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

Jonathan Miller’s “Così” strikes gold again

When did “concept” become a dirty word? In the world of opera, the rot set in innocently, gradually.

Tucson Desert Song Festival Presents Artists from the Met and Arizona Opera

The Tucson Desert Song Festival consists of three weekends of vocal music in orchestral, chamber, choral, and solo formats along with related lectures and master classes.

The Schumanns at home: Temple Song 2018

Following their marriage, on 12th September 1840, Robert and Clara Schumann made their home in a first-floor apartment on the piano nobile of a classical-style residence now known as the Schumann House, on Inselstraße, just a short walk from the centre of Leipzig.

Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle at the Barbican

Two great operas come from the year 1911 - Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Bela Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Both are masterpieces, but they are very different kinds of operas and experienced quite asymmetric performance histories.

Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House

Now on its ninth revival, Jonathan Kent’s classic Tosca for Covent Garden is a study in art, beauty and passion but also darkness, power and empire. Part of the production’s lasting greatness, and contemporary value, is that it looks inwards towards the malignancy of a great empire (in this case a Napoleonic one), whilst looking outward towards a city-nation in terminal decline (Rome).

ROH Announces 2018 Jette Parker Young Artists

The Royal Opera House has announced the five singers who will join the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in September, selected from more than 440 applicants from 59 countries.

The Epic of Gilgamesh - Bohuslav Martinů

New recording of the English version of Bohuslav Martinů's The Epic of Gilgamesh, from Supraphon, the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck. This is the world premiere recording of the text in English, the original language in which it was written.

Maybe the Best L’heure espagnole Yet

The new recording, from Munich, has features in common with one from Stuttgart that I greatly enjoyed and reviewed here: the singers are all native French-speakers, the orchestra is associated with a German radio channel, we are hearing an actual performance (or in this case an edited version from several performances, in April 2016), and the recording is released by the orchestra itself or its institutional parent.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac in Two Exotic Masterpieces by Maurice Ravel

The two works on this CD make an apt and welcome pair. First we have Ravel’s sumptuous three-song cycle about the mysteries of love and fantasies of exotic lands. Then we have his one-act opera that takes place in a land that, to French people at the time, was beckoningly exotic, and whose title might be freely translated “The Nutty and Delightful Things That Can Happen in Spain in Just One Hour”.

ROH Return to the Roundhouse

Opera transcends time and place. An anonymous letter, printed with the libretto of Monteverdi’s Le nozze d’Enea con Lavinia and written two years before his death, assures the reader that Monteverdi’s music will continue to affect and entrance future generations:

London Schools Symphony Orchestra celebrates Bernstein and Holst anniversaries

One recent survey suggested that in 1981, the average age of a classical concertgoer was 36, whereas now it is 60-plus. So, how pleasing it was to see the Barbican Centre foyers, cafes and the Hall itself crowded with young people, as members of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra prepared to perform with soprano Louise Alder and conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, in a well-balanced programme that culminated with an ‘anniversary’ performance of Holst’s The Planets.

Salome at the Royal Opera House

In De Profundis, his long epistle to ‘Dear Bosie’, Oscar Wilde speaks literally ‘from the depths’, incarcerated in his prison cell in Reading Gaol. As he challenges the young lover who has betrayed him and excoriates Society for its wrong and unjust laws, Wilde also subjects his own aesthetic ethos to some hard questioning, re-evaluating a life lived in avowal of the amorality of luxury and beauty.

In the Beginning ... Time Unwrapped at Kings Place

Epic, innovative and bold, Haydn’s The Creation epitomises the grandeur and spirit of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

Stefano Secco: Crescendo

I had never heard of Stefano Secco before receiving this CD. But I see that, at age 34, he already has had a substantial career, singing major roles at important houses throughout Europe and, while I was not paying attention, occasionally in the US.

The Pearl Fishers at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its recent production of Georges Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles Lyric Opera of Chicago assembled an ideal cast of performers who blend well into an imaginative and colorful production.

New Cinderella SRO in San Jose

Alma Deutscher’s Cinderella is most remarkable for one reason and one reason alone: It was composed by a 12-year old girl.

French orientalism : songs and arias, Sabine Devieilhe

Mirages : visions of the exotic East, a selection of French opera arias and songs from Sabine Devieilhe, with Alexandre Tharaud and Les Siècles conducted by François-Xavier Roth, new from Erato

La Cenerentola in Lyon

Like Stendhal when he first saw Rossini’s Cenerentola in Trieste in 1823, I was left stone cold by Rossini’s Cendrillon last night in Lyon. Stendhal complained that in Trieste nothing had been left to the imagination. As well, in Lyon nothing, absolutely nothing was left to the imagination.

Messiah, who?: The Academy of Ancient Music bring old and new voices together

Christmas isn’t Christmas without a Messiah. And, at the Barbican Hall, the Academy of Ancient Music reminded us why … while never letting us settle into complacency.

The Golden Cockerel Bedazzles in Amsterdam

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s fairy tale The Golden Cockerel was this holiday season’s ZaterdagMatinee operatic treat at the Concertgebouw. There was real magic to this concert performance, chiefly thanks to Vasily Petrenko’s dazzling conducting and the enchanting soprano Venera Gimadieva.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Partenope</em>, English National Opera
18 Mar 2017

Handel's Partenope: surrealism and sensuality at English National Opera

Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.

Partenope, English National Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Sarah Tynan

Photo credit: Donald Cooper

 

Silvio Stampiglia’s libretto contains the requisite amorous knots endured by classical kings and queens. Partenope, the founding Queen of Naples, is courted by three royal lovers: Arsace, Prince of Corinth, who is first in line for Partenope’s affections; the affectatious Armindo, Prince of Rhodes; and Emilio, Prince of Cumae, who, spurned by the Queen, determines to make war not love. Arsace’s abandoned fiancée, Rosmira, disguises herself as Eurimene in order to pursue her betrayer, and becomes Partenope’s fourth suitor.

ENO Partenope Sarah Tynan, Matthew Durkan, Patricia Bardon, James Laing and Stephanie Windsor-Lewis (c) Donald Cooper.jpg ENO Cast. Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

Director Christopher Alden largely ignores the historic context and plumps instead for ‘Partenope the sailor-serenading siren’ who, so the myth goes, cast ashore on the Neapolitan coast after throwing herself into the sea in her despair at not having been able to sing Ulysses to his death. Alden and his excellent design team - Andrew Lieberman (set), Jon Morrell (costume), Adam Silverman (lighting) - set the action in a Parisian salon of the 1920s at the height of Surrealism. Ironically, ‘Partenope’ means ‘virgin’ in Greek, for it’s the bedroom which is the battleground here.

The Surrealists sought to overthrow society’s ‘rules’ and demolish its reliance on ‘rational thought’. Their philosophy - as summed up by artist-at-the-helm, André Breton - might seem potentially risky for a director seeking to untangle the libretto and offer a credible context: ‘thought expressed in the absence of any control exerted by reason, and outside all moral and aesthetic considerations.’

Tapping the subconscious and liberating the creative power of the unconscious mind could prove profitable though. Alden turns Partenope into Nancy Cunard, in whose art deco apartment various artists gather to drink, play cards, tap dance, twirl batons, distastefully prat about with gas marks and bayonets, graffiti the pristine white walls with Matisse-squiggles and lewd symbols, and pay ardent homage to their hostess. A spectacular sweeping staircase is a death-trap to the inebriated, and if the hedonists don’t slip on the banana skins that are literally thrown around the stage then there’s the risk of getting locked in the lavatory (toilets dominate the second Act, complementing the smutty colloquialisms of Amanda Holden’s translation). By Act 3, the sharp suits of Act 1 have been abandoned for pyjamas and various states-of-undress.

ENO Partenope cast 3 (c) Donald Cooper.jpg ENO cast. Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

Emilio is now photographer Man Ray. I presume that the photographs that he obsessively snaps - of artfully piled bodies and kinky indulgences - are designed to ‘expose’ the protagonists to reality. In Act 3 Emilio climbs a ladder and slowly assembles a collage-mural: what starts off looking like a monochrome of Matisse’s ‘The Snail’ is revealed as Man Ray’s 1934 ‘Nude Bent Forward’.

The design is certainly chic and Silverman’s chameleon-like lighting is superbly evocative. But, there’s no clear raison d’être. Handel’s humour is underpinned by honesty: even Partenope’s desire is sincere, if itinerant, and Armindo values fidelity - as he sings (in Holden’s words), in ‘Nobil core, che ben ama’: ‘Faithful lovers wisely ponder/ that if fancy never wanders,/ they’ll achieve a life sublime./ Constancy’s a thing to cherish;/ truthful love need never perish/ e’en until the end of time.’

Alden’s concept is not true to such avowals. His is a world of artifice: sophisticated but superficial. There’s a lack of emotional engagement between his characters, and twixt them and us: we simply don’t care about their urbane game-playing.

ENO Partenope Rupert Charlesworth and Sarah Tynan (c) Donald Cooper.jpg Rupert Charlesworth (Emilio) and Sarah Tynan (Partenope). Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

But, the superb performances of the ENO cast offer a compensating allure. As the eponymous Queen, Sarah Tynan poses and struts, preens and sings with classy aplomb: whether sporting the jangling bangles of a trouser-suited Nancy Cunard, or the natty top hat and tails of Marlene Dietrich, Tynan convey’s Partenope’s Amazonian self-belief and spirited sensuality: she’s in love with Love. Her soprano is quite light, but flexible and clear, sparkling but never hard-edged. After a slightly hesitant opening aria (conductor Christian Curnyn pushes the pace throughout) she crafted the phrases with style and hit the hemi-demi-semi-quavers with panache - even when asked to stoke an old stove during the florid ‘Qual farfalletta’ (Act 2) to imitate the flaming passion of Cupid about whom she sings.

Given that this opera requires its cast to sing their arias dangling from staircases, balancing astride toilet seats and while climbing ladders, it seems sadly ironic that tenor Robert Murray was forced to withdraw from the role of Emilia following a fall which left him with severe concussion (of course, we wish Murray a swift recovery). Rupert Charlesworth was an admirable last-minute replacement: his firm tenor raged and ranted with indignant wrath in ‘Barabaro Fato si’ - an extravagant diatribe against fate - when he found himself imprisoned in Partenope’s toilet.

ENO Partenope James Laing 3 (c) Donald Cooper.jpg James Laing (Armindo). Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

As Armindo, James Laing survived the Chaplin-esque clowning required of him without physical or vocal mishap - ‘Volio dire al mio tesoro’ was sung while swinging perilously from the curving staircase. Laing was rewarded for enduring the ‘funny business’: Armindo gets his girl in the end.

ENO Partenope Sarah Tynan and Matthew Durkan 2 (c) Donald Cooper.jpg Matthew Durkan (Ormonte) and Sarah Tynan (Partenope). Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

Looking like Lytton Strachey, bass Matthew Durkan was effective as Partenope’s chief guard, Ormonte, dispatching the coloratura cleanly and firmly. The role of Rosmira was sung impressively by rising star Stephanie Windsor Lewis; the ENO orchestra’s horn section made a colourful contribution to her aria, ‘Io seguo sol fiero’.

It was Patricia Bardon, though, as the pompous chancer Arsace, who stole the show. During the first run of the production in 2008, Bardon sang Rosmira; here she was a lustrous Arsace whose humiliation and sorrow were heartbreakingly conveyed in the slow, affecting Ch’io parta? Sì crudele’ (Act 3).

ENO Partenope Patricia Bardon 3 (c) Donald Cooper.jpg Patricia Bardon (Arsace). Photo credit: Donald Cooper.

Charles Burney judged Partenope to be ‘among the best of Handel’s dramatic productions’ and on the evidence of the score and the singing enjoyed here it’s hard not to agree. But, while Alden gives us luxury, lightness and louche-ness, the pleasures and pains of love - something of Così’s paradoxes? - are replaced by a Surrealist dream which doesn’t quite satisfy.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Partenope

Sarah Tynan - Partenope, Patricia Bardon - Arsace, James Laing - Armindo, Rupert Charlesworth - Emilio, Stephanie Windsor Lewis - Rosmira, Matthew Durkan - Ormonte; Christopher Alden - Director, Christian Curnyn - Conductor, Andrew Lieberman - Set Designer, Jon Morrell - Costume Designer, Adam Silverman - Lighting Designer, Orchestra of English National Opera.

English National Opera, Coliseum; Wednesday 15th 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):