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

Love Songs: Temple Song Series

In contrast to the ‘single-shaming’ advertisement - “To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?” - for which the financial services company, Revolut, were taken to task, this Temple Music recital programme on 14th February put the emphasis firmly on partnerships: intimate, impassioned and impetuous.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten – English National Opera

There is a famous story that when Philip Glass first met Nadia Boulanger she pointed to a single bar of one of his early pieces and said: “There, that was written by a real composer”. Glass recalls that it was the only positive thing she ever said about him

Rachvelishvili excels in ROH Orchestra's Russian programme

Cardboard buds flaming into magic orchids. The frenzied whizz of a Catherine Wheel as it pushes forth its fiery petals. A harvest sky threshed and glittering with golden grain.

Lucrèce Borgia in Toulouse

This famed murderess worked her magic on Toulouse’s Théâtre du Capitole stage, six dead including her beloved long lost son. It was Victor Hugo’s carefully crafted 1833 thriller recrafted by Italian librettist Felice Romano that became Donizetti’s fragile Lucrezia Borgia.

Amanda Majeski makes a stunning debut at Covent Garden in Richard Jones's new production of Kát’a Kabanová

How important is ‘context’, in opera? Or, ‘symbol’? How does one balance the realism of a broad social milieu with the expressionistic intensity of an individual’s psychological torment and fracture?

Returning to heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall’s Musick invited us for a second time to join them in ‘the company of heaven’ at Wigmore Hall, in a recital that was framed by musical devotions to St Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary.

Diana Damrau’s Richard Strauss Residency at the Barbican: The first two concerts

Listening to these two concerts - largely devoted to the music of Richard Strauss, and given by the soprano Diana Damrau, and the superlative Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the second - I was reminded of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s observation that German music would be unthinkable without him.

De la Maison des Morts in Lyon

The obsessive Russian Dostoevsky’s novel cruelly objectified into music by Czech composer Leos Janacek brutalized into action by Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski beatified by Argentine conductor Alejo Pérez.

A First-Ever Recording: Benjamin Godard’s 1890 Opera on Dante and Beatrice

The composer Benjamin Godard (1849–95) is today largely unknown to most music lovers. Specialist collectors, though, have been enjoying his songs (described as “imaginative and delightful” by Robert Moore in American Record Guide), his Concerto Romantique for violin (either in its entirety or just the dancelike Canzonetta, which David Oistrakh recorded winningly decades ago), and some substantial chamber and orchestral works that have received first recordings in recent years.

La Nuova Musica perform Handel's Alcina at St John's Smith Square

There was a full house at St John’s Smith Square for La Nuova Musica’s presentation of Handel’s Alcina.

Ermonela Jaho is an emotively powerful Violetta in ROH's La traviata

Perhaps it was the ‘Blue Monday’ effect, but the first Act of this revival of Richard Eyre’s 1994 production of La Traviata seemed strangely ‘consumptive’, its energy dissipating, its ‘breathing’ rather laboured.

Vivaldi scores intriguing but uneven Dangerous Liaisons in The Hague

“Why should I spend good money on tables when I have men standing idle?” asks a Regency country squire in the British sitcom Blackadder the Third. The Marquise de Merteuil in OPERA2DAY’s Dangerous Liaisons would agree with him. Her servants support her dinner table, groaning with gateaux, on their backs.

Between Mendelssohn and Wagner: Max Bruch’s Die Loreley

Max Bruch Die Loreley recorded live in the Prinzregenstheater, Munich, in 2014, broadcast by BR Klassik and now released in a 3-CD set by CPO. Stefan Blunier conducts the Münchner Rundfunkorchester with Michaela Kaune, Magdalena Hinterdobler, Thomas Mohr and Jan-Hendrick Rootering heading the cast, with the Prager Philharmonischer Chor..

Porgy and Bess at Dutch National Opera – Exhilarating and Moving

Thanks to the phenomenon of international co-productions, Dutch National Opera’s first-ever Porgy and Bess is an energizing, heart-stirring show with a wow-factor cast. Last year in London, co-producer English National Opera hosted it to glowing reviews. Its third parent, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, will present it at a later date. In the meantime, in Amsterdam the singers are the crowing glory in George Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece.

Il trovatore at Seattle Opera

After a series of productions somehow skewed, perverse, and/or pallid, the first Seattle Opera production of the new year comes like a powerful gust of invigorating fresh air: a show squarely, single-mindedly focused on presenting the work of art at hand as vividly and idiomatically as possible.

Opera as Life: Stefan Herheim's The Queen of Spades at Covent Garden

‘I pitied Hermann so much that I suddenly began weeping copiously … [it] turned into a mild fit of hysteria of the most pleasant kind.’

Venus Unwrapped launches at Kings Place, with ‘Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice’

‘Playing music is for a woman a vain and frivolous thing. And I would wish you to be the most serious and chaste woman alive. Beyond this, if you do not play well your playing will give you little pleasure and not a little embarrassment. … Therefore, set aside thoughts of this frivolity and work to be humble and good and wise and obedient. Don’t let yourself be carried away by these desires, indeed resist them with a strong will.’

Gottfried von Einem’s The Visit of the Old Lady Now on CD

Gottfried von Einem was one of the most prominent Austrian composers in the 1950s–70s, actively producing operas, ballets, orchestral, chamber, choral works, and song cycles.

Britten: Hymn to St Cecilia – RIAS Kammerchor

Benjamin Britten Choral Songs from RIAS Kammerchor, from Harmonia mundi, in their first recording with new Chief Conductor Justin Doyle, featuring the Hymn to St. Cecilia, A Hymn to the Virgin, the Choral Dances from Gloriana, the Five Flower Songs op 47 and Ad majorem Dei gloriam op 17.

Si vous vouliez un jour – William Christie: Airs Sérieux et à boire vol 2

"Si vous vouliez un jour..." Volume 2 of the series Airs Sérieux et à boire, with Sir William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, from Harmonia Mundi, following on from the highly acclaimed "Bien que l'amour" Volume 1. Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris in April 2016, this new release is as vivacious and enchanting as the first.

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):