Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017 - Winner Announced

Bampton Classical Opera is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and the runner-up is tenor Wagner Moreira. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category this year, is Keval Shah.

Il sogno di Scipione: a new recording from Classical Opera

With this recording of Mozart’s 1771 opera, Il sogno di Scipione (Sicpio’s Dream), Classical Opera continue their progress through the adolescent composer’s precocious achievements and take another step towards the fulfilment of their complete Mozart opera series for Signum Classics.

TOSCA: A Dramatic Sing-Fest

On November 12, 2017, Arizona Opera presented Giacomo Puccini’s verismo opera, Tosca, in a dramatic production directed by Tara Faircloth. Her production utilized realistic scenery from Seattle Opera and detailed costumes from the New York City Opera. Gregory Allen Hirsch’s lighting made the set look like the church of St. Andrea as some of us may have remembered it from time gone by.

The Lighthouse: Shadwell Opera at Hackney Showroom

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … and horror … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Patience</em>, English Touring Opera
12 Mar 2017

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a lesson in Patience

A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.

Patience, English Touring Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Lauren Zolezzi (Patience) and Bradley Travis (Reginald Bunthorne)

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith

 

Ever since an anonymous first-night critic in 1881 attempted to identify Gilbert’s ‘idyllic’ poet Archibald Grosvenor with Arthur Swinburne speculation has associated Grosvenor and his rival versifier, the ‘fleshly’ Reginald Bunthorne, with prominent aesthetes of the 1860s such as Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeill Whistler and of, course, the most glorious fop of them all, Oscar Wilde.

Interestingly, when impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte sent Wilde to the US on a lecture tour to illustrate the target of Patience’s satire, the resulting positive reception led to D’Oyly Carte’s wry observation that, ‘Inscrutable are the ways of the American public and absurd as it may appear, it seems that Oscar Wilde’s advent here has caused a regular craze and given the business a fillip up.’

But, today G&S is very much a matter of individual taste. And, then there’s the question of updating: if the creators were lampooning their contemporaries, should a present-day director turn the sardonic spotlight on modern mores and manners? While Jonathan Miller may have successfully excised Japan from the Mikado, there are many ‘modernisations’ which trip themselves up on the pedantry of ‘relevance’.

Director Liam Steel plays it straight in this ETO production, and the cast perform with the regimental conformity of good executants performing a work of genius. The knee-bends, handkerchief flourishes, fan-flapping, goose-stepping etc. are timed to perfection; but neat choreography does not a comedy make. There was a danger that the show would lapse into the clichés of pantomime or soap opera, and I longed for dramaturgy which sharpened the satirical edge and gave the performers greater freedom to ‘feel’ the dramatic moment. Perhaps such licence will blossom during the spring tour.

In 1882, Oscar Wilde visited Woodstock, Canada where he gave a lecture entitled ‘The House Beautiful’. Designer Florence de Maré’s set doesn’t quite call to mind the gilded stylisation of ‘ornamental aesthetic’ bravura, but she does give us the flora and fauna of a William Morris arts-and-crafts textile pattern - abundant in detail if lacking intensity of colour. De Maré’s muted green and pallid taupe may not conjure a synesthetic sensuousness fitting for a cult of beauty, but she does offer peacock feathers and vine-tracery aplenty. And, there is a match of visual motif and music, in the juxtaposition of the lethargic pallor of the languishing maidens’ ugly dresses and languorous refrain with the red-breasted dragoon’s robustness and readiness.

Maidens RHS.jpg Melancholy, mediaeval Maidens. Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

Patience is subtitled ‘Bunthorne’s Bride’ but in fact the eponymous ingénue dairymaid is not the leading character. Instead, the show is dominated by the rival poets Bunthorne himself and Archibald Grosvenor, who compete for the affections of the aforesaid maidens and Patience. Indeed, at the close, Bunthorne is singularly single, lacking a bride, despite the erstwhile attentions of the ‘love-sick’ maidens, who spurn their formerly affianced Dragoon Guards and their manly commander, Colonel Calverly, in his favour. When, by the end of Act 1, Bunthorne seems destined to wed Patience, one wonders if the musical entertainment is about to run into the ground; but, the arrival of the bookish Archibald Grosvenor re-directs the feminine gaze and the axe hovering over Act 2 is circumvented.

Arthur Sullivan’s score equals Gilbert’s text for playful parody and pointedness, and the ETO principals and chorus produced a charming performance that would make even the most G&S-phobic audience-member smile, if not guffaw. The young cast and the ETO chorus of ‘twenty [necessity resulting in the substitution, ‘several’] love-sick maidens’ and stiffly uniformed Dragoons proved well-versed in the idiom, both spoken and sung.

Dragoon.jpg The Dragoon. Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

Though the overture lacked sprightliness, subsequently conductor Timothy Burke paced the drama effectively. Donizetti would have been proud of the Act 1 Finale.

Bradley Travis’s Bunthorne was an extravagant concoction of cerise and orange velvet, floral stockings lilies and peacock feathers, topped with an extravagant beret. Travis postured, posed and attitudinised with grace, gallantry and gentility, and stayed just the right side of camp droopiness. His ironically drowsy patter number, ‘Am I Alone and Unobserved, I Am’, got the show on the road, characterised by RP diction and effortless singing; and, Bunthorne’s ‘Oh Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!’ was delivered in a honeyed baritone not lacking a splattering of hypocrisy and humbug. The swift ‘If you’re anxious for to shine’ was deftly delivered. Travis has superb theatrical timing and knows when to turn up the comic thermometer: his ham-fisted attempts to fix the raffle to ensure that Patience is his bride almost came deliciously unstuck when Bunthorne wedged his elbow in the urn containing the ticket stubs.

Bunthorne RHS.jpg Bradley Travis (Bunthorne). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

Ross Ramgobin evinced star quality as Archibald Grosvenor: Ramgobin’s beguiling baritone was powerful and clean, and gave substance to Grosvenor’s insipid amiability and mild-mannered, holier-than-thou-ness. Ramgobin’s Grosvenor was confident but sheered shy of smugness.

Grosvenor RHS.jpg Ross Ramgobin (Archibald Grosvenor). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

Lauren Zolezzi’s Patience sparkled with diamond-cut precision from her entrance aria, ‘I cannot tell what this love may be’. Her diction - indeed that of the entire cast - was so clear that, for once, surtitles might easily have been dispensed with. Zolezzi was a paragon of no-nonsense pragmatism; and she swung a laden milk-churn aloft with the same effortless ease with which she despatched the soprano’s lofty flights.

Patience Richard Hubert Smith.jpg Lauren Zolezzi (Patience). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

As Colonel Calverley, Andrew Slater was paradoxically blustering of spirit and nimble of voice in his patter number, ‘If you want a receipt’. Valerie Reid evoked sympathy for the pining Lady Jane, despite Gilbert’s unkind misogyny, in ‘Silver’d is the raven hair’, clutching her double bass trenchantly, and striking an adroit balance between gravity and comedy.

Lady Jane RHS.jpg Valerie Reid (Lady Jane). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

On the whole, Steel, too, struck the right balance between comedy and opera. In 1900, when a revival was being considered, Gilbert himself questioned whether Patience would appeal to then-contemporary tastes. His doubts proved unnecessary and Patience triumphed once more. And, why would it not? By the 1880s Aestheticism was no longer new: Gilbert was poking fun at more than while lilies and japanoiserie. His lampooning of those who starve life to feast on art speaks across the ages; one needs beauty and a square meal - and this production delivers both.

Claire Seymour

Gilbert and Sullivan: Patience

Patience - Lauren Zolezzi, Reginald Bunthorne - Bradley Travis, Archibald Grosvenor - Ross Ramgobin, The Lady Jane - Valerie Reid, The Lady Saphir - Suzanne Fischer, The Lady Angela - Gaynor Keeble, Colonel Calverley - Andrew Slater, Major Murgatroyd - Jan Capiński, Lieutenant The Duke of Dunstable - Aled Hall; Director - Liam Steel, Conductor - Timothy Burke, Designer - Florence de Maré, Lighting Designer - Mark Howland, ETO Ensemble and Orchestra.

Hackney Empire, London; Wednesday 8th 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):