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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

London Handel Festival, <em>Faramondo</em>
21 Mar 2017

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

London Handel Festival, Faramondo

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kieran Rayner and Harriet Eyles

Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

 

The pseudo-historical plot is an almost unfathomable cat’s-cradle of intrigues, misalliances and mistaken identities. The King of the Franks, Faramondo has killed Sveno, the son of Gustavo, the Cimbrian King. The latter swears vengeance but when his knife is poised above Clotilde, Faramondo’s sister, Gustavo promptly falls in love with his prisoner, who is herself in an amorous dalliance with Alfonso, Gustavo’s other son. Meanwhile, Gustavo’s daughter, Rosimonda, whom he dangles as a prize to would-be avengers, has fallen in mutual love with Faramondo, but struggles with her split allegiances - and against Faramondo’s rival for her heart, Gernando.

The result: amorous stalemate. Lovely aria follows lovely aria as the protagonists, often alone on stage, bewail the deadlock. As degeneracy ensues, it’s not always clear where enmity and loyalty dwell. It’s really no surprise when - in Trovatore fashion - Sveno turns out not to have been Sveno after all, but Childerico, the son of Gustavo’s ambitious general Teobaldo who swapped the babes at birth.

Despite the torturous and dramatically encumbering narrative knots, the score is full of fine features: incisive sinfonie (one for each act); beautiful melodies; lively, springy rhythms; interesting - often quite sparse - instrumental colouring; and arias that contrast emotional excitement with lyrical breadth. Handel reduced the recitative in Gasparini’s version of the opera - which had already considerably sliced Zeno’s original libretto - to the barest of minimums but, given that there is no real ‘action’, this is not a hindrance to a dramatic comprehensibility that is already stretched to the limits.

When Göttingen Händel-Festspiele director Laurence Cummings conducted the opera at the June 2014 Festival he and his director, Paul Curran, opted wisely to dispense with historical ‘veracity’ and shifted the action to a mafioso gangland in the mid-twentieth century. For this collaboration between the London Handel Festival and the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School director William Relton and designer Cordelia Chisholm retain the Scorsese-inspired setting and add a dash of West Side Story in the form of rival gangs of knife-wielding ganstas and hoods.

Faramondo is the leather-clad leader of one band of thugs, Gernando heads a rival clan of glue-sniffing skinheads, while Gustavo is a sharp-suited casino magnate. We’re in a twilight zone. Blood oaths bind the members of Gustavo’s Family and flick knives flash in the stark glare of the strip lights on every seedy corner. Casting a patina of glamour over this sordid underworld are the sultry lights and glitter balls of Gustavo’s wine bar. At one point, Rosimonda - glitzy in gold lamé - spins a star turn in front of the mic to entertain the gamblers.

Ida-RñnzlÂv-Faramondo-Faramondo-London-Handel-Festival-Credit-Chris-Christodoulou-536x357.jpg Ida Ränzlöv. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

There’s plenty of ‘business’, much of it clever, some of it overly fussy, nearly all of it irrelevant to what is being sung, or even felt. The da capo repeats are supplemented not with melodic ornamentation but with excessive alcohol and drug consumption. Faramondo’s mobsters swig from bottles of beer, he gulps from a hip-flask, and having emptied the used glasses on the tables of Gustavo’s, Clotilde grabs a bottle and lets the bubbles flow. Rosimonda drags agitatedly on a cigarette, while Gernando fuels his da capo with a deep inhalation of solvents. Nifty use of a cross curtain, which allows for swift changes of locale, keeps things swinging along.

After a vibrant overture from the London Handel Orchestra led by Oliver Webber, the cast took a little while to settle. There were some slips of intonation and stage-pit timing in the opening few numbers, the coloratura was sometimes rather muddy and I don’t think I heard a trill characterised by the requisite evenness, accuracy of tuning and speed in the first Act. That’s not to suggest that the singing was bad - there was much colour and charm - just that a certain polish was lacking.

Fortunately, the singers found their feet subsequently. In the title role, however, mezzo soprano Ida Ränzlöv was in a class of her own from the start. There is a real richness to Ränzlöv’s sound and a vividness of tone; she demonstrated a natural feeling for the Handelian phrase, delivering the coloratura with effortless seamlessness and crafting a fine cantabile. Ränzlöv also demonstrated dramatic range and - in this opera, no mean feat - credibility, conveying both Faramondo’s vicious streak and an underlying tenderness.

Similarly, Beth Moxon convincing captured the conflicted Rosimonda’s inner battle with desire and duty. The only thing she seemed certain about, as she strutted and fretted back and forth, compulsively chain-smoking, was her disdain for Gernando. Rosimonda’s vengeance aria bristled, but her final aria charmed and calmed.

<Timothy-MorganGernandoFaramondo-London-Handel-Festival-Credit-Chris-Christodoulou-536x357.jpg Timothy Morgan. Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou.

The few ensembles of Acts 2 and 3 contain some of the finest music of the opera; the cheerful intertwining of the central lovers mezzos at the end of Act 2 offered hope for resolution, although Clotilde and Adolfo shared a more muted moment at the start of the final Act.

Soprano Harriet Eyley sparkled as a gamine Clotilde. Josephine Goddard was her hopelessly love-struck suitor; though Goddard’s soprano has vocal elegance, her Jimmy Krankie wig did not add to her dignity.

New Zealand baritone Kieran Ryaner was a dark-voiced Gustavo but though he could call on significant weight and power his coloratura was not always finely focused; countertenor Timothy Morgan relished Gernando’s unsavoury sleaziness. Baritone Harry Thatcher was a confident Teobaldo and Lauren Morris made her mark as the diffident nerd Childerico, even though the role has no arias.

With revenge, restitution and realignment all satisfactorily effected, Faramondo’s final aria led into a spirited chorus. But, while the protagonists sang of Virtue’s merits, the villainy continued, as Faramondo’s heavies despatched the victims of Gustavo’s lingering resentment and rancour: a quick flick of an efficient knife and off they went, dragged feet first. In Relton’s eyes, there is no distinction between those with morals and those without. I guess they are all Goodfellas.

Claire Seymour

Handel: Faramondo

Faramondo - Ida Ränzlöv, Clotilde - Harriet Eyley, Gustavo - Kieran Rayner, Rosimonda - Beth Moxon, Adolfo - Josephine Goddard, Gernando - Timothy Morgan, Teobaldo - Harry Thatcher, Childerico - Lauren Morris; Director - William Relton, Conductor - Laurence Cummings, Designer - Cordelia Chisholm, Lighting designer - Kevin Treacy, London Handel Orchestra.

Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London; Monday 20th 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):