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

Hibiki: a European premiere by Mark-Anthony Turnage at the Proms

Hibiki: sound, noise, echo, reverberation, harmony. Commissioned by the Suntory Hall in Tokyo to celebrate the Hall’s 30th anniversary in 2016, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s 50-minute Hibiki, for two female soloists, children’s chorus and large orchestra, purports to reflect on the ‘human reverberations’ of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 and the devastation caused by the subsequent tsunami and radioactive disaster.

Through Life and Love: Louise Alder sings Strauss

Soprano Louise Alder has had an eventful few months. Declared ‘Young Singer of the Year’ at the 2017 International Opera Awards in May, the following month she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Janáček: The Diary of One Who Disappeared, Grimeborn

A great performance of Janáček’s song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared can be, allowing for the casting of a superb tenor, an experience on a par with Schoenberg’s Erwartung. That Shadwell Opera’s minimalist, but powerful, staging in the intimate setting of Studio 2 of the Arcola Theatre was a triumph was in no small measure to the magnificent singing of the tenor, Sam Furness.

Khovanshchina: Mussorgsky at the Proms

Remembering the centenary of the Russian Revolution, this Proms performance of Mussorgsky’s mighty Khovanshchina (all four and a quarter hours of it) exceeded all expectations on a musical level. And, while the trademark doorstop Proms opera programme duly arrived containing full text and translation, one should celebrate the fact that - finally - we had surtitles on several screens.

Santa Fe: Entertaining If Not Exactly (R)evolutionary

You know what I loved best about Santa Fe Opera’s world premiere The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs?

Longborough Young Artists in London: Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice

For the last three years, Longborough Festival Opera’s repertoire of choice for their Young Artist Programme productions has been Baroque opera seria, more specifically Handel, with last year’s Alcina succeeding Rinaldo in 2014 and Xerxes in 2015.

A Master Baritone in Recital: Sesto Bruscantini, 1981

This is the only disc ever devoted to the art of Sesto Bruscantini (1919–2003). Record collectors value his performance of major baritone roles, especially comic but also serious ones, on many complete opera recordings, such as Il barbiere di Siviglia (with Victoria de los Angeles). He continued to perform at major houses until at least 1985 and even recorded Mozart's Don Alfonso in 1991, when he was 72.

Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Since 1952, the ARD—the organization of German radio stations—has run an annual competition for young musicians. Winners have included Jessye Norman, Maurice André, Heinz Holliger, and Mitsuko Uchida. Starting in 2015, the CD firm GENUIN has offered, as a separate award, the chance for one of the prize winners to make a CD that can serve as a kind of calling card to the larger musical and music-loving world. In 2016, the second such CD award was given to the Aris Quartett (second-prize winner in the “string quartet” category).

Full-throated Cockerel at Santa Fe

A tale of a lazy, befuddled world leader that ‘has no clothes on’ and his two dimwit sons, hmmmm, what does that remind me of. . .?

Santa Fe’s Trippy Handel

If you don’t like a given moment in Santa Fe Opera’s staging of Alcina, well, just like the volatile mountain weather, wait two minutes and it will surely change.

Santa Fe’s Crowd-Pleasing Strauss

With Die Fledermaus’ thrice familiar overture still lingering in our ears, it didn’t take long for the assault of hijinks to reduce the audience into guffaws of delight.

Santa Fe: Mad for Lucia

If there is any practitioner currently singing the punishing title role of Lucia di Lammermoor better than Brenda Rae, I am hard-pressed to name her.

Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Grimeborn

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can be a difficult opera to stage, despite its charm and simplicity. In part it is a good, old-fashioned morality tale about the relationships between humans and animals, and between themselves, but Janáček doesn’t use a sledgehammer to make this point. It is easy for many productions to fall into parody, and many have done, and it is a tribute to The Opera Company’s staging of this work at the Arcola Theatre that they narrowly avoided this pitfall.

Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Proms: William Christie and the OAE

For all its extreme popularity with choirs, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt is a somewhat problematic work; the scarcity of solos makes hiring professional soloists an extravagant expense, and the standard version of the work starts oddly with a tenor recitative. If we return to the work's history then these issues are put into context, and this is what William Christie did for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday 1 August 2017.

Sirens and Scheherazade: Prom 18

From Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, to Bruch’s choral-orchestral Odysseus, to Fauré’s Penelope, countless compositions have taken their inspiration from Homer’s Odyssey, perhaps not surprisingly given Homer’s emphasis on the power of music in the Greek world.

Discovering Gounod’s Cinq Mars: Another Rarity Success for Oper Leipzig

Oper Leipzig usually receives less international attention than its Dresden, Munich or Berlin counterparts; however, with its fabulous Gewandhaus Orchestra, and its penchant for opera rarities (and a new Ring Cycle), this quality hotspot will be attracting more and more opera lovers. Leipzig’s new production of Gounod’s Cinq Mars continues this high quality tradition.

Detlev Glanert : Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch

Detlev Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch should be a huge hit. Just as Carl Orff's Carmina Burana appeals to audiences who don't listen to early music (or even to much classical music), Glanert's Requiem for Hieronymus Bosch has all the elements for instant popular success.

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

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):