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

Jiří Bělohlávek : new editions of Janáček Glagolitic Mass, Sinfonietta

From Decca, Janáček classics with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Given that Bělohlávek died in May 2017, all these recordings are relatively recent, not re-issues, and include performances of two new critical editions of the Glagolitic Mass and the Sinfonietta.

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Le nozze di Figaro</em>, Garsington Opera
03 Jun 2017

"Recreated" Figaro at Garsington delights

After the preceding evening’s presentation of Annilese Miskimmon’s sparkling production of Handel’s Semele - an account of marital infidelity in immortal realms - the second opera of Garsington Opera’s 2017 season brought us down to earth for more mundane disloyalties and deceptions amongst the moneyed aristocracy of the eighteenth-century, as presented by John Cox in his 2005 production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Le nozze di Figaro, Garsington Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Joshua Bloom (Figaro), Jennifer France (Susanna)

Photo credit: Mark Douet

 

This production was the last production performed at Garsington Manor, in 2010, before the company’s move to Wormsley; and, in conversation recently, Garsington’s Artistic Director, Dougie Boyd - who conducted on that occasion and under whose baton the production returns to the Garsington stage - told me that the wider stage and improved technical facilities had led to changes to design and staging which encouraged Garsington to describe this as a ‘recreation’ rather than a revival. I had not seen Cox’s vision in its previous manifestation, but I found the nestled layers of Robert Perdziola’s design to be a brilliant conceit.

The shabby garret room bestowed by Count Almaviva on the soon-to-be wed Figaro and Susanna, settles into the angled corner of the Countess’s soft-silk boudoir, which itself sits snug in the walls of the Count’s portrait-lined study. Surrounding all is the garden: the pines, topiary hedges, shrubbery and terraces. Beyond that, of course, are the gardens of Wormsley, and Cox made good use of the location: not only did the one-day time scale of Figaro perfectly mirror the real-time progression to dusk and darkness, but when Cherubino leapt from the Countess’s window to evade the Count’s wrath, we witnessed his somersault over the balcony and subsequent helter-skelter dash through the Garsington grounds, towards the lake, with disgruntled, inebriate gardener, Antonio, in hot pursuit.

And, so, the trajectory of Shakespeare’s Othello - which moves from the streets of Venice to distant Cyprus, to ever more enclosed settings culminating in the private chamber where Desdemona meets her death at the hands of her jealous, duped husband - is reversed in Figaro , which progresses from inner rooms, first private then of state, to external nooks and crannies of intrigue and deception. And, this is emphasised by Cox’s staging and Perdziola’s set, in which, paradoxically, the rings of the onion are peeled away, thus taking us ever further from the domestic interior.

The individual spaces were each well utilised, too. Though Figaro’s attic bedchamber was somewhat cramped, crowded with upturned boxes and bed-frames, a step ladder at the rear enabled supernumeraries and principals alike to climb up, creating an impression of space and an opportunity to project. The vista widened for the Countess’s boudoir, with the towering window and terrace beyond further extending the stage-scope stage-left, and the swivelling periaktoi stage-right exposing the Countess’s closet for our delectation when first Cherubino and then Susanna were therein concealed. Into the Count’s study trouped Marcellina, Bartolo and various notaries and maid-servants during Act 3, bringing the outside world to the Count’s private domain. And, in Act 4, the expanse of the Garsington stage created a credible garden milieu, with all its nooks, crannies and caves which facilitate the domestic intrigue.

The production also showcased Garsington’s values and ethos, with several significant roles filled by returnees and those who had planted the roots of their careers in Garsington’s figurative musical gardens. This was baritone Joshua Bloom’s fourth season at Garsington; he made his debut here in La Cenerentola in 2009, and sang Leporello in the 2012 Don Giovanni. Here, he was a wonderfully controlled and methodically crafted Figaro, his huge vocal capacity never once overwhelming his musical intellect. When challenging the Count’s proprietorial assumptions, Bloom’s voice was indignantly resonant; but when, in Act 4, Figaro believed himself duped and betrayed, Figaro was endowed with a credible vulnerability, which tempered Bloom’s sturdy baritone. Bloom has presence, panache and vocal power: a winning triplet.

Soprano Jennifer France is returning to Garsington following her role debut as Marzelline in Fidelio in 2014 (when Bloom was Don Fernandez) for which she was awarded the prestigious Leonard Ingrams Foundation Award for outstanding young artists. ‘Outstanding’ is certainly an adjective I would use to describe her Susanna on this occasion. This Susanna is a feisty lass - verbally and physically - not beholden or subordinate to husband, mistress or master; but, her fierce will and self-belief never once temper the sweetness of her vocal utterances. France’s soprano is lithe, clean and her stamina unflagging; she was as bright and brisk in the final Act as in the first. She is also a consummate actress, adaptable, relaxed and vivacious. A star in the making.

Jennifer France (Susanna) credit Mark Douet.jpg Jennifer France (Susanna). Photo credit: Mark Douet.

Some of the cast were new to Garsington. And, Duncan Rock’s Count was an interesting proposition. Cox and Rock dispense with vulgar aristocratic assumption, and with buffoonery, and present a Count who is thoughtful and, at times, acute and subtle, but whose duping is thus doubly effective and prompts sympathy alongside gleeful comeuppance. There was the usual incredulity and confusion, but also a genuine wish to understand how it has come about his servants are running rings around him, and a, perhaps, justified disgruntlement at his dependents’ independent willfulness. Rock balanced aristocratic presumption with human susceptibility.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by Canadian soprano Kirsten MacKinnon’s Countess. She certainly looked the part - beautiful, stately - and MacKinnon has a bristling richness at the top. But, ‘Porgi amor’ was somewhat hesitant, and she struggled to control and shape her vibrato; while first Act nerves might have been understandable, MacKinnon also seemed to rush through the phrases of ‘Dove sono’ and wandered off-pitch. There were a few rough edges too; there are places where glitzy dazzle is no compensation for lack of dulcet sweetness. That said, she made a positive contribution to the ensembles and her Act 3 duets with Susanna were a delectable intertwining.

Duncan Rock (Count), Stephen Richardson (Bartolo), Janis Kelly (Marcellina),Timothy Robinson (Basilio), Jennifer France (Susanna), Joshua Bloom (Figaro) credit Mark Douet.jpg Duncan Rock (Count), Stephen Richardson (Bartolo), Janis Kelly (Marcellina), Timothy Robinson (Basilio), Jennifer France (Susanna), Joshua Bloom (Figaro). Photo credit: Mark Douet.

The last time I saw Janis Kelly, at Glyndebourne in 2016 as Berta in Rossini’s Barbiere, she threatened to steal the show. And, the same was true here: her Marcellina was a cross between 'Hyacinth Bucket' and Queen Elizabeth II, but her voice is still fresh and youthful. The Act 3 revelations of Figaro’s origins were expertly done - Kelly switched from financial grabbing matriarch to matronly concern in the twinkling of an eye; and, Kelly’s theatrical experience no doubt was of enormous help to the younger members of the cast.

Kirsten MacKinnon (Countess), Jennifer France (Susanna), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (Cherubino) credit Mark Douet.jpg Kirsten MacKinnon (Countess), Jennifer France (Susanna), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (Cherubino). Photo credit: Mark Douet.

My first thought was that Marta Fontanals-Simmons was too tall for the adolescent Cherubino, but she proved a master (mistress) of fresh-voiced enthusiasm and cross-dressing faux-awkwardness. There were strong performances too from Timothy Robinson as Basilio - ‘What I said about the page was just a suspicion’ was nasally declaimed with wicked delight - and Stephen Richardson’s Dr Bartolo. Richardson ran away from the orchestra in the patter of ‘La vendetta’ but he was a surprisingly sympathetic character, his yearning for love and reconciliation outweighing that for revenge. Alison Rose’s Barbarina was a strongly delineated musical character portrait and Andrew Tipple’s inebriated gardener, Antonio, was gruff of sentiment but precise and vigorous of tone.

There were a few rough edges at this first-night performance, and though Dougie Boyd conducted with vivacious alertness, drawing a full range of emotions from his band, he couldn’t quite keep the Chorus tightly in rein, and the Act 3 Act ending was a little messy. But, the accelerating progression through the Act 2 finale was spot on, and I’m sure any minor teething problems will iron themselves out.

This is a delightful Figaro revival/recreation - what you will - that will undoubtedly get even better as the run progresses.

Claire Seymour

Le nozze di Figaro is performed on 4, 8, 10, 17 June and 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 16 July.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro

Figaro - Joshua Bloom, Susanna - Jennifer France, Count - Duncan Rock, Countess - Kirsten MacKinnon, Cherubino - Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Bartolo - Stephen Richardson, Marcellina - Janis Kelly, Basilio - Timothy Robinson, Curzio - Alun Rhys-Jenkins, Antonio - Andrew Tipple, Barbarina - Alison Rose; Director - John Cox, Conductor - Douglas Boyd, Associate Director - Bruno Ravella, Designer - Robert Perdziola, Lighting Designer - Mark Jonathan, Choreographer - Kate Flatt.

Garsington Opera, 2 June 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):