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Is A Dog’s Heart even an opera? It is sung by opera singers to live
music. Alexander Raskatov’s score, however, is secondary to the incredible
stage visuals. Whatever it is, actor/director Simon McBurney’s first stab at
opera is fantastic theatre. Its revival at Dutch National Opera, where it
premiered in 2010, is hugely welcome.
In May 2016, Opera Rara gave Bellini aficionados a treat when they gave a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s first opera, Adelson e Salvini, at the Barbican Hall. The preceding week had been spent in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, and this recording, released last month, is a very welcome addition to Opera Rara’s bel canto catalogue.
Jonas Kaufmann Mahler Das Lied von der Erde is utterly unique but also works surprisingly well as a musical experience. This won't appeal to superficial listeners, but will reward those who take Mahler seriously enough to value the challenge of new perspectives.
Following Garsington Opera for All’s successful second year of free public screenings on beaches, river banks and parks in isolated coastal and rural communities, Handel’s sparkling masterpiece Semele will be screened in four areas across the UK in 2017. Free events are programmed for Skegness (1 July), Ramsgate (22 July), Bridgwater (29 July) and Grimsby (11 October).
I kept hearing from knowledgeable opera fanatics that the Israeli Opera (IO) in Tel Aviv was a surprising sure bet. So I made my way to the Homeland to hear how supposedly great the quality of opera was. And man, I was in for treat.
At Phoenix’s Symphony Hall on Friday evening April 7, Arizona Opera offered its final presentation of the 2016-2017 season, Gioachino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola). The stars of the show were Daniela Mack as Cinderella, called Angelina in the opera, and Alek Shrader as Don Ramiro. Actually, Mack and Shrader are married couple who met singing these same roles at San Francisco Opera.
On Saturday evening April 1, 2017, Placido Domingo and Los Angeles Opera celebrated their tenth year of training young opera artists in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Program. From the singing I heard, they definitely have something of which to be proud.
The Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden pretty much programs only big stars. A prime example was the Fall Festival this season. Grigory Sokolov opened with a piano recital, which I did not attend. I came for Cecilia Bartoli in Bellini’s Norma and Christian Gerhaher with Schubert’s Die Winterreise, and Anne-Sophie Mutter breathtakingly delivering Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Robin Ticciati, the ballerino conductor, is not my favorite, but together they certainly impressed in Mendelssohn.
Mahler as dramatist! Mahler Symphony no 8 with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall. Now we know why Mahler didn't write opera. His music is inherently theatrical, and his dramas lie not in narrative but in internal metaphysics. The Royal Festival Hall itself played a role, literally, since the singers moved round the performance space, making the music feel particularly fluid and dynamic. This was no ordinary concert.
Imagine a fête galante by Jean-Antoine Watteau brought to life, its colour and movement infusing a bucolic scene with charm and theatricality. Jean-Philippe Rameau’s opéra-ballet Les fêtes d'Hébé, ou Les talens lyriques, is one such amorous pastoral allegory, its three entrées populated by shepherds and sylvans, real characters such as Sapho and mythological gods such as Mercury.
Details of the Royal Opera House's 2017/18 Season have been announced. Oliver Mears, who will begin his tenure as Director of Opera, comments:
“I am delighted to introduce my first Season as Director of Opera for The Royal Opera House. As I begin this role, and as the world continues to reel from social and political tumult, it is reassuring to contemplate the talent and traditions that underpin this great building’s history. For centuries, a theatre on this site has welcomed all classes - even in times of revolution and war - to enjoy the most extraordinary combination of music and drama ever devised. Since the time of Handel, Covent Garden has been home to the most outstanding performers, composers and artists of every era. And for centuries, the joyous and often tragic art form of opera has offered a means by which we can be transported to another world, in all its wonderful excess and beauty.”
Whatever one’s own religious or spiritual beliefs, Bach’s St Matthew Passion is one of the most, perhaps the most, affecting depictions of the torturous final episodes of Jesus Christ’s mortal life on earth: simultaneously harrowing and beautiful, juxtaposing tender stillness with tragic urgency.
Lindy Hume’s sensational La bohème at the Berliner
Staatsoper brings out the moxie in Puccini. Abdellah Lasri emerged as a
stunning discovery. He floored me with his tenor voice through which he
embodied a perfect Rodolfo.
Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of
watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It
scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you
can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its
A large audience packed into the Wigmore Hall to hear the two Baroque rarities featured in this melodious performance by Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company. One was by the most distinguished ‘home-grown’ eighteenth-century musician, whose music - excepting some of the lively symphonies - remains seldom performed. The other was the work of a Saxon who - despite a few ups and downs in his relationship with the ‘natives’ - made London his home for forty-five years and invented that so English of genres, the dramatic oratorio.
A new recording, made late last year, Morfydd Owen : Portrait of a Lost Icon, from Tŷ Cerdd, specialists in Welsh music, reveals Owen as one of the more distinctive voices in British music of her era : a grand claim but not without foundation. To this day, Owen's tally of prizes awarded by the Royal Academy of Music remains unrivalled.
On March 24, 2017, Los Angeles Opera revived its co-production of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann which has also been seen at the Mariinsky Opera in Leningrad and the Washington National Opera in the District of Columbia.
Ermonela Jaho is fast becoming a favourite of Covent Garden audiences, following her acclaimed appearances in the House as Mimì, Manon and Suor Angelica, and on the evidence of this terrific performance as Puccini’s Japanese ingénue, Cio-Cio-San, it’s easy to understand why. Taking the title role in the first of two casts for this fifth revival of Moshe Leiser’s and Patrice Caurier’s 2003 production of Madame Butterfly, Jaho was every inch the love-sick 15-year-old: innocent, fresh, vulnerable, her hope unfaltering, her heart unwavering.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered
as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
05 Dec 2016
La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music
For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.
Now, the Royal College of Music have offered a production ‘based on one which was first presented at the 2013 Buxton Festival’, in which director Harry
Fehr takes a more pragmatic, and ultimately more fruitful approach, transferring eighteenth-century class-bound conflicts to a modern-day, luxurious Long
Mozart’s plot is not overly complicated by the standards of eighteenth-century opera seria, though you need to keep your wits about you. The
Marchesa Violante has been violently assaulted and left for dead by her jealous lover Count Belfiore (in this production, the front drop rises and falls
several times during a hyperactive overture-mime, the flashbacks to past transgressions emphasising the domestic violence). Violante has disguised herself
as Sandrina, a gardener - or, in this case, a wedding florist - and with her loyal servant Roberto, who has similarly assumed a false identity, as ‘Nardo’,
is working in the home of Don Anchise, the Podestà (Mayor) of Lagonero. The Don is besotted by Sandrina, to the annoyance of Serpetta, his enamoured
servant to whom, in turn, Nardo has become attached. The Don’s niece Arminda has fallen in love with the dastardly Belfiore and has abandoned her former
beau, Ramiro. The wedding of Arminda and Belfiore is shortly to take place, but Sandrina has other ideas
Thobela Ntshanyana (Belfiore). Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.
Translating the opera to the modern age works surprisingly well. I had anticipated that Counts and Marchesas might not be comfortably accommodated within a
US soap-opera style set, but in fact the characters slotted neatly into the hierarchical stations. Fehr appreciates that the improbabilities, deceits and
disguises of libretto are more buffa than seria, and his attention to detail is admirably engaging and animating.
Yannis Thavoris’s set is vivid and convincing. In Act 1, a catering company erect a marquee for a society wedding; the chandeliers sparkle over elegant
table placements and tasteful drapes. One might argue for a double fee for the cast who have to serve as both set assemblers and singing protagonists.
Throughout, John Bishop’s lighting is bright and energising; at the close, especially, the strong colour tones whisk us from pseudo-realism to indulgent
fantasy and fun.
Louise Fuller (Serpetta). Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.
Act 2 sees Sandrina afflicted by the Podestà’s attempts at courtship and subsumed into legal accusations against Belfiore. Confusion reigns when Sandrina
finds herself in a wild forest. As night falls, search parties set off to find her. In the darkness, the Mayor mistakes Arminda for Sandrina, while Arminda
assumes he is the Count. Meanwhile, Belfiore comes across Serpetta and thinks she is Sandrina, and Serpetta confuses him for the Mayor. Got it? The chaos
is unravelled (partially) as Belfiore and ‘Sandrina’ recognise each other; but they promptly lose their senses and imagine themselves as the Greek gods,
Medusa and Alcides.
Thobela Ntshanyana (Belfiore) and Carly Owen (Violante). Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.
Fehr locates this scene in the basement boiler-room of Anchise’s mansion. Hints of the original wild forest remain in the paintings which adorn the
forward-placed corridor, a formal device which facilitates some rapid scene changes to the rear. There’s much farcical tomfoolery, as Belfiore and Violante
are reconciled, though not all of the horseplay is in keeping with the score.
Elizabeth Reeves (Arminda), Thomas Erlank (Anchise) and Kamilla Dunstan (Ramiro). Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.
The RCM cast were uniformly accomplished and vibrant, and the ensemble work was well-drilled. Soprano Carly Owen, as Violante, was feisty and full of
character; she used her focused tone and strong vibrato to convey Violante’s steeliness, but there was not much variety of vocal or dramatic demeanour. One
felt that Thobela Ntshanyana’s Belfiore wouldn’t stand a chance in the face of Owen’s resilience and resourcefulness. Ntshanyana has an appealing tone but
at times lacked animation and depth of character. I’d have liked to see much more volatility and a sense of Belfiore’s utter self-absorption. Elizabeth
Reeves strutted haughtily as Arminda and delivered a show-stopping tirade in Act 3. Kieran Rayner was an ardent and loyal Roberto. In the trouser role of
Ramiro, Kamilla Dunstan was alert as Arminda’s sporty admirer Ramiro. Best of cast was Thomas Erlank as the Stetson-sporting Mayor; Erlank’s relaxed tenor
conveyed both Anchise’s self-assurance and his weariness with the youngsters’ romantic waywardness.
Michael Rosewell conducted authoritatively, driving through the recitative and never allowing the action to settle into complacency. The RCM players tired
a little, though; this was the last performance of a run of four, and there was some increasingly insecure horn playing after the interval. But, the
overall spirit was full of zest.
Fehr has created a beguiling comic caper, but the young singers were not quite able to convince us that this drama was peopled by real human characters. Indeed in Mozart’s day the opera was a failure: its plot was considered overly complicated and excessively long, and its ‘mad scene’ between Violante and Belfiore was considered absurd. Fehr overcomes some, but not all, of such question-marks.
Mozart: La finta giardiniera
Violante - Carly Owen, Belfiore - Thobela Ntshanyana, Anchise - Thomas Erlank, Arminda - Elizabeth Reeves, Ramiro - Kamilla Dunstan, Serpetta - Harriet
Eyley, Roberto - Kieran Rayner; Director - Harry Fehr, Conductor - Michael Rosewell, Designer - Yannis Thavoris, Lighting Designer - John Bishop.
Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London; 3rd December 2016.