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

Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ

L’Enfance du Christ is not an Advent work, but since most of this country’s musical institutions shut down over Christmas, Advent is probably the only chance we shall have to hear it - and even then, only on occasion. But then Messiah is a Lenten work, and yet …

Fantasia on Christmas Carols: Sonoro at Kings Place

The initial appeal of this festive programme by the chamber choir, Sonoro, was the array of unfamiliar names nestled alongside titles of familiar favourites from the carol repertoire.

Dickens in Deptford: Thea Musgrave's A Christmas Carol

Both Venus and the hearth-fire were blazing at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance during this staging of Thea Musgrave’s 1979 opera, A Christmas Carol, an adaptation by the composer of Charles Dickens’ novel of greed, love and redemption.

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

In her beginning is her end: Welsh National Opera's La traviata in Southampton

David McVicar’s La traviata for Welsh National Opera - first seen at Scottish Opera in 2008 and adopted by WNO in 2009 - wears its heavy-black mourning garb stylishly.

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):