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

Mascagni's Isabeau at Opera Holland Park: in conversation with David Butt Philip

Opera directors are used to thinking their way out of theatrical, dramaturgical and musico-dramatic conundrums, but one of the more unusual challenges must be how to stage the spectacle of a young princess’s naked horseback-ride through the streets of a city.

Grange Park Opera travels to America

The Italian censors forced Giuseppe Verdi and his librettist Antonio Somma to relocate their operatic drama of the murder of the Swedish King Gustav III to Boston, demote the monarch to state governor and rename him Riccardo, and for their production of Un ballo in maschera at Grange Park Opera, director Stephen Medcalf and designer Jamie Vartan have left the ‘ruler’ in his censorial exile.

Puccini’s La bohème at The Royal Opera House

When I reviewed Covent Garden’s Tosca back in January, I came very close to suggesting that we might be entering a period of crisis in casting the great Puccini operas. Fast forward six months, and what a world of difference!

Na’ama Zisser's Mamzer Bastard (world premiere)

Let me begin, like an undergraduate unsure quite what to say at the beginning of an essay: there were many reasons to admire the first performance of Na’ama Zisser’s opera, Mamzer Bastard, a co-commission from the Royal Opera and the Guildhall.

Les Arts Florissants : An English Garden, Barbican London

At the Barbican, London, Les Arts Florissants conducted by Paul Agnew, with soloists of Le Jardin de Voix in "An English Garden" a semi-staged programme of English baroque.

Die Walküre in San Francisco

The hero Siegfried in utero, Siegmund dead, Wotan humiliated, Brünnhilde asleep, San Francisco’s Ring ripped relentlessly into the shredded emotional lives of its gods and mortals. Conductor Donald Runnicles laid bare Richard Wagner’s score in its most heroic and in its most personal revelations, in their intimacy and in their exploding release.

Das Rheingold in San Francisco

Alberich’s ring forged, the gods moved into Valhalla, Loge’s Bic flicked, Wagner’s cumbersome nineteenth century mythology began unfolding last night here in Bayreuth-by-the-Bay.

ENO's Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House

The shepherds and nymphs are at play! It’s end-of-the-year office-party time in Elysium. The bean-bags, balloons and banners - ‘Work Hard, Play Harder’ - invite the weary workers of Mountain Media to let their hair down, and enter the ‘Groves of Delights and Crystal Fountains’.

Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen - and indeed heard - from the Royal Opera.

Stéphane Degout and Simon Lepper

Another wonderful Wigmore song recital: this time from Stéphane Degout – recently shining in George Benjamin's new operatic masterpiece,

An excellent La finta semplice from Classical Opera

‘How beautiful it is to love! But even more beautiful is freedom!’ The opening lines of the libretto of Mozart’s La finta semplice are as contradictory as the unfolding tale is ridiculous. Either that master of comedy, Carlo Goldoni, was having an off-day when he penned the text - which was performed during the Carnival of 1764 in the Teatro Giustiniani di S. Moisè in Venice with music by Salvatore Perillo - or Marco Coltellini, the poeta cesareo who was entertaining the Viennese aristocracy in 1768, took unfortunate liberties with poetry and plot.

Pan-European Orpheus : Julian Prégardien

"Orpheus I am!" - An unusual but very well chosen collection of songs, arias and madrigals from the 17th century, featuring Julian Prégardien and Teatro del mondo. Devised by Andreas Küppers, this collection crosses boundaries demonstrating how Italian, German, French and English contemporaries responded to the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Whatever Love Is: The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall

‘We love singing songs, telling stories …’ profess The Prince Consort on their website, and this carefully curated programme at Wigmore Hall perfectly embodied this passion, as Artistic Director and pianist Alisdair Hogarth was joined by tenor Andrew Staples (the Consort’s Creative Director), Verity Wingate (soprano) and poet Laura Mucha to reflect on ‘whatever love is’.

Bryn Terfel's magnetic Mephisto in Amsterdam

It had been a while since Bryn Terfel sang a complete opera role in Amsterdam. Back in 2002 his larger-than-life Doctor Dulcamara hijacked the stage of what was then De Nederlandse Opera, now Dutch National Opera.

Laci Boldemann’s Opera Black Is White, Said the Emperor

We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas-some familiar, others forgotten-are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams.

A volcanic Elektra by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

“There are no gods in heaven!” sings Elektra just before her brother Orest kills their mother. In the Greek plays about the cursed House of Atreus the Olympian gods command the banished Orestes to return home and avenge his father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra. He dispatches both her and her lover Aegisthus.

Così fan tutte: Opera Holland Park

Absence makes the heart grow fonder; or does it? In Così fan tutte, who knows? Or rather, what could such a question even mean?

The poignancy of triviality: Garsington Opera's Capriccio

“Wort oder Ton?” asks Richard Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio. The Countess answers with a question of her own, at the close of this self-consciously self-reflective Konversationstück für Musik: “Gibt es einen, der nicht trivail ist?” (“Is there any ending that isn’t trivial?”)

Netia Jones' new Die Zauberflöte opens Garsington Opera's 2018 season

“These portals, these columns prove/that wisdom, industry and art reside here.” So says Tamino, as he gazes up at the three imposing doors in the centre of Netia Jones’ replica of the 18th-century Wormsley Park House - in the grounds of which Garsington Opera’s ‘floating’ Pavilion makes its home each summer.

Feverish love at Opera Holland Park: a fine La traviata opens the 2018 season

If there were any doubts that it was soon to be curtains for Verdi’s titular, tubercular heroine then the tortured gasps of laboured, languishing breath which preceded Rodula Gaitanou’s new production of La traviata for Opera Holland Park would have swiftly served to dispel them.

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):