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

The 2019 Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

This year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance offered a veritable operatic smörgåsbord, presenting sizable excerpts from operas ranging from Gluck to Saint-Saëns, from Mozart to Debussy, by way of some Italian masterpieces, courtesy of Rossini and Verdi.

Cilea's L'arlesiana at Opera Holland Park

In a rank order of suicidal depressives, Federico - the Provençal peasant besotted with ‘the woman from Arles’, L’arlesiana, who yearns to break free from his mother’s claustrophobic grasp, who seeks solace from betrayal and disillusionment in the arms of a patient childhood sweetheart, but who is ultimately broken by deluded dreams and unrequited passion - would surely give many a Thomas Hardy protagonist a run for their money.

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>La clemenza di Tito</em>, Glyndebourne Festival Opera
28 Jul 2017

A new La clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Big birds are looming large at Glyndebourne this year. After Juno’s Peacock, which scooped up the suicidal Hipermestra, Chris Guth’s La clemenza di Tito offers us a huge soaring magpie, symbolic of Tito’s release from the chains of responsibility in Imperial Rome.

La clemenza di Tito, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Tito (Richard Croft) and the Glyndebourne Chorus

Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus

 

Guth’s and designer Christian Schmidt’s concept is more sentimental than Imperial, but not without relevance and effect. During the overture - brisk and airy under Robert Ticciati’s guidance - we enter a world of whimsy, as a digital projection unfolds the adventures of two young boys playing amid the woods and beside the lake in a rural idyll with more than a hint of resemblance to Glyndebourne’s own grounds. The faux chivalry of sword-fights with sticks takes a more sinister turn when the boys stalk wildlife, one with catapult a-ready. A shot is slung, and a bloodied magpie is the result - a betrayal of trust and of nature.

Unfortunately, first-night flickers and blackouts made the visuals even more distracting from the musical prelude than might have been the case; and, it’s not immediately clear that these two lads are the adolescent Tito and Sesto, whose friendship will be so tensely tested in the ensuing operatic narrative. This is not just a matter of realism - Richard Croft’s Tito looking at least one generation ahead of Anna Stéphany’s Sesto - but also because there is no clear link between the on-screen Elysian fields and the post-eruption ashes of the land of Vesuvian shadows which form half of the set. It is only in Act 2, when the conflicted Tito must decide the traitorous Sesto’s fate, that the parallels crystallise: the two young boys escape from the digital celluloid and clamber through the rough reed beds, ghostly representatives of disloyalty and division, who haunt their subsequent selves with disturbing memories.

clemenza_243.jpgPhoto credit: Monika Rittershaus.

There is nothing Imperial about Schmidt’s split set: ravaged undergrowth - presumably the foothills of the recently erupted Vesuvius, as lava rocks and odds bits of furniture lay strewn - is juxtaposed with a grim, grey modern corporate milieu which lies hidden above until the black projection screen is lifted. There’s a lot of up and down, and upstairs/downstairs, but Olaf Winter’s gloomy lighting is atmospheric and apposite, emphasising the dullness and inertia of Tito’s political relationships and his own disaffection with a power dependent on fear.

Guth’s Personenregie is not always credible. Vitellia cries ‘Come here and embrace me,’ as she wanders off in the opposite direction from the infatuated Sesto; ‘Come near me!’ Tito demands, as he and Sesto walk backwards towards each other (tentatively, across an obstacle-strewn set - which ironically almost wrong-footed some the production team during the curtain calls), bump into each other and then lurch apart. When Sesto refuses to divulge the reasons for his treason, Tito threatens his beloved friend with a sickle, then uses it to scythe clumps of reeds which he clutches to his chest. There is much synchronised choral semaphoring from the ‘men in grey suits’ (both the gents and ladies of the Glyndebourne Chorus being thus attired).

Coote, Stephany and Bailey.jpg Vitellia (Alice Coote), Sesto (Anna Stéphany) and Publio (Clive Bayley). Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus.

Fortunately, there is some excellent singing to distract us from the irritating visuals. The withdrawal of the pregnant Kate Lindsay led Anglo-French mezzo-soprano Anna Stéphany - originally intended for the role of Annio - to step into Sesto’s shoes and her performance was simply stunning. I missed Stéphany’s much-lauded Marschallin at the ROH (where I saw a performance by the first cast), but I did admire her capricious Serse in the Early Opera Company’s performance of Handel’s opera at St John’s Smith Square last November. And, once again it was a true delight to enjoy her exquisitely styled phrasing and expressive coloratura. The challenges of ‘Parto, parto, ma tu, ben mio’ were met with ease, and the coloratura was sweet-toned, as if overflowing with Sesto’s love for both Vitellia and Tito - a love which was reflected in the beautifully played basset clarinet obbligato. ‘Deh, per questo istante solo’, in which Sesto declares himself deserving of death, vowing to take all the guilt upon himself, was equally moving. Impressively, Stéphany made the role dramatically credible too, plausibly treading the fine line between idealistic self-sacrifice and all-consuming passion - a task made more difficult in a production where it was not evident why anyone would fall so unreservedly under the erotic spell of Vitellia.

The vengeful daughter of a deposed emperor who abuses Sesto’s love to gain power and become Empress, Alice Coote’s Vitellia is clear ‘a baddie’ - a gun-toting chain-smoker, she even has a purple coat. Less femme fatale than a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, this vituperative Vitellia seems to slide into hysteria, even psychosis, when she holds a pistol to Sesto’s head to convince him to murder Tito. No one could accuse Coote of lack of commitment and this was a heroic effort, but she was vocally taxed by a role which frequently lies too high for her mezzo. In ‘Deh, se piacer mi vuoi’ she pushed her voice hard, as Vitellia dreams of being Empress, but the result was sometimes squally. In the revelatory ‘Non più di fiore’, however, we finally enjoyed Coote’s lovely full, burnished lower register, as Vitellia is enlightened, recognising the error of her ways. We, too, were ‘enlightened’, as the aria was sung with the house lights on - another technical hitch, or designed to suggest spiritual illumination in contrast to the prevailing moral darkness?

Tito and Serse.jpg Tito (Richard Croft) and Sesto (Anna Stéphany). Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus.

American tenor Richard Croft, following the withdrawal of Steve Davislim, was a benevolent patriarch, singing with soft-grained lyricism and fluency, although he wasn’t entirely comfortable at the top and had a tendency to be ponderous in the recitatives. This Tito was deeply tormented by the dilemmas he faced, as his innate compassion clashed with the magisterial demands of office, but he lacked a certain aristocracy - an imperial nobility which is essential if the qualms caused by his high-mindedness are to ring true. Tito is magnanimous, but he is not meek. Moreover, by placing Tito’s quasi-infatuation with Sesto centre-stage, the production neglected the political context for the drama: it was not clear why Tito must banish Berenice - we see her depart bearing two suitcases - whom he loves but whom his nation will not accept as Empress, nor why having initially chosen Servilia as her replacement, she too is rejected in favour of Vitellia.

Servilia.jpg Servilia (Joélle Harvey). Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus.

Joélle Harvey, who made a strong impression here in La finta giardiniera three year ago, sang with stylishness and delicacy as Servilia, giving depth to the slight role and pleading for Sesto’s life with heart-moving earnestness in her final aria. Annio, the role originally intended for Stéphany, was beautifully sung by Canadian mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier who captured all of Annio’s loyalty and honesty.

The playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was tender and spacious, though the ceremonial numbers might have had a little more regality. Ticciati sensitively gave his singers the time they needed, but there was occasional loss of momentum in the recitatives with too many longueurs and silences. Ashok Gupta (fortepiano) and Luise Buchberger (cello), raised in the pit, were not once unsettled by the hiatuses, however.

Some have seen La clemenza di Tito as a homage to Leopold II, whose coronation as King of Bohemia the opera was commissioned to celebrate; others, as a warning to pre-Revolutionary European rulers of the dangers of the abuse of power. Certainly, contemporary political tensions remind us of the need for leaders who will ensure the safety and security of nations, as emphasised perhaps in the closing moments of this production when Clive Bayley’s dark-voiced Publio - the unsettling, manipulative commander of the Praetorian Guard - came out of the shadows to assume the reins of power.

Another self-conscious directorial gesture, perhaps; but the superb cast ensured that the sincerity which is at the heart of this opera was preserved.

Claire Seymour

Mozart: La clemenza di Tito

Vitellia - Alice Coote, Sesto - Anna Stéphany, Annio - Michèle Losier, Publio - Clive Bayley, Tito - Richard Croft, Servilia - Joélle Harvey, Children - Rupert Wade and Logan Bradley; director - Claus Guth, conductor - Robin Ticciati, designer - Christian Schmidt, lighting designer - Olaf Winter, video designer - Arian Andiel, dramaturg - Ronny Dietrich, movement director - Ramses Sigl, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Glyndebourne Chorus (chorus master, Jeremy Bines).

Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Wednesday 26th July 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):