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

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

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):