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

Stéphanie D’Oustrac: Sirènes

After D’Oustrac’s striking success as Cassandre in Berlioz Les Troyens, this will reach audiences less familiar with her core repertoire in the baroque and grand opéra. Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été and La mort d’Ophélie, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder and the Lieder of Franz Liszt are very well known, but the finesse of D’Oustrac’s timbre lends a lucid gloss which makes them feel fresh and pure.

Faust in Marseille

We sat, bewildered, all of us, watching (enduring) Gounod’s sweet little tear jerker as a nasty drug trip. Except for the Australian Marguerite it was an all French cast and they all gamely played along, the sophisticated verse of Offenbach’s librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré clearly sailing out over an abrasive pit.

Down in flames: Les Troyens, Opéra de Paris

Hector Berlioz’s Les Troyens with Philippe Jordan conducting the Opéra National de Paris. Since Les Troyens headlined the inauguration of Opéra Bastille 30 years ago, we might have expected something special of this new production. It should have been a triumph, with such a good conductor and some of the best singers in the business. But it wasn't.

Luminous Mahler Symphony no.3: François-Xavier Roth, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.3 with François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, now at last on CD, released by Harmonia Mundi, after the highly acclaimed live performance streamed a few months ago.

Andrew Davis conducts Berlioz’s L’enfance du Christ at Hoddinott Hall

A weekend commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) entitled Berlioz: The Ultimate Romantic was launched in style from Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall with a magnificent account of L’enfance du Christ (Childhood of Christ). The emotional impact of this ‘sacred trilogy’ seemed to gain further weight for its performance midway between Christmas and Easter, neatly encapsulating Christ’s journey from birth to death.

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

New Sussex Opera, <em>A Village Romeo and Juliet</em>
27 Mar 2017

New Sussex Opera: A Village Romeo and Juliet

To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.

New Sussex Opera, A Village Romeo and Juliet

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Kirsty Taylor-Stokes and Luke Sinclair

Photo credit: Robert Knights

 

The company makes a fair job of the task too. There is much to admire and enjoy in this production, but ultimately an overly complicated design scheme impedes rather than assists dramatic momentum. Moreover, at the E.M. Forster at Tonbridge School the cast struggled both to create credible characters and relationships, and to communicate the text with sufficiently clarity.

To be fair, the singers may not be entirely to blame. Delius concentrates on the opera’s central lovers - Sali and Vrenchen - and the other characters are only lightly sketched. There is little to differentiate them musically and, in any case, the characters’ vocal lines are shaped by harmonic imperatives rather than given individual melodic identity. Furthermore, the lovers themselves are more ‘emblems’ - of, paradoxically, both childhood innocence and, in the opera’s final moments, consuming passion - than ‘real’ figures. The composer seems to have been more concerned with what might be termed the ‘emotional landscape’, as evoked by the instrumental preludes that precede each of the six scenes.

Moreover, the E.M. Forster Theatre itself did not prove the most sympathetic venue for opera. The auditorium is fairly small, and there is no pit, which meant that the audience were seated very close to the orchestra - the excellent 24-piece Kantanti Ensemble - which served to distance the action. It did not help that conductor Lee Reynolds, who displayed enormous sensitivity to Delius’s musical rhetoric and no small skill in guiding and encouraging his instrumentalists, is himself rather tall. It was hard to avoid the visual distraction in the centre of one’s vision and focus on the stage action, particularly as the stage drapes at the rear of the stage further hindered the projection of the vocal lines.

The playing of Kantanti Ensemble was one of the strengths of the performance. Although Reynolds occasionally allowed his players a bit too much free rein, it was a treat to hear the textural and melodic delicacies. Tom Pollock’s horn playing was superb (he can be forgiven for tiring a little towards the close), and he was matched by Sacha Rattle doubling on clarinet and bass clarinet; the double basses’ tone was deliciously dark and there was some explosive drama from timpanist Will Renwick. If the sixteen string players inevitably could not generate a luxuriant stream of sound, then the accuracy of their playing was impressive, and leader Beatrice Philips offered sure, sweet-toned solos.

Sali-and-Vrenchen-2-RK.jpgKirsty Taylor-Stokes and Luke Sinclair. Photo credit: Robert Knights.

Director Susannah Waters and her design team told Delius’ tale clearly. The composer’s libretto, drawn from a short story by Gottfried Keller, reprises Shakespeare’s themes of family feuds and doomed love. Two farmers, Marti and Manz, contest the narrow strip of wild land that separates their fields and which is owned by the Dark Fiddler who, as an illegitimate son, cannot inherit. Though prohibited by their fathers, during the bitter dispute that bankrupts both farms, Sali and Vrenchen meet secretly. Friendship blossoms into love, while their fathers surreptitiously encroach onto the fallow land, inch by inch. The Dark Fiddler reappears and cautions that they should beware the time when the land is no longer a haunt of birds and animals, a warning which presages the tragedy that unfolds.

Anna Driftmier’s set is evocative. At the rear, distressed windmills flap and whirl, beside denuded tree trunks; in this barren world, one can imagine why the two farmers stake their claim for the wild pasture. However, Driftmier’s design - while ingenious - is over-complicated: the persistent choreographed re-arrangement of wooden planks and slats - they form pathways, platforms and are assembled into raised frames to suggest homes and bridges - must have caused the community chorus, effectively reduced to stage-hands, no end of trouble in rehearsal. It’s just as well that the chorus don’t have an awful lot of musical business but they sang warmly and with confidence in the marriage scene, though the communal festivities were a bit stiff.

The-Fair-RK.jpgNew Sussex Opera Chorus (The Fair). Photo credit: Robert Knights.

While the chorus effected the set transitions slickly, their complicated reshuffles could not help but be a distraction during the instrumental episodes. In the fairground setting of Scene 5 the necessary manoeuvring undermined the tense jollity of the scene, though the garish costumes were a welcome splash of colour emphasising the fickle unpredictability of this uncanny world. Even the famous ‘Walk to Paradise Garden’ was not spared: we witnessed a dumb show as Sali forged a stepping-stone conduit, stopping on their arduous journey to remove one boot and bathe his foot in a stream. And, in truth, despite the strong greens, purples, reds of Jai Morjaria’s lighting design, which created an eerie otherness, the plywood boxes and boards never looked like anything other than very real Ikea bookcases.

Tenor Luke Sinclair was buoyant and managed the high tessitura well, conveying Sali’s irrepressible impetuousness, while Kirsty Taylor-Stokes’ richly coloured mezzo and full vibrato suggested the ardour blossoming in the innocent Vrenchen’s heart, and captured her despair at the start of Scene 4. Ian Beadle’s baritone needed more nuance and portentous resonance to capture the Dark Fiddler’s enigmatic air; Beadle was all too amiable, but his song in praise of the ‘Vagabond wind’ was appealingly sung.

Dark-Fiddler-1-RK.jpgIan Beadle. Photo credit: Robert Knights.

Geoffrey Moses (Marti) and Robert Gildon (Manz) established the context and their characters deftly at the start, though Moses’ diction was weak at times and I found Gildon’s bass a little tense and occasionally unfocused. As the Young Sali and Young Vrenchen, Alex Edwards and Nell Parry were sadly over-powered (a case for a mic?); Edwards was almost inaudible, while Parry had to strain to rise above the instrumental texture.

Manz-and-young-Sali.jpgRobert Gildon and Alex Edwards. Photo credit: David James.

The final moments of the opera were absorbing and well-crafted. When the lovers are recognised at the fair, Sali suggests that they should go to the Paradise Garden where they find the Dark Fiddler and his entourage drinking and carousing. Rather than submit to the temptations of his hedonistic life, they choose to drift down river in a gradually submerging boat, resigned to the Tristan-esque double suicide that must follow. I think that the ‘wrist-slashing’ would have been best left to the imagination, but the final tableau was artfully lit in a gleam of ultramarine, and superbly paced by Reynolds.

This was an admirably ambitious production, but given the demands of performing such a musically and dramatically challenging work in five different venues one couldn’t help feel that a more minimalist staging might have more effectively focused attention on the internal drama - the power passions and dreams that are embodied in Delius’ score - which develops in the village lovers’ hearts and minds.

There are three further performances: on Tuesday 28th March at Cadogan Hall, London; and on Friday 31st March at the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks, and on Sunday 2nd April at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne.

Claire Seymour

Delius: A Village Romeo and Juliet

Sali - Luke Sinclair, Vrenchen - Kirsty Taylor-Stokes, The Dark Fiddler - Ian Beadle, Manz - Rob Gildon, Marti - Geoffrey Moses; Young Sali - Alex Edwards; Young Vrenchen - Nell Pary; Wild Girl - Georgia Cudby; Director - Susannah Waters Conductor - Lee Reynolds, Designer - Anna Driftmier, Lighting designer - Jai Morjaria, New Sussex Opera Chorus, Kantanti Ensemble.

E.M. Forster Theatre, Tonbridge School; Sunday 26th 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):