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

Irish soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Rusalka in San Francisco

It must be a dream. Though really it is a nightmare. The water sprite Rusalka tortures herself if she is telling the story, or tortures the man who has imagined her if he is telling the story. Either way the bizarrely construed confusion of Czech fairy tales has no easily apparent meaning or message.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

24 Oct 2016

Toronto: Bullish on Bellini

Canadian Opera Company has assembled a commendable Norma that is long on ritual imagery and war machinery.

Norma at the Canadian Opera Company, Toronto

A review by James Sohre

Above: Sondra Radvanovsky as Norma [All photos copyright Michael Cooper, courtesy of the Canadian Opera Company]

 

Perhaps you cannot be blamed if you prefer your Druid tale to be more concerned with the love triangle that propels the story but love be damned, it cannot be denied that Director Kevin Newbury conspired with his set designer David Korins to keep impending violence in the forefront.

Mr. Korins has devised a playing environment that begins life as an armory, with heavy stone walls festooned with all manner of ancient weaponry. But hold on, he wants to have it both ways, so the huge double door flies away revealing rows of pale tree trunks, that tie in to the visual of the huge, severed, bare white tree that is suspended horizontally up center. Two enormous bull heads flank the upstage false proscenium, hovering ominously as symbols of the preferred sacrificial animal of Druid rites.

A gentle snow falls but rather than suggesting serenity it conveys a barrenness, a void of passion that would prove all too prophetic. And problematic. Significant scenic additions to this playing environment included a rolling, rustic, two-tiered wagon that may have wandered in out of an English Mystery Play. It existed solely to allow Oroveso and Norma a method of gaining focus by mounting the second level to address the populace like a politician working partisan supporters.

Sohre_COC5.pngThe immolation

And then there is . . .the bull. A giant, Trojan-horse-cum-bull made of rude wooden slats and set on a wheeled platform rolls on up right in the final scene to become the funeral pyre. Handsome enough as a sculpture, it was in the wrong place at the wrong time, first stealing, then lacking focus; proving awkward for Pollione and Norma to access; and decidedly unfrightening. As the “pyre” starts burning, it is safely and neatly contained along the front edge of the platform, clearly unthreatening, and it fires up well before the lovers can scramble into place for the effect. So, the big finish fizzled and amounted to just a lotta overwrought “bull.”

Jessia Jahn’s costumes had just the right primitive look along with a commendable variety. She made especially beautiful choices for Adalgisa, alluring in a simple blue gown, and Norma, radiant in sumptuous gold attire and blond wig. By making Norma look totally foreign to the rest of the citizenry, it was easy to believe that her “otherness” contributed to her veneration as a priestess. Duane Schuler is a renowned lighting designer whose his effects did not disappoint. Although some of the sudden color washes (red, green, etc.) seemed bluntly executed, they were obviously in collegial support of some rather blunt directorial choices.

Not that Kevin Newbury’s theatrical guidance did not have good intentions and some fresh ideas. Crowd management and motivation of group entrances/exits were well conceived overall, with only one instance of awkwardness when the chorus (and Oroveso) were left without a motivated focus. The smaller ensembles contained so many moments of meaningful interaction that it seemed a shame that there were also conspicuous lapses with characters upstaging each other, while doing their best to get out of the way of the focal singer.

Norma began the show on stage holding a torch aloft, a nice premonition of her fate, although it did deprive her of Bellini’s star entrance later in the scene. I liked the Druid “salute,” a “dap” variation on the sign of the cross that was well incorporated and conveyed a fine sense of communal religious observances. I was less persuaded by manufactured bits like having a group of female supers cross the stage bearing black stools just prior to the first Norma-Adalgisa duet, and being persuaded to leave two stools en route stage left so that the two soloists could “sit and chat.” It also rang false that those two leads casually folded the children’s blankets and played with their toys during the conclusion of their second duet! There is a bit more at stake at that point than tidying up the nursery like giggly schoolgirls.

If the staging sometimes called attention to itself, the performers were able to maintain musical integrity and make a solid case for Bellini’s masterpiece. In the pit, Stephen Lord led a robust, refined account of the score and the players responded with real, purposeful dramatic fire. The splendid cello solo was but one of many instrumental high points, and the entire ensemble excelled under Maestro Lord’s knowing baton.

The role of Norma is a “big sing” of course, and world star Sondra Radvanovksy more than fulfilled expectations. Is there anyone in the business that has a firmer command of her technique than Ms. Radvanovsky? She knows what she wants to do, what she can do, and has the wisdom to know the difference. And in an age when many voices sound somewhat anonymous, her instrument is recognizable and uniquely personal.

The soprano is never heard to better advantage than when she is ravishing us with beautifully controlled filigrees of pianissimo passages. Caballe, Sills and Scotto were past mistresses of this effect, and I would be hard pressed to name any current performer who is Sondra’s equal at this intense, hushed soft singing. It is when she presses harder that her tone can come to grief, with high notes that are admirably secure nonetheless taking on an occasional harsh, metallic tinge.

Still, the diva performs with total mastery of her art, both musically and theatrically. If her turn as Norma is not quite the complete triumph it may become, it is owing to a certain cerebral calculation of effects which are meticulously judged but somewhat wanting in spontaneity and emotional honesty. I have seen Ms. Radvanovksy be incredibly moving and genuine on past occasions, but on this night I was more aware of her consummate craft than her personal commitment.

Sohre_COC6.pngSondra Radvanovsky as Norma, Isabel Leonard as Adalgisa

We are spoiled by the perfection of legendary Norma-Adalgisa match-ups like Sutherland-Horne, Callas-Cossotto, Caballe-Verrett, or presently, Meade-Barton. It has to be said the luminous Isabel Leonard is a very affecting Adalgisa, and her plush, throbbing mezzo-soprano is thing of refined beauty indeed. Ms. Leonard is such a sympathetic presence, her bearing at once determined and contrite, that I wish she had been a better vocal match for her co-star. Her rounded, suave delivery had all the requisite coloratura at her command, but explosive phrases were executed within the vocabulary of her own distinctive, gentler firepower. The duets were always well-coordinated and cleanly managed, only at odds in tonal approach.

Russell Thomas proved to be an engrossing Pollione, his burnished, meaty tenor caressing plangent phrases one minute and hurling out riveting declamations the next. I had enjoyed Mr. Thomas some years ago as a promising Hoffmann, but nothing could have prepared me for the assertive star turn he provided in Norma. He is deservedly maturing into a major artist on the international scene. Dimitry Ivashchenko was a sturdy Oroveso, although his ample bass could turn hard when pushed for dramatic volume rather than deployed for musical finesse.

Young Charles Sy had pleasing tone to spare as he put his well-schooled tenor in good service of Flavio’s several scenes. Aviva Fortunata made a highly favorable impression, her attractive, substantial soprano imbuing each of Clotilde’s phrases with such real quality that it reminds us the great Sutherland once herself made quite an impression in this secondary role.

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

Oroveso: Dimitry Ivashchenko; Pollione: Russell Thomas; Flavio: Charles Sy; Norma: Sondra Radvanovsky; Adalgisa: Isabel Leonard; Clotilde: Aviva Fortunata; Conductor: Stephen Lord; Director: Kevin Newbury; Set Design: David Korins; Costume Design: Jessica Jahn; Lighting Design: Duane Schuler; Chorus Master: Sandra Horst.

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):