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 Performances

L’equivoco stravagante in Pesaro

L’equivoco stravagante (The Bizarre Misunderstanding), the 18 year-old Gioachino Rossini's first opera buffa, is indeed bizarre. Its heroine Ernestina is obsessed by literature and philosophy and the grandiose language of opera seria.

BBC Prom 44: Rattle conjures a blistering Belshazzar’s Feast

This was a notable occasion for offering three colossal scores whose execution filled the Albert Hall’s stage with over 150 members of the London Symphony Orchestra and 300 singers drawn from the Barcelona-based Orfeó Català and Orfeó Català Youth Choir, along with the London Symphony Chorus.

Prom 45: Mississippi Goddam - A Homage to Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the towering figures of twentieth-century music. But she was much more than this; many of her songs came to be a clarion call for disenfranchised and discriminated against Americans. When black Americans felt they didn’t have a voice, Nina Simone gave them one.

Sincerity, sentimentality and sorrow from Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake at Snape Maltings

‘Abwärts rinnen die Ströme ins Meer.’ Down flow the rivers, down into the sea. These are the ‘sadly-resigned words in the consciousness of his declining years’ that, as reported by The Athenaeum in February 1866 upon the death of Friedrich Rückert, the poet had written ‘some time ago, in the album of a friend of ours, then visiting him at his rural retreat near Neuses’. Such melancholy foreboding - simultaneously sincere and sentimental - infused this recital at Snape Maltings by Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake.

Glimmerglass’ Showboat Sails to Glory

For the annual production of a classic American musical that has become part of Glimmerglass Festival’s mission, the company mounted a wholly winning version of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s immortal Showboat.

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Glowing Verdi at Glimmerglass

From the first haunting, glistening sound of the orchestral strings to the ponderous final strokes in the score that echoed the dying heartbeats of a doomed heroine, Glimmerglass Festival’s superior La Traviata was an indelible achievement.

Médée in Salzburg

Though Luigi Cherubini long outlived the carnage of the French Revolution his 1797 opéra comique [with spoken dialogue] Médée fell well within the “horror opera” genre that responded to the spirit of its time. These days however Médée is but an esoteric and extremely challenging late addition to the international repertory.

Queen: A Royal Jewel at Glimmerglass

Tchaikovsky’s grand opera The Queen of Spades might seem an unlikely fit for the multi-purpose room of the Pavilion on the Glimmerglass campus but that qualm would fail to reckon with the superior creative gifts of the production team at this prestigious festival.

Blue Diversifies Glimmerglass Fare

Glimmerglass Festival has commendably taken on a potent social theme in producing the World Premiere of composer Jeanine Tesori and librettist Tazewell Thompson’s Blue.

Vibrant Versailles Dazzles In Upstate New York

From the shimmering first sounds and alluring opening visual effects of Glimmerglass Festival’s The Ghosts of Versailles, it was apparent that we were in for an evening of aural and theatrical splendors worthy of its namesake palace.

Gilda: “G for glorious”

For months we were threatened with a “feminist take” on Verdi’s boiling 1851 melodrama; the program essay was a classic mashup of contemporary psychobabble perfectly captured in its all-caps headline: DESTRUCTIVE PARENTS, TOXIC MASCULINITY, AND BAD DECISIONS.

Simon Boccanegra in Salzburg

It’s an inescapable reference. Among the myriad "Viva Genova!" tweets the Genovese populace shared celebrating its new doge, the pirate Simon Boccanegra, one stood out — “Make Genoa Great Again!” A hell of a mess ensued for years and years and the drinking water was poisonous as well.

Rigoletto at Macerata Opera Festival

In this era of operatic globalization, I don’t recall ever attending a summer opera festival where no one around me uttered a single word of spoken English all night. Yet I recently had this experience at the Macerata Opera Festival. This festival is not only a pure Italian experience, in the best sense, but one of the undiscovered gems of the European summer season.

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Tannhäuser at Bayreuth

Stage director Tobias Kratzer sorely tempts destruction in his Bayreuth deconstruction of Wagner’s delicate Tannhäuser, though he was soundly thwarted at the third performance by conductor Christian Thielemann pinch hitting for Valery Gergiev.

Opera in the Quarry: Die Zauberflöte at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt, Austria

Oper im Steinbruch (Opera in the Quarry) presents opera in the 2000 quarry at St Margarethen near Eisenstadt in Austria. Opera has been performed there since the late 1990s, but there was no opera last year and this year is the first under the new artistic director Daniel Serafin, himself a former singer but with a degree in business administration and something of a minor Austrian celebrity as he has been on the country's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing twice.

BBC Prom 39: Sea Pictures from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Sea Pictures: both the name of Elgar’s five-song cycle for contralto and orchestra, performed at this BBC Prom by Catriona Morison, winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World Main Prize in 2017, and a fitting title for this whole concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Elim Chan, which juxtaposed a first half of songs of the sea, fair and fraught, with, post-interval, compositions inspired by paintings.

BBC Prom 32: DiDonato spellbinds in Berlioz and the NYO of the USA magnificently scales Strauss

As much as the Proms strives to stand above the events of its time, that doesn’t mean the musicians, conductors or composers who perform there should necessarily do so.

Get Into Opera with this charming, rural L'elisir

Site-specific operas are commonplace these days, but at The Octagon Barn in Norwich, Genevieve Raghu, founder and Artistic Director of Into Opera, contrived to make a site persuasively opera-specific.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Scene from Caliban
01 Apr 2017

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

Listening to Moritz Eggert’s Caliban is the equivalent of watching a flea-ridden dog chasing its own tail for one-and-half hours. It scratches, twitches and yelps. Occasionally, it blinks pleadingly, but you can’t bring yourself to care for such a foolish animal and its less-than-tragic plight.

New opera Caliban banal and wearisome

A review by Jenny Camilleri

Above: Scene from Caliban

 

Caliban was one of three world premieres at the 2017 Opera Forward Festival in Amsterdam. While only a few new operas will be masterpieces, some, such as this one, should not be inflicted on the public. Caliban retells Shakespeare’s The Tempest while focusing on its title character, the deformed witch’s son from whom Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, steals the island of his exile. When Prospero learns that his treacherous brother is passing by on a ship, he uses sorcery to create a sea-storm to strand its passengers. The Tempest’s shipwrecked party is reduced to the servants Stephano and Trinculo, with whom Caliban plans a failed coup against Prospero, and Ferdinand, Prince of Naples, who eventually marries Prospero’s daughter, Miranda.

Librettist Peter te Nuyl applies a post-colonialist reading to the plot, translating Shakespeare into modern speech. “The red plague rid you” becomes “The red plague will rot you”. When Prospero catches Caliban and Miranda being intimate, he ends his abusive attempts to educate and civilize the native islander. From then on it’s abuse without edification. In the end Caliban rebels and overthrows his master. He abandons his primitive syntax (“Caliban angry”) and appropriates Prospero’s speech about life being “such stuff as dreams are made on”, finally learning the language of Shakespeare, just as Prospero wanted. This is about as much Shakespeare as the opera contains, apart from Miranda stealing some of Lady Macbeth’s lines, disclosing her own political ambitions. Updating Shakespeare is all very well, but Te Nuyl’s lines are often banal and at times perplexing. “Sneer ’em, jeer ’em. Thought is free”, the drunkard Stephano sings in his Mockney accent, words that suggest alcohol pickles your prepositions as well as your liver. Colonization dispossesses and enslaves, and gives birth to monsters in its own image – a perfectly valid theory that has to make do with the humorless libretto and enervating music.

Eggert’s palette is promising, tinged darkish by low-pitched instruments such as the bass flute and bass clarinet. An accordion references Eastern European strains and there are Schoenberg-like violin solos. But these wisps of melody rise from a bed of sludgy chords or hover above clumps of notes on a loop. The singers senselessly reiterate phrases in ever-widening note intervals or hiccup compulsively in staccato. The entire score is mired in stagnant repetition. There are interesting passages, such as mariachi echoes by trumpet and trombone to a salsa beat on the bongo drums. Ferdinand sings a romantic aria in English Renaissance style, ironically accompanied by wheezy chords, but mindlessness soon returns. Miranda responds with a vapid pop number called “I don’t know anyone of my sex”, with illustrative crotch grabbing. As well versed as they are in bringing new music to life, the Asko|Schönberg musicians, alertly led by Steven Sloane, could not make the work intriguing.

Lotte de Beer’s low-cost staging cleverly uses all the corners of the stage, and suited both venue and chamber opera format. Characters move dynamically, wheeling in the flight cases and scaffolding that make up the set. They change costumes onstage, picking items from large garment racks. Prospero creates his tempest with rows of fans, dry ice and a strobe light. Another asset of the production was the talented cast. Alexander Oliver was splendidly sinister as Prospero, a spoken role, in Fair Isle sweater and tie (not geek chic, but retired headmaster with good china and a mean streak). De Beer underscores his overbearing nature by magnifying his smirk on a wall using live video.

Soprano Alexandra Flood and tenor Timothy Fallon shared six roles between them, playing Prospero’s minions as well as, respectively, Miranda/Trinculo and Ferdinand/Stephano. Flood has a lovely, full-toned voice, which she handled with facility. Fallon sang spiritedly and, when the music allowed for it, with pleasing legato. Michael Wilmering was a characterful Caliban, projecting rude instinct and innocence in equal measure. The music required him to repeatedly push up his silky baritone into falsetto. To his great credit, Wilmering sang beautifully to the end. Regrettably, these quality voices were amplified. Was it impossible to amplify only the spoken dialogue? Was it because the orchestration included a synthesizer imitating a bad-tempered organ? Or was it because Operafront, the production company, targets new opera audiences, who can’t digest unamplified voices? Whatever the reason, the electronically “enhanced” singing in a small venue such as the Compagnietheater was loud and bothersome. Putting on new operas is one of the admirable aims of the Opera Forward Festival. Alas, this one deserves to sink without a trace.

Jenny Camilleri


Cast and production information:

Caliban: Michael Wilmering; Miranda/Trinculo: Alexandra Flood; Stephano/Ferdinand: Timothy Fallon; Prospero: Alexander Oliver. Director: Lotte de Beer; Set and Costume Design: Clement & Sanôu; Lighting Design: Maarten Warmerdam. Composer: Moritz Eggert; Libretto: Peter te Nuyl; Conductor: Steven Sloane. Asko|Schönberg. Seen at the Compagnietheater, Amsterdam, Thursday, 30th 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):