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

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Leonard Bernstein: Tristan und Isolde in Munich on Blu-ray

Although Birgit Nilsson, one of the great Isolde’s, wrote with evident fondness – and some wit – of Leonard Bernstein in her autobiography – “unfortunately, he burned the candles at both ends” – their paths rarely crossed musically. There’s a live Fidelio from March 1970, done in Italy, but almost nothing else is preserved on disc.

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

25 Feb 2017

Boris Godunov in Marseille

There has been much reconstruction of Marseille’s magnificent Opera Municipal since it opened in 1787. Most recently a huge fire in 1919 provoked a major, five-year renovation of the hall and stage that reopened in 1924.

Boris Godunov in Marseille

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Alexey Tiknomirov as Boris, Luca Lombardo as Shuisky [All photos by Christian Dresse, courtesy of the Opéra de Marseille]

 

Only the frieze above the stage is said to remain of the original theater.

While the current theater does not have a pit of sufficient size to host full-scale Romantic orchestras (to compensate harps and percussion instruments are placed in the baignoires (boxes stage level) over the pit often resulting in bizarre acoustics. At the same time this opera house boasts an amazing stage/spectator rapport that may be unequalled anywhere in the world — words flowing from the stage are clearly audible with no loss of the clarity and volume of orchestral sound. This theater like no other offers the possibility of achieving the epitome of the operatic ideal.

There were fortunately a few splendid moments to be savored in the recent production of Mussorgsky’s 1969 (first version) Boris Godunov, notably the sly Boyar Shuisky fueling Boris’ fears with his description of the dead Dimitri, the old monk Pimen’s recounting of the miracle at Dimitri’s tomb (a blind man praying recovered his sight), and finally Boris admonitions to his son Feodor to rule justly, delivered in his dying breaths.

These moments occurred in the few, very few periods when the frenetic movement on the stage relaxed somewhat, when storytelling phobia quieted a bit, when the singers could remain still long enough to expound the Pushkin story in the glories of the play of Russian phonemes.

Italian conductor Paolo Arrivabeni well supported these successful soliloquies in a somewhat restrained reading of the score. Perhaps he was attempting to mitigate the scenic hyperventilation.

Marseille fielded a respectable cast to tell Mussorgsky’s story, most notably the Boris of Russian bass Alexey Tikhomirov who had replaced Ruggiero Raimondi in this same production from Liège in 2010. Mr. Tikhomirov is of imposing stature and imposing voice. He finds much subtlety in the Boris personage, and as well assumes much of the stature needed to illuminate such a conflicted ruler. Tenor Luca Lombardo brought a blatantly evil spirit into his character portrayal of Shuisky. Of the principles 44 year-old French bass Nicolas Courjal made the most effect as the old monk Pimen, illuminating the Boris/Dimitri mysteries in a beautiful and clear tonal language that filled the theater.

Boris_Marseille2.pngNicolas Courjal as Pimen, Jean-Pierre Furlan as Gregory

Mezzo Marie-Ange Todorovitch did double duty as the innkeeper and the Boris children’s nurse, both roles delivered with pleasurable linguistic gusto. Soprano Ludivine Bombert made beautiful sounds in her laments as Boris’ daughter Xenia. Bass Wenwei Zhang enacted a splendid Varlaam, the drunken friar.

More problematic were the roles of Boris’ son Feodor, nicely sung by diminutive mezzo Caroline Meng. For the role to achieve its full and intended effect it must be sung by a young boy. Tenor Jean-Pierre Furlan embodied a ribald, ambitious, rough-voiced Grigory — a nervous wreck. This Grigory was definitely not a subtle schemer who you might believe could rally revolutionary forces. The Innocent, sung by tenor Christophe Berry, was in strident tone and grotesquely staged body movements.

Boris_Marseille3.pngDimitri, Czar of Russia 1605-1606, the final image of the Ionesco production of the 1869 Boris Godunov

Stage director and designer Petrika Ionesco deconstructed a Russian Orthodox fresco into George Braque-like, i.e. cubistic shapes, adding solid blocks of colored lights in open places. Scene changes were long, noisy and off-putting in this two and one-half hour sitting (no intermission). Evidently Mr. Ionesco was taken by the intense poses he found in Russian frescos, poses that he induced his actors and the chorus to imitate. This came across as blatantly naive, caricatured acting in incessant movement. It was laughable until it became unwatchable.

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Boris Godounov: Alexey Tikhomirov; Pimène: Nicolas Courjal; Gregori / Dimitri: Jean-Pierre Furlan; Chouisky: Luca Lombardo; Xénia: Ludivine Gombert; Fiodor: Caroline Meng; La Nourrice / L’Hôtesse: Marie-Ange Todorovitch; Varlaam: Wenwei Zhang; L’Innocent: Christophe Berry; Andrei Tchelkalov: Ventseslav Anastasov; Missail: Marc Larcher; Nikitch / Officier de Police: Julien Veronese; Mityukha: Jean-Marie Defpas. Orchestre et Chœur de l’Opéra de Marseille; Maîtrise des Bouches-du-Rhône. Conductor: Paolo Arrivabeni; Mise en scène / Décors Petrika Ionesco; Lumières: Patrick Méeus. Opéréa Municipal, Marseille, February 21, 2017.

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):