Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.



08 Jul 2017

Erismena at the Aix Festival

An incredible feat! The Aix Festival opened five operas, all new productions, on five consecutive evenings. The fifth was Francesco Cavalli’s 1655 drama per musica, Erismena! The compulsive intellectualism of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (1643) long since thrown in the canals, Cavalli dissolves Venetian opera into purest, mindless hedonism.

Cavalli's Erismena at the Aix Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Francesca Aspramonte as Erismena [All photos copyright Pascal Victor, courtesy of the Aix Festival]


Erismena in Aix was an incredible feat, captivating its audience for nearly three hours, evoking a thunderous applause. Its dramatis personae seducing us with their airs and ariosos, their elaborate recitatives and a final madrigal sung by its two sets of lovers, four soprano voices interweaving with such sweetness that we too drowned in their eternal raptures of love.

It took a long time to get to that madrigal, but no one minded. Least of all, seemingly, the young artists who sustained a concentration of voice and word and line, and the suspended tension of outcome created by the insatiable thirst Aldimira had for lovers, the terrifying dream that haunted Erimante, the dalliances of servants, the discoveries of “real” identities (and so on and so forth). It was the youth and the charm and the excellent artistry of these artists that made the inanities of Venetian opera into high art and great entertainment.

This version of Cavalli’s masterwork was created by Argentine born, Swiss early music conductor Leonardo Garcia Alarcón with his continuos provided by his Cappella Mediterannea (last spring Mo. Alarcón created a version of Cavalli’s massive Giasone for the Geneva Opera). The continuos in Aix were rich indeed with the maestro seated at an organ with virginals atop, harpsichord, two cellos, a bass and three “pluckers” on a variety of instruments. Two violins and two wind players added a plentitude of additional colors for the concerted pieces.

There were always new combinations to support the complications on the stage — from the roughness of Baroque violins, the violence of the cornetti, the sweetness, then unleashed chirping of the flutes, the warmth of full ensemble, the thundering (intended) of the organ. It was a very busy pit, Mo. Alarcón conducting seated, standing, with one hand (the other always at a keyboard), with his head, with his body. It was concentrated, joyous music making.

Erismena_Aix2.png The platform

On stage there was nothing but a suspendible platform of transparent metal mesh, two elevated doorways, a canopy of suspended light bulbs and five or so cafe chairs from a junk pile somewhere. Think minimalism but do not think it was minimal. Moving these elements every which way as the situations changed throughout the evening was a monumental task. And there was a multitude of lightbulbs, some of which even knew to burst with a bang when there was a revelation down below!

The production requirements and accomplishments were formidable. From the “found” nature of the costuming (but indeed constructed given that no fuchsia suit the size needed to cloth the “skirt role” of the nurse could possibly exist, or the specific choice of fabric and sizes for the skirts worn by the male roles) to the make-up that added flashes of sparkle to the femme fatale Aldimira and the livid facial scar worn by Erimante’s lieutenant Diarte as examples of many.

There was no metaphor. The imagined story of pseudo-Roman history was told as written in this abstract, contemporary setting, French director Jean Bellorini moved his actors on and off the sometimes suspended platform, carefully established a space for each of the arias, changed his actors positions in direct dialogue to punctuate statement, and displaced them in a sudden blackout into a pool of light to utter an inner thought. Mr. Bellorini also masterminded the lighting that was of formidable complexity and huge effect.

Erismena_Aix3.png The bows

This weighty production effort was effectively absorbed, even eclipsed by the individual performances. Italian soprano Francesca Aspramonte sculpted the title role disguised as a warrior in clear tone, making impressive use of the Italian rolled “r” to aggravate her chagrin (she has lost her lover Idraspe to Aldimira), Italian counter-tenor Carlo Vistoli brought sensitivity and strength to Idraspe (who finally, hours later, recognized Erismena). British soprano Susanna Hurrell as Aldimira negotiated her nymphomania with soprano-esque verve, Polish counter-tenor Jakub Jósef Orliński dazzled us with some spectacular breakdance move declaring his love for Aldimira. These four artists delivered the final, mesmerizing, four part madrigal.

Some of the most impressive singing of the evening was achieved by 23 year-old French mezzo Lea Desandre as Aldirmira’s maid Flerida and Italian baritone Andrea Bonsignore as Idraspe’s servant Agrippo. The man who lost it all but gains a daughter and an heir, the Median king Erimante was solidly sung and acted by Russian bass-baritone Alexander Miminoshvili. New Zealand tenor Jonathan Abernathey was the strong voiced, virile lieutenant to King Erimante, these the two male voiced male roles.

Not to neglect dwelling on the crowd pleasing accomplishments of the comic roles — the nurse, Alcesta, well sung and convincingly, even lovingly acted by British tenor Stuart Jackson, and the role of Idraspe’s friend Clereo Moro, sung in very beautiful voice and estimable charisma by American counter-tenor Tai Oney.

The program booklet included a two-page, small print synopsis of the story of the opera. No one but no one could have made heads or tails of it. This excellent production took it all in stride and made an evening of admirable, comprehensible and highly amusing theater.

Michael Milenski

Cast and production information:

Erismena: Francesca Aspromonte; Idraspe: Carlo Vistoli; Aldimira: Susanna Hurrell; Orimeno: Jakub Józef Orliński; Erimante: Alexander Miminoshvili; Flerida: Lea Desandre; Argippo: Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore; Alcesta: Stuart Jackson; Clerio Moro: Tai Oney; Diarte: Jonathan Abernethy. Orchestre Cappella Mediterranea. Conductor: Leonardo García Alarcón; Mise en scène et lumière: Jean Bellorini; Décors: Jean Bellorini et Véronique Chazal; Costumes: Macha Makeïeff; Wigs and Make-up: Cécile Kretschmar. Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, Aix-en-Provence, July 7, 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):