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

Hans Werner Henze : Kammermusik 1958

"....In lieblicher Bläue". Landmark new recordings of Hans Werner Henze Neue Volkslieder und Hirtengesänge and Kammermusik 1958 from the Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, with Andrew Staples, Markus Weidmann, Jürgen Ruck and Daniel Harding.

Written on Skin: the Melos Sinfonia take George Benjamin's opera to St Petersburg

As I approach St Cyprian’s Church in Marylebone, musical sounds which are at once strange and sensuous surf the air. Inside I find seventy or so instrumentalists and singers nestled somewhat crowdedly between the pillars of the nave, rehearsing George Benjamin’s much praised 2012 opera, Written on Skin.

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Bampton Classical Opera’s third Young Singers’ Competition takes place this autumn, culminating in a public final at Holywell Music Room, Oxford on November 19. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Peter Kellner announced as winner of 2018 Wigmore Hall/Independent Opera Voice Fellowship

Independent Opera (IO) was very present at the Wigmore Hall last week. On Thursday 5 October, IO announced 26 year old Slovakian bass Peter Kellner as the winner of the 2018 Wigmore Hall/IO Voice Fellowship, a two-year award of £10,000 plus professional mentoring from IO and the Wigmore Hall. A graduate of the Konzervatórium Košice Timonova and the Mozarteum University Salzburg, Peter is currently a member of Oper Graz in Austria where later this season he will sing the title role of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and Colline in Puccini’s La bohème.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Elder conducts Lohengrin

There have been dozens of capable, and more than capable, recordings of Lohengrin. Among the most-often praised are the Sawallisch/Bayreuth (1962), Kempe (1963), Solti (1985), and Abbado (1991). Recording a major Wagner opera involves heavy costs that a record company may be unable to recoup.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

‘Never was such advertisement for a film!’: Thomas Kemp and the OAE present a film of Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was premiered at the Dresden Semperoper on 26th January 1911. Almost fifteen years to the day, on 10th January 1926, the theatre hosted another Rosenkavalier ‘premiere’, with the screening of a silent film version of the opera, directed by Robert Wiene - best known for his expressionistic masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. The two-act scenario had been devised by Hugo von Hoffmansthal and the screening was accompanied by a symphony orchestra which Strauss himself conducted.

Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

No sooner had I drafted my review of Simon Mayr’s Medea in Corinto,

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

A Verlaine Songbook

Back in the LP days, if a singer wanted to show some sophistication, s/he sometimes put out an album of songs by famous composers set to the poems of one poet: for example, Phyllis Curtin’s much-admired 1964 disc of Debussy and Fauré songs to poems by Verlaine, with pianist Ryan Edwards (available now as a CD from VAI).

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Don Pasquale</em>, Glyndebourne
15 Jul 2017

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Norina (Lisette Oropesa) and Don Pasquale (Renato Girolami)

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

The opera is fairly light-weight dramatically. Giovanni Ruffini’s libretto is a variation on countless commedia dell’arte and buffe scenarios: a rich old man denies his lovelorn nephew his low-born bride and, falling prey to the scheming machinations of a clever duo of pranksters, exposes his own ridiculous pretensions and unworldliness about the wily ways of womankind. Humiliated and humbled, the aged dupe acknowledges his own foolishness and forgives all: old and young, rich and poor, man and woman are united in harmonious happiness.

Recognising that the leading characters and the make-believe marriage plot can easily slump into caricature, Clément tries to render the protagonists as three-dimensional individuals, but in doing so she sharpens the edge of the comedy to such an extent that, for the first two Acts at least, there’s scarcely a laugh to be had. Don Pasquale - essentially decent despite his all too human flaws - is used and abused by the sinister Dr Malatesta and the shrewish Norina: not so much taught a lesson as tossed pitilessly into a pit of abjection.

I’m not convinced that Don Pasquale deserves such cruelty. We first meet him, in nightcap and grubby shirt, slumped on a chaise longue beneath a memento mori painting, waiting for Doctor to cure his aches and pains. Yes, he is - as Norina bluntly states - old, fat, lecherous and parsimonious, but he’s not really doing anything ‘wrong’, at least by the mores of his day, in seeking to protect his family line and wealth through a profitable marriage for his nephew.

-®BC20170708_DonPasquele_0056.jpg Don Pasquale (Renato Girolami) and Dr Malatesta (Andrey Zhilikhovsky) Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Moreover, Clemént’s intimations of a relationship between Malatesta and Norina add an uncomfortable tinge. Meeting the young widow in her bedroom to divulge his scheme, the doctor unties Norina’s corset, fondles her neck, and joins her, fully clothed, in her bath of bubbles. Despite the faux foam there’s not much frothiness about the scene.

-®BC20170708_DonPasquele_0172.jpg Dr Malatesta (Andrey Zhilikhovsky) and Norina (Lisette Oropesa) Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

In any case, Malatesta may be the ingenious intriguer, but this Norina is indisputably in charge of her own destiny: indeed, we meet her seated at her desk, quill in hand, penning romantic stories, run-throughs for her own amorous fortunes. She relishes her power over the hapless Pasquale and delights in the effortlessness of his undoing; only Malatesta’s intervention stops Norina smashing the flower vase over her new husband’s head, whipped as she is into a crazed excitement by her newfound freedom and dominion. Liberated by her widowhood, flirtatious and flighty, this Norina struggles to sustain her play-acting as the demure, pure ‘nun’ who is offered to Pasquale as a bride.

It’s a weakness of Clément’s conception of the character that there is very little difference between the ‘real’ Norina and the profligate ‘Sofronia’ who unleashes her spite and snappishness on the ill-fated Pasquale. Slapped by his spendthrift bride, Pasquale is utterly humiliated but this Norina shows not the slightest twinge of regret in the face of his vulnerability. However, if Norina does not display a little essential warmth, whatever her vivacity and feistiness there’s a danger that we will lose sympathy with this heartless viper.

Juxtaposed with this harsh realism, though, Clément repeatedly foregrounds theatrical artifice. The set is a circular revolve rimmed with a swishing red curtain which withdraws to reveal Don Pasquale’s slightly down-at-heel house (presumably he’s too mean to pay for redecoration). As the overture plays - lilting lightly in conductor Giacomo Sagripanti’s hands - we spin through the old miser’s rooms and espy Pasquale, his nephew Ernesto and the latter’s beloved Norina asleep in their bedchambers, and occasionally snatch a glimpse of Glyndebourne’s stage-crew speedily redistributing beds, baths and boudoir paraphernalia. It’s a musical ‘Once upon a time’: we’re about to be told a story and there’s no doubting its author: the menacing Malatesta who creeps through bedrooms, sidling through doors, slithering through picture frames, like a Knecht Ruprecht of children’s gothic nightmares. With the concluding accelerando, the revolves spins ever faster and we tumble off the merry-go-round into the first scene.

-®BC20170708_DonPasquele_0398.jpg Don Pasquale (Renato Girolami) and The Glyndebourne Chorus Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Clément uses the Chorus - in superb voice here - to sustain the stage-within-a-stage. Just when we’ve forgotten that there is a Chorus, at the end of Act 2 the principal quartet step off the revolve - as Norina, having abandoned her pretence, issues demands and summons Pasquale’s servants to carry them out - and it swivels, bringing into view an ‘audience’ of eighteenth-century ‘idle rich’, head to toe in white, watching Pasquale’s dressing-down with cool amusement. The busy overture to Act 3 brings the aristocrats back as they bustle and elbow their way through the drawn-back curtain aperture - all waggling wigs and fluttering fans - to take their places in Don Pasquale’s room, where the luckless dupe is mourning his lot, amid the mounting piles of bills, invoices, jewels and finery. Forming a formal tableau, the Chorus fling out the cries - ‘The diamonds, the brilliants — here, quick, quick!’ - which belong to the maids and milliners, hairdressers and horsemen who populate the libretto: it’s all rather disorientating.

-®BC20170708_DonPasquele_0215.jpg Don Pasquale (Renato Girolami) Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

But, after two somewhat cold-blooded acts, the final act comes to life, not least due to some fine duets which soften the steeliness of the concept. In fact, there’s much fine singing and acting to enjoy throughout. Renato Girolami’s Pasquale blunders with charm: there’s plenty of ego-massaging and preening but as he clutches a rocking-horse and dreams of a brood of children to fill his empty rooms, it’s hard not to feel that a man who is this naïve at seventy-years-old must truly be in need of a woman’s love. Occasionally Girolami’s bass lacked focus, but he exhibited a range of colour, able to convey the languid self-absorption of the bed-bound Pasquale and, in a flash, to enrich his voice with the old lecher’s fired-up ambition. Moreover, he was good at distinguishing between the asides and self-mutterings and the text exchanged with the other characters.

Girolami made the text work, too, and the rapid-fire articulation in Pasquale’s patter duet with Andrey Zhilikhovsky’s Malatesta was one of the highlights of the evening - the more so for its slick reprise. Zhilikhovsky’s baritone was unforced and focused, even of strength, and he used a resonant legato to shape the bel canto lines effectively. He was a convincingly cunning schemer: no doubt he would make an astute Don Alfonso.

Andrew Stenson’s Ernesto - prone on his bed, reading poetry, surrounded by teddy bears - was less tempestuous poet than petulant toddler, taking his frustration out on his guitar. Stenson has a pleasing tone but lacked the necessary agility; strong through the range, at the top his tenor felt a little tight and the fortes needed more flexibility. He sang his serenade sweetly enough but was rather overpowered in his Act 3 love duet with Lisette Oropesa’s Norina.

Ernesto.jpg Ernesto (Andrew Stenson) Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Oropesa doesn’t have a huge voice but it’s a carefully placed one that sits absolutely securely but lightly on the roulades. This was a prima donna performance in every sense, and the foot-stamping accolades Oropesa received were totally deserved. At first there was a slightly hard edge to the tone - perhaps it was intended to reflect Norina’s flintiness - but in her Act 1 duet with Malatesta, and during her raging assault on Pasquale in the final act, Oropesa’s accuracy and ease were notable.

Sagripanti gave his singers plenty of time and space in the arias, though there was some loss of ensemble during the act finales; no doubt the minor blemishes will be erased as the run proceeds. The London Philharmonic Orchestra played sensitively - including a lovely solo cello foretaste of Ernesto’s serenade in the overture and stylish playing from the trumpet in the Act 2 prelude - but also with tautness and incisiveness.

The thing about stereotypes is that in their faults and flaws we recognise our own, and such acknowledgement creates humanity and empathy. They may be caricatures, but we laugh at them and by implication ourselves. Pasquale fulminates and fumes but, ultimately, he forgives. I’m not sure, faced with the wanton cruelty of Clemént’s characters I’d have been so inclined to be generous. Yet, while Donizetti’s music may need to be sung with more of a smile in the voice, the singing on this occasion certainly offered plenty to smile about.

Claire Seymour

Don Pasquale - Renato Girolami, Dr Malatesta - Andrey Zhilikhovsky, Ernesto - Andrew Stenson, Norina - Lisette Oropesa, A Notary - James Newby, Servant - Anna-Marie Sullivan; Director - Mariame Clément, Conductor - Giacomo Sagripanti, Designer - Julia Hansen, Lighting designer - Bernd Purkrabek, Revival lighting designer - Andrew May, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus (Chorus Master, Jeremy Bines)

Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Thursday 13th 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):