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

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.

Gerald Barry's The Intelligence Park at the ROH's Linbury Theatre

Walk for 10 minutes or so due north of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and you come to Brunswick Square, home to the Foundling Museum which was established in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram to care for children lost but lucky.

O19’s Phat Philly Phantasy

It is hard to imagine a more animated, engaging, and musically accomplished night at the Academy of Music than with Opera Philadelphia’s winning new staging of The Love for Three Oranges.

Agrippina: Barrie Kosky brings farce and frolics to the ROH

She makes a virtue of her deceit, her own accusers come to her defence, and her crime brings her reward. Agrippina - great-granddaughter of Augustus Caesar, sister of Caligula, wife of Emperor Claudius - might seem to offer those present-day politicians hungry for power an object lesson in how to satisfy their ambition.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

ROH, Bellini’s Norma
13 Sep 2016

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

ROH, Bellini’s Norma

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

First, Anna Netrebko whetted appetites by announcing that she would sing the notoriously demanding title role, but then dampened spirits by withdrawing, citing changes in her voice since she signed up to the role four years ago. Hopes were raised again when Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva was released from her scheduled commitment to sing Mimì at the Metropolitan Opera, and stepped into the priestess’s robes.

The return of the Catalan theatrical group, La Fura Dels Baus, headed by the directorial duo of Àlex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco alongside designer Alfons Flores, who gave us such a striking and universally acclaimed Oedipe at the ROH earlier this year (Oedipe), added further expectancy. And, recently, Ollé himself raised the temperature yet higher, hinting in a Guardian interview that in this production the creative team aimed to emphasise the extremism of the opera, its religious and political fanaticism, ‘to bring it all up-to-date’ by depicting a society under the grip of hard-line zealotry, presenting what he describes in an ROH programme article as ‘images that reflect today’s religion, today’s militarism and today’s political elite. In the event, though the funeral pyre burns brightly, the production itself doesn’t blaze with its promised energy.

It’s the religious context which looms largest. Literally, that is, in the form of the hundreds of crucifixes that are festooned on the stage walls, like a heavy metal album sleeve-cover, forming a forest of suffering from which later descends a crown of crucifix-thorns. The eponymous Druid priestess has become the leader of a tribe of hard-line Catholic paramilitaries and Ollé, Carrasco and Flores take inspiration from the Spanish Inquisition and groups such as Opus Dei in their depiction of a brutal, callous world of shadowy rites and violent indoctrination. The sight of school-uniformed children in ritual dress - red, white and black, sky-high triangular hats which seem to blend the Ku Klux Klan with Harry Potter - is chilling.

But, the Romans - wearing gangster suits and shades - don’t get much of a look-in. The Druids don’t need external oppressors; they are making a pretty good job of oppressing themselves. And, so the political dimension of the opera is weakened. Norma’s struggle between her private love for the proconsul Pollione, with whom she has secretly had two children, and her public duty to her fellow Gauls, who urge her to lead a rebellion against the Roman interlopers, is replaced by an internal tussle between her own two fanatical traits - her human passion and her fundamentalist faith.

Sonya Yoncheva in Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera © 2016 ROH. Photograph by Bill Cooper.png Sonya Yoncheva in Àlex Ollé's Norma, The Royal Opera. Photo Credit: Bill Cooper.

We are also offered a domestic world far from these extremes when we enter Norma’s apartment in Act 2 and find her children curled up on the sofa watching television - its flickering images an irritation during Adalgisa’s confession that she has rashly fallen in love, ‘Sola, furtive, al tempio’. When they get bored, the children whizz about on a tricycle or bounce around on an orange space-hopper, again somewhat distractingly during the big female-bonding duet, as Norma forgives the wayward younger priestess.

Yoncheva gives a brave and impressive performance in the title role, but her voice - though technically assured and well-shaped of line - isn’t quite mature enough yet for the role, musically or dramatically. Yoncheva was an imperious priestess but her depiction of Norma’s unbridled, desperate love for Pollione, and the extremes to which this pushes her, was less convincing. The tone was a little hard-edged at the start, though it softened beautifully for ‘Casta diva’; but the requisite nuance was missing and on a couple of occasions the breath-control felt effortful. It didn’t help that this show-stopper wasn’t allowed to ‘stop the show’, for the directors chose a moment which surely demands absolute focus on the singer to waft a large incense burner over the front row of the stalls.

As Adalgisa, Sonia Ganassi had greater variety of range and richer layers in her mezzo, though this wasn’t a technically flawless performance and her voice is perhaps past its prime. In fact, the two voices seemed the ‘wrong way round’, with Ganassi suggesting the depth of experience that properly belongs to Norma. Joseph Calleja did his best to make Pollione more than a bad-guy-bully, and his lovely tenor did much to encourage us to add a few drops of sympathy to our prevailing aversion. It was a full-on vocal performance though, and a little more variety of dynamics and colour wouldn’t have gone amiss. Brindley Sherratt wasn’t helped by the directorial decision that he should commence his opening aria at the back of the stage - perhaps all directors should take lessons in acoustics before they inflict themselves on long-suffering singers - but he put in a solid, if sometimes ragged, turn as Norma’s father Oroveso. The minor roles of Pollione’s friend Flavio and Norma’s confidante Clotilde, were sung competently by two Jette Parker Young Artists: David Junghoon Kim and Vlada Borovko respectively.

Antonio Pappano started the overture with a heady rush of bel canto ardour, but after twenty minutes or so he lowered the orchestral pulse rate which may have been just as well because the ROH Orchestra - who played stunningly - still overpowered the cast at times. The Chorus were in characteristic fine voice, but their movement was frustrated by the stage furniture - desks, pews, altars, crucifixes and the like - and could do little more than stand stock still and sing luxuriously.

So, La Fura dels Baus have now given the Covent Garden audience an Oedipe whose visual scheme was inspired by a catastrophic chemical spill in 2010 which saw one million cubic metres of corrosive waste dumped on western Hungary - ‘that mud […] in our minds was also linked with the myth of man’s creation from primeval clay [and] symbolizes the plague that devastates Thebes, and is also the means by which the contagion spreads’ - and a Norma triggered partially by George Bush’s notorious announcement after the 9/11 attacks that the US would launch a ‘crusade’ against Islamist terrorists. Perhaps it’s time for a production which looks inwards, into the opera’s own score and drama, rather than outwards at the modern world. A work such as Norma which contains so many universal conflicts, dilemmas and passions has more than enough human drama with which the modern audience-member can engage.

That said, the directors do save one unexpected twist for the closing bars and there’s some fine singing and playing on offer, if you can extricate yourself from the stranglehold of crucifixes.

Claire Seymour

Vincenzo Bellini: Norma

Norma - Sonya Yoncheva, Pollione - Joseph Calleja, Adalgisa - Sonia Ganassi, Oroveso - Brindley Sherratt, Flavio - David Junghoon Kim, Clotilde - Vlada Borovko; Director - Àlex Ollé, Conductor - Antonio Pappano, Associate director - Valentina Carrasco, Set designer - Alfons Flores, Costume designer - Lluc Castells, Lighting designer - Marco Filibeck, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Monday 12th September 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):