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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue" . Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Rock and Daniel Harding

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).

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):