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

Irish soprano Paula Murrihy on Salzburg, Sellars and Singing

For Peter Sellars, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a ‘visionary’ work, a utopian opera centred on a classic struggle between a father and a son written by an angry 25-year-old composer who wanted to show the musical establishment what a new generation could do.

A riveting Rake’s Progress from Snape Maltings at the Aldeburgh Festival

Based on Hogarth’s 18th-century morality tale in eight paintings and with a pithy libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Stravinsky’s operatic farewell to Neo-classicism charts Tom Rakewell’s ironic ‘progress’ from blissful ignorance to Bedlam.

The Gardeners: a new opera by Robert Hugill

‘When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot,/ Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,/ And flowers will shine in this now barren plot/ And fame upon it through the years descend:/ But many a heart upon each simple cross/ Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.’

Richard Jones's Boris Godunov returns to Covent Garden

There are never any real surprises with a Richard Jones production and Covent Garden’s Boris Godunov, first seen in 2016, is typical of Jones’s approach: it’s boxy, it’s ascetic, it’s over-bright, with minimalism turned a touch psychedelic in the visuals.

An enchanting Hansel and Gretel at Regent's Park Theatre

If you go out in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. And, it will be no picnic! For, deep in the broomstick forest that director Timothy Sheader and designer Peter McKintosh have planted on the revolving stage at Regent’s Park Theatre is a veritable Witches’ Training School.

First staged production of Offenbach's Fantasio at Garsington

Offenbach's Fantasio is one of the works where, replacing the mad-cap satire of his earlier operettas with a more romantic melancholy, he paved the way for Les contes d'Hoffmann. Unpopular during his lifetime, Fantasio disappeared and only work by the musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck brought the score together again.

Rusalka in San Francisco

It must be a dream. Though really it is a nightmare. The water sprite Rusalka tortures herself if she is telling the story, or tortures the man who has imagined her if he is telling the story. Either way the bizarrely construed confusion of Czech fairy tales has no easily apparent meaning or message.

Orlando in San Francisco

George Frederic Handel was both victim and survivor of the San Francisco Opera’s Orlando seen last night on the War Memorial stage.

Anthony Negus conducts Das Rheingold at Longborough

There are those in England who decorate their front lawns with ever-smiling garden gnomes, but in rural Gloucestershire the Graham family has gone one better; their converted barn is inhabited, not by diminutive porcelain figures, but fantasy creatures of Norse mythology - dwarves, giants and gods.

Carmen in San Francisco

A razzle-dazzle, bloodless Carmen at the War Memorial, further revival of Francesca Zambello’s 2006 Covent Garden production already franchised to Oslo, Sidney and Washington, D.C.

Weimar Berlin - Bittersweet Metropolis: Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra

Strictly speaking, The Weimar Republic began on 11th August 1919 when the Weimar Constitution was announced and ended with the Enabling Act of 23rd March 1933 when all power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag was disbanded.

A superb Un ballo in maschera at Investec Opera Holland Park

Investec Opera Holland Park’s brilliantly cast new production of Un ballo in maschera reunites several of the creative team from last year’s terrific La traviata, with director Rodula Gaitanou, conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and lighting designer Simon Corder being joined by the designer, takis.

A Classy Figaro at The Grange Festival

Where better than The Grange’s magnificent grounds to present Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Hampshire’s neo-classical mansion, with its aristocratic connections and home to The Grange Festival, is the perfect setting to explore 18th century class structures as outlined in Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto.

A satisfying Don Carlo opens Grange Park Opera 2019

Grange Park Opera opened its 2019 season with a revival of Jo Davies fine production of Verdi's Don Carlo, one of the last (and finest) productions in the company's old home in Hampshire.

Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 2019

The first woman composer to receive the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize could not have been a worthier candidate.

Josquin des Prez and His Legacy: Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall

The renown and repute of Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) both during his lifetime and in the years following his death was so extensive and profound that many works by his contemporaries, working in Northern France and the Low Countries, were mis-attributed to him. One such was the six-part Requiem by Jean Richafort (c.1480-c.1550) which formed the heart of this poised concert by the vocal ensemble Cinquecento at Wigmore Hall, in which they gave pride of place to Josquin’s peers and successors and, in the final item, an esteemed forbear.

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio United – F X Roth and Les Siècles, Paris

Symphonie fantastique and Lélio together, as they should be, with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles livestreamed from the Philharmonie de Paris (link below). Though Symphonie fantastique is heard everywhere, all the time, it makes a difference when paired with Lélio because this restores Berlioz’s original context.

Ivo van Hove's The Diary of One Who Disappeared at the Linbury Theatre

In 1917 Leoš Janáček travelled to Luhačovice, a spa town in the Zlín Region of Moravia, and it was here that he met for the first time Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman, almost 40 years his junior, who was to be his muse for the remaining years of his life.

Manon Lescaut opens Investec Opera Holland Park's 2019 season

At this end of this performance of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at Investec Opera Holland Park, the first question I wanted to ask director Karolina Sofulak was, why the 1960s?

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Cosmic traveling through his Klavierstücke, Kontakte and Stimmung

Stockhausen. Cosmic Prophet. Two sequential concerts. Music written for piano, percussion, sound diffusion and the voice. We are in the mysterious labyrinth of one of the defining composers of the last century. That at least ninety-minutes of one of these concerts proved to be an event of such magnitude is as much down to the astonishing music Stockhausen composed as it is to the peerless brilliance of the pianist who took us on the journey through the Klavierstücke. Put another way, in more than thirty years of hearing some of the greatest artists for this instrument - Pollini, Sokolov, Zimerman, Richter - this was a feat that has almost no parallels.

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):