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 Performances

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

A scene from Fortress Europe [Photo by Hans van den Bogaard]
27 Mar 2017

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.

Brave but flawed world premiere: Fortress Europe in Amsterdam

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: A scene from Fortress Europe

Photos by Hans van den Bogaard

 

The number of migrants trying to reach Europe by sea is already picking up, as it does every year. Putting their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers, scores of them will drown. The ones who reach European shores will face years of uncertainty in asylum centers and hostility from nativists and nationalists who feel threatened by them. Librettist Jonathan West, informed by the writings of Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer, bravely tackles the most salient aspects of the European migrant crisis. The libretto is economical and purposeful in the beginning, but loses momentum halfway through. Tsoupaki’s atmospheric score contains some involving scenes, but is ultimately too circuitous to be fully convincing.

Totally up to the mark, on the other hand, are the cast and production. Director Floris Visser keeps things clear and to the point. Costumes and set are unfussy. On a rotating stage, sharp rocks denote a Greek island and a large door is the gateway to Europe. The drowning chorus wears life jackets sent over from Lesbos by an NGO that works with migrants. Soprano Rosemary Joshua sang Europa, an old woman living in Brussels. She is the mouthpiece of the current anti-immigrant sentiment shaping the European political landscape. With meticulous singing and crisp enunciation, Joshua created a focused portrait of a woman clinging to the past and terrified of the present. Her hankering for Old Europe is poetically expressed through the myth of Europa, the Phoenician princess who dreamed of two continents, Asia and an unnamed continent, fighting over her. The next morning she was carried away across the sea to Crete by Zeus disguised as a beautiful white bull. Europa gave Zeus sons and her name to her new home.

17.03.19-0898.pngA scene from Fortress Europe

Political tensions over the influx of migrants are explored in conversations between Europa and her son Frans, a politician. Tenor Erik Slik sank his teeth wholeheartedly into this role in an emotionally charged and vocally assertive performance. Frans, a progressively sympathetic figure, is torn between his political mandate to guard European borders and his empathy for the refugees. While Europa recalls her youthful romance with phrases curling into melismas, Frans reminds her that even she once washed up in Europe from foreign shores. Mother and son fight over granting asylum to Amar, a Syrian who is the sole survivor of a catastrophic crossing. Europa refuses him entry, destroying him. Bass-baritone Yavuz Arman İşleker sang Amar with much vocal beauty and dignity. His slight Turkish accent added to the complexity of the topic under scrutiny. Amar’s re-enactment of the drowning with the chorus of migrants was the emotional peak of the opera. The excellent Netherlands Student Chamber Choir supplied young, vibrato-light voices for the spectral chorus. Singing a haunting Arab folk song, they fell silent one by one, shedding their life jackets onto a forlorn heap.

Conductor Bas Wiegers led the seven-strong Asko|Schönberg ensemble with confidence. The oboe and cor anglais had the lion’s share of the solos, in languid Eastern scales and plaintive keening. Tsoupaki is free with musical idioms, braiding passages for string quartet with Greek Orthodox hymns and Arab melodies. A harp evokes nostalgia and percussion crescendos mark dramatic events, while sound effects recreate wind and waves. Lucid orchestral colors suggest an exposed beach or the glade where Europa gives herself to Zeus. The problem is that Tsoupaki’s vocal writing is rhythmically repetitive and her melodies tenuous. Ariosos for the soloists begin promisingly, but end up where they started without evolving. The percussion flare-ups lose their impact through overuse. She passes over the opportunity to write a lively ensemble scene when journalists cross-examine Frans about his immigration policy. The entire press conference is spoken, and very well too, but it is too long.

Wordiness, successfully avoided during the trenchant phone conversations between mother and son, mars their final confrontation. They become megaphones for pro- and anti-immigration arguments and the music is not inventive enough to sustain interest. Amar’s tragic end is a horrific climax, but it arrives to late. Fortress Europe is the first installment of a trilogy about sociopolitical bushfires called Sign of the Times, produced by a company called Opera Trionfo. Dutch National Opera is collaborating on the project and this world premiere was part of their annual Opera Forward Festival. Musically, this ninety-minute work never reaches the boiling point required by its subject matter, but its best moments and the high quality of the performance makes one curious about its sequels.

Jenny Camilleri

Cast and production information:

Europa: Rosemary Joshua, soprano; Frans, the politician: Erik Slik, tenor; Amar, the refugee: Yavuz Arman İşleker, bass-baritone. Director: Floris Visser; Set and Costume Design: Dieuweke van Reij; Lighting Design: Alex Brok. Composer: Calliope Tsoupaki; Libretto: Jonathan West; Conductor: Bas Wiegers. Netherlands Student Chamber Choir, Asko|Schönberg. Seen at the Rabozaal, Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, Wednesday, 22nd March 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):