.  [Photo by Philip Newton]
09 Aug 2016

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

A review by Roger Downey

Rodion Pogossov (Raimbaud), Lawrence Brownlee (Count Ory) and members of the Seattle Opera Chorus

Photos by Philip Newton

 

Considering these hazards, Seattle Opera’s Le comte Ory should be considered successful. The piece contains some of Rossini’s freshest inventions, with the delirious final trio standing among his finest achievements. But the piece has suffered from from the beginning from its piecemeal and slapdash dramaturgy, and it has not aged well.

Only the farcical context of the story line rendered its “sexual politics” tolerable in 1828, and today its total reliance on the idea that seduction of the innocent is not just tolerable but uproariously funny means that even the most delicately contrived staging is going to exude the lingering odor of long-used locker rooms.

The staging, a first for Seattle by the Australian director-designer team of Lindy Hume and Dan Potra, does nothing to dispel the smell of stale sweat. The Seattle Opera publicity department’s attempt to fun-up the show by billing it as The Wicked Adventures of Count Ory signifies a broad-brush approach, confirmed in a program interview, where Ms. Hume’s hears in Rossini’s music not only “that he loved good food, good wine, a good time,” but even that “he was flawed, clever—and naughty.” Her dramaturgical touchstones include Monty Python’s Biblical send-up The Life of Brian and something described only as “60s flower-power.” (In the event the latter influence was noticeable only by an outburst of what may have been intended to suggest air-guitar and in the Count’s leopard-print boots.

160802_Ory_pn_ 782.pngHanna Hipp (Isolier) and Sarah Coburn (Countess Adèle).

Mr Potra seems also to have been inspired by Monty Python—in this case by the bulgy colorful animations of Pythonite Terry Gilliam. But what amuses when it moves may lose its charm when it just sits there for an hour. The setting for the first act, which resembles a department-store show window upholstered in lumps and billows of emerald-green shag carpeting, is so vast and vacant that the cast and chorus resemble garden gnomes set about to enliven a miniature golf course.

Even powerful voices struggle for effect in this void. The second act setting goes to the opposite extreme, buttoning up the action in a three-story tin roofed lighthouse (or possibly a water-tower converted into a summer retreat). The compression somewhat helps with the acoustics but paralyses the performers, who are forced to spend much of their time hurrying up and down stairs. The great trio is crammed into an attic space that hardly allows the singers to move, let alone mime love-making.

Ms. Hume seems to believe in the stand-and-deliver approach for singers. I cannot remember any touch of insight into character or situation. In such a bald presentation, the musico-dramatic flaws of the piece stand out clearly. Why does the Tutor have that tiresome song in act one? Because the bass has to have an aria, of course. Likewise the drinking scene in Act II: without it the baritone would have nothing to do. With their total irrelevance to the action, the numbers let the energy leak out of the evening without providing any compensatory musical or comic payoff.

160802_Ory_pn_ 1143.pngSarah Coburn (Countess Adèle) and Lawrence Brownlee (Count Ory).

Abandoned to their own devices and muffled by the staging, the principals are to be commended for what they manage to put across. Worst off was Lawrence Brownlee as the count: dressed in an orange harem number in Act I (before being revealed as Michael Jackson-in-Boots), he seemed in poor voice: his high tenor was secure but rough-sounding throughout his range. The Isolier, Hanna Hipp, came off very well vocally but her acting was the generic operatic page-boy en travesti.

The only real winner was soprano Sarah Coburn, whom I suspect is on the verge of a major career in the Zerbinetta/Konstanze fach. Her warm, brilliant sound punched through the auditory scrim while her brisk behavior and sharp timing created a distinct impression of a woman devoid of airs and nonsense.

The orchestra gave firm support under the direction of Seattle debutant Giocomo Sagripanti, who appears to be a thorough master of Rossinian color and pacing. But musicianship alone can’t pull off a staging—and indeed an opera—with so many inherent obstacles to success.

Roger Downey


Cast and production details:

The Count: Lawrence Brownlee; Countess Adèle: Sarah Coburn; Isolier: Hanna Hipp; Raimbaud: Rodion Pogossov; The tutor: Patrick Carfizzi; Alice: Jennifer Bromagen; Madame Ragonde: Maria Zifchak; a noble: Eric Neuville. Stage director: Lindy Hume; Designer: Dan Potra; Lighting designer: Duane Schuler. Seattle Opera Chorus and members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Giacomo Sagripanti (conductor).

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):