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

European premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Le Chant des enfants des étoiles, with works by Biber and Beethoven

Excellent programming: worthy of Boulez, if hardly for the literal minded. (‘I think you’ll find [stroking chin] Beethoven didn’t know Unsuk Chin’s music, or Heinrich Biber’s. So … what are they doing together then? And … AND … why don’t you use period instruments? I rest my case!’)

Rising Stars in Concert 2018 at Lyric Opera of Chicago

On a recent weekend evening the performers in the current roster of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago presented a concert of operatic selections showcasing their musical talents. The Lyric Opera Orchestra accompanied the performers and was conducted by Edwin Outwater.

Arizona Opera Presents a Glittering Rheingold

On April 6, 2018, Arizona Opera presented an uncut performance of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. It was the first time in two decades that this company had staged a Ring opera.

Handel's Teseo brings 2018 London Handel Festival to a close

The 2018 London Handel Festival drew to a close with this vibrant and youthful performance (the second of two) at St George’s Church, Hanover Square, of Handel’s Teseo - the composer’s third opera for London after Rinaldo (1711) and Il pastor fido (1712), which was performed at least thirteen times between January and May 1713.

Camille Saint-Saens: Mélodies avec orchestra

Saint-Saëns Mélodies avec orchestra with Yann Beuron and Tassis Christoyannis with the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana conducted by Markus Poschner.

The Moderate Soprano

The Moderate Soprano and the story of Glyndebourne: love, opera and Nazism in David Hare’s moving play

The Spirit of England: the BBCSO mark the centenary of the end of the Great War

Well, it was Friday 13th. I returned home from this moving and inspiring British-themed concert at the Barbican Hall in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis had marked the centenary of the end of World War I, to turn on my lap-top and discover that the British Prime Minister had authorised UK armed forces to participate with French and US forces in attacks on Syrian chemical weapon sites.

Thomas Adès conducts Stravinsky's Perséphone at the Royal Festival Hall

This seemed a timely moment for a performance of Stravinsky’s choral ballet, Perséphone. April, Eliot’s ‘cruellest month’, has brought rather too many of Chaucer’s ‘sweet showers [to] pierce the ‘drought of March to the root’, but as the weather finally begins to warms and nature stirs, what better than the classical myth of the eponymous goddess’s rape by Pluto and subsequent rescue from Hades, begetting the eternal rotation of the seasons, to reassure us that winter is indeed over and the spirit of spring is engendering the earth.

Dido and Aeneas: La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall

This performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas by La Nuova Musica, directed by David Bates, was, characteristically for this ensemble, alert to musical details, vividly etched and imaginatively conceived.

Bernstein's MASS at the Royal Festival Hall

In 1969, Mrs Aristotle Onassis commissioned a major composition to celebrate the opening of a new arts centre in Washington, DC - the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, named after her late husband, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated six years earlier.

Hans Werner Henze : The Raft of the Medusa, Amsterdam

This is a landmark production of Hans Werner Henze's Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of the Medusa) conducted by Ingo Metzmacher in Amsterdam earlier this month, with Dale Duesing (Charon), Bo Skovhus and Lenneke Ruiten, with Cappella Amsterdam, the Nieuw Amsterdams Kinderen Jeugdkoor, and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, in a powerfully perceptive staging by Romeo Castellucci.

Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion, BWV 245

This was the first time, I think, since having moved to London that I had attended a Bach Passion performance on Good Friday here.

Easter Voices, including mass settings by Mozart and Stravinsky

It was a little early, perhaps, to be hearing ‘Easter Voices’ in the middle of Holy Week. However, this was not especially an Easter programme – and, in any case, included two pieces from Gesualdo’s Tenebrae responsories for Good Friday. Given the continued vileness of the weather, a little foreshadowing of something warmer was in any case most welcome. (Yes, I know: I should hang my head in Lenten shame.)

Academy of Ancient Music: St John Passion at the Barbican Hall

‘In order to preserve the good order in the Churches, so arrange the music that it shall not last too long, and shall be of such nature as not to make an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion.’

Fiona Shaw's The Marriage of Figaro returns to the London Coliseum

The white walls of designer Peter McKintosh’s Ikea-maze are still spinning, the ox-skulls are still louring, and the servants are still eavesdropping, as Fiona Shaw’s 2011 production of The Marriage of Figaro returns to English National Opera for its second revival. Or, perhaps one should say that the servants are still sleeping - slumped in corridors, snoozing in chairs, snuggled under work-tables - for at times this did seem a rather soporific Figaro under Martyn Brabbins’ baton.

Lenten Choral Music from the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

Time was I could hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge almost any evening I chose, at least during term time. (If I remember correctly, Mondays were reserved for the mixed voice King’s Voices.)

A New Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s innovative, new production of Charles Gounod’s Faust succeeds on multiple levels of musical and dramatic representation. The title role is sung by Benjamin Bernheim, his companion in adventure Méphistophélès is performed by Christian Van Horn.

Netrebko rules at the ROH in revival of Phyllida Lloyd's Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play of the night: of dark interiors and shadowy forests. ‘Light thickens, and the crow/Makes wing to th’ rooky wood,’ says Macbeth, welcoming the darkness which, whether literal or figurative, is thrillingly and threateningly palpable.

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Samantha Hankey wins Glyndebourne Opera Cup

Four singers were awarded prizes at the inaugural Glyndebourne Opera Cup, which reached its closing stage at Glyndebourne on 24th March. The Glyndebourne Opera Cup focuses on a different single composer or strand of the repertoire each time it is held. In 2018 the featured composer was Mozart and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment accompanied the ten finalists.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Les mamelles de Tirésias</em>, Royal College of Music
01 Jul 2017

A French double-bill at the Royal College of Music

One might expect a satire on sexual stereotypes penned in 1917 to feel a bit dated in 2017. But, in these days of gender fluidity, with science making biological choice a free-for-all, and with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale having just hit US and UK television screens, Poulenc’s gender-bending Les mamelles de Tirésias - based on Apollinaire’s surrealist play and first seen at the Opera Comique in 1947 - proved a timely choice for the first half of RCM’s summer double bill.

Les mamelles de Tirésias, Royal College of Music

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Harriet Eyley (Thérèse)

 

Neil Warmington’s simple designs, illuminated by the mauve glow of Ben Ormerod’s lighting, emphasised the artifice and duality of Poulenc’s quasi-comic strip capers. A proscenium within the Britten Theatre’s own proscenium set the action at one remove; a door-opening at the rear led to nowhere in particular. The snakes of Gauloises smoke wafting above the café table, where two flaneurs supped Bordeaux, suggested a Parisian locale, but the graffiti, Paris ou Zanizibar?, injected a note of doubt and disconnection. Indeed, a disreputable duo, Lacouf and Presto - sung by Thomas Erlank and Timothy Edlin, respectively, with vaudevillian charm - have a fatal argument about their location, their deaths prompting a grand chorale epitaph which here was majestically melodious and morose.

Apollinaire’s zany tale is designed to defy logic. A French housewife, Thérèse, is bored of her duties as a woman and wife, and expresses her defiance by relieving herself of the emblem of her oppression, her breasts, which have turned into balloons and are swiftly punctured. She grows a beard, transforms herself into a man and, empowered by her new masculinity, sets out to conquer the world as ‘Tirésias’. In bewilderment and outrage, her husband, Le Mari, determines to effect his own sexual reversal, dons a floral frock and fathoms out how to spawn his own brood - all 40,000 of them … in a single day. He hits the headlines and the successful careers of his offspring bring him a tidy fortune.

Things turn sour, though, when a Parisian reporter tries to swindle him and a gendarme accuses his children of being the cause of famine among the people of Zanzibar. The intervention of a Fortune Teller adds to the zany mix: she foresees the death of the gendarme, then promptly fulfils her own prophecy by strangling him. It’s Tirésias in disguise, seeking reconciliation with her Husband. The ‘happy’ conclusion prompts a chorus for the people of Zanzibar calling upon the audience to go forth and multiply.

Ensemble Tiresias.jpgLes mamelles de Tirésias, Ensemble.

It must have been good propaganda for the post-war French government hoping to extol the virtues of large families and convince the populace that it was their patriotic obligation to increase the birth-rate. Indeed, the three-part overture - a parody of the Baroque - began ‘outside the frame’, with Kieran Rayner’s orotund Theatre Director stage reminding us of our demographic duties in times of war.

The score is a good choice for a student ensemble for the piece does not require voices of heroic stature but it does need an adaptable cast who can capture the youthful exuberance and deceptive lightness of the drama. It also needs a sterling Thérèse to initiate the absurdities and sustain the (in)credibility of the ensuing preposterousness, and in Harriet Eyley, the RCM were blessed with a fine singing actress who projected imposingly but with a vocal warmth which assuaged some of Thérèse’s feisty unreasonableness. The challenging coloratura was sung with penetrating precision and a sparkle of panache.

Le Mari and Elegant Lady.jpg Julien Van Mellaerts (Le Mari), Eleanor Penfold (Elegant Lady).

As Le Mari, New Zealander Julien Van Mellaerts displayed the characteristic ‘open, engaging tone’ and ‘muscularity and vitality’ that I’d enjoyed at the Kathleen Ferrier Award Final earlier this year. Van Mellarts delighted in the grotesqueries and improbabilities, and the brightness and power of baritone enabled Le Mari to hold his own against his wife’s feminist proselytising. His natural flair for comedy was shared by those in the secondary, largely generic roles, with James Atkinson perfecting the gendarme’s gesticulations and Benedict Hymas capturing the reporter’s rapaciousness.

Michael Rosewell conducted a clean and accurate rendition of Poulenc’s explosive score, which charmed in the lyrical episodes but needed a bit more drive and rhythmic bite to convince in the brassy burlesque.

As director Stephen Unwin twirled his cast through the chaotic sequence of scenes, some of the choreography was a little rough and ready, but the gentle clumsiness had its own charm and this production captured Poulenc’s delightful irreverence - the composer relished the response to the premiere, reporting that a part of the audience brings the house down with enthusiasm but the Puccini fans in the gods are outraged”.

This was a colourful and exuberant performance, but some of the opéra bouffe’s restlessness remained elusive. For, beneath the frivolous inconsequentiality there’s a lingering spirit of melancholy. Apollinaire had recreated a war-torn Montmartre, in which desire and destitution balanced on a knife-edge; writing in the post-WW2 years, Poulenc too evokes the calamitous recent past beneath the comic absurdities. The score’s historic allusions - to Offenbach, Ravel, Chabrier, even to the original incidental music by Germaine Albert-Birot which had accompanied Apollinaire’s play - somehow seem to deepen the nostalgic despondence, despite their frothy musical articulation.

The ‘action’ of Chabrier’s one-act, three-hander, Une éducation manqué, takes place on the wedding night of an ingénue bride and her fresh-faced groom whose education unfortunately has been defective - for his tutor-mentor, Pausanias, has taught him everything from theology to trigonometry but has neglected the finer ‘arts’ of nuptial etiquette.

Chabrier 1.jpg Julieth Lozano (Gontran) and Kieran Rayner (Pausanias).

It’s a slight piece but not without a musical elegance which was matched by Warmington’s simple chateaux-chic style, complete with a central window-seat from which the frustrated groom could gaze at the moon and reflect with mournful grace on the mysterious of marital engagement. There wasn’t much of a frisson between Julieth Lozano’s Gontran de Boismassif and his bride, Hélène de la Cerisaie, sung by Rosanna Cooper, which contributed to the deadening deadlock of the drama, but Cooper’s mezzo bloomed richly and Lozano exhibited vocal vivacity and a lively stage presence. Kieran Rayner took the role of the hapless tutor and his tricky patter number with his mentee was deftly delivered.

When a storm broke out, the artless newlyweds proved more threatened by the thunderous crashes than thoughts of sexual initiation. As they sought comfort in each other’s arms, one couldn’t help but have a twinge of nostalgia for carefree days of adolescent love.

Claire Seymour

Chabrier, Une éducation manqué: Gontran - Julieth Lozano, Héléne - Rosanna Cooper, Pausanias - Kieran Rayner.

Poulenc, Les mamelles de Tirésias: Theatre Director - Kieran Rayner, Thérèse/Tirésias - Harriet Eyley, Husband - Julien Van Mellaerts, Monsieur Lacouf - Thomas Erlank, Monsieur Presto - Timothy Edlin, Gendarme - James Atkinson, Newspaper Vendor - Ashlyn Tymms, Reporter - Benedict Hymas, Son - Stephen Mills, Elegant Lady - Eleanor Penfold, Woman - Laura Hocking, Bearded Gentleman - Conall O’Neill, Chorus (Isabelle Atkinson, Alice Bell, Jacob Bettinelli, Dominic Bevan, Laura Hocking, Barbara Jop, Stephen Mills, Conall O’Neill, Eleanor Penfold, Davidona Pittock).

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):