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

Temple Winter Festival: the Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ - Rejoice, rejoice! - was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities.

Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida at the Wigmore Hall

The journey is always the same, and never the same. As Ian Bostridge remarks, at the end of his prize-winning book Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, when the wanderer asks Der Leiermann, “Will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?”, in the final song of Winterreise, the ‘crazy but logical procedure would be to go right back to the beginning of the whole cycle and start all over again’.

Turandot in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera wrapped up its 95th fall opera season just now with a bang up Turandot. It has been a season of hopeful hints that this venerable company may regain some of its former luster.

Daniel Michieletto's Cav and Pag returns to Covent Garden

It felt rather decadent to be sitting in an opera house at 12pm. Even more so given the passion-fuelled excesses of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, which might seem rather too sensual and savage for mid-day consumption.

Manitoba Opera: Madama Butterfly

Manitoba Opera opened its 45th season with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly proving that the aching heart as expressed through art knows no racial or cultural divide, with the Italian composer’s self-avowed favourite opera still able to spread its poetic wings across time and space since its Milan premiere in 1904.

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edge formed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

Girls of the Golden West in San Francisco

Not many (maybe any) of the new operas presented by San Francisco Opera over the past 10 years would lure me to the War Memorial Opera House a second time around. But for Girls of the Golden West just now I would be there again tomorrow night and the next, and I am eagerly awaiting all future productions.

DiDonato is superb in Semiramide at Covent Garden

It’s taken a while for Rossini’s Semiramide to reach the Covent Garden stage. The last of the operas which Rossini composed for Italian theatres between 1810-1823, Semiramide has had only one outing at the Royal Opera House since 1887, and that was a concert version in 1986.

Hans Werner Henze Choral Music

Hans Werner Henze works for mixed voice and chamber orchestra with SWR Vokalensemble and Ensemble Modern, conducted by Marcus Creed. Welcome new recordings of important pieces like Lieder von einer Insel (1964), Orpheus Behind the Wire (1984) plus Fünf Madrigale (1947).

Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse at the Wigmore Hall

‘His master’s masterpiece, the work of heaven’: ‘a common fountain’ from which flow ‘pure silver drops’. At the risk of effulgent hyperbole, I’d suggest that Antonio’s image of the blessed governance and purifying power of the French court - in the opening scene of Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi - is also a perfect metaphor for the voice of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, as it slips through Handel’s roulades like a silken ribbon.

La Rondine Takes Flight in San Jose

Kudos to San Jose Opera for offering up a wholly winning, consistently captivating new production of Puccini’s seldom performed La Rondine.

Bettina Smith, Norwegian Mezzo, in Songs by Fauré and Debussy

Here are five complete song sets by two of the greatest masters of French song. The performers are highly competent. I should have known, given the rave reviews that their 2015 recording of modern Norwegian songs received.

Clonter Opera Gala

Clonter’s Opera Gala in the breath-taking beautiful ball-room at the Lansdowne Club in Mayfair was a glamorously glittering smattering of opera – which made me want to run out to every opera in town.  

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul: Uthal

The opera world barely knows how to handle works that have significant amounts of spoken dialogue. Conductors and stage directors will often trim the dialogue to a bare minimum (Magic Flute), have it rendered as sung recitative (Carmen), or have it spoken in the vernacular though the sung numbers may often be performed in the original language (Die Fledermaus).

A New Anna Moffo?: The Debut Disc of Aida Garifullina

Here is the latest CD from a major label promoting a major new soprano. Aida Garifullina is utterly remarkable: a lyric soprano who also can handle coloratura with ease. Her tone has a constant shimmer, with a touch of quick, narrow vibrato even on short notes.

A New Die Walküre at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the start of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s splendid, new production of Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre conflict and resolution are portrayed throughout with moving intensity. The central character Brünnhilde is sung by Christine Goerke and her father Wotan by Eric Owens.

As One a Haunting Success in San Diego

San Diego Opera has mined solid gold with its mesmerizing and affecting production of As One, a part of their innovative ‘Detour Series.’

OLF: Songs by Tchaikovsky, Anton Rubinstein, Rachmaninov and Georgy Sviridov

Compared to the oft-explored world of German lieder and French chansons, the songs of Russia are unfairly neglected in recordings and in the concert hall. The raw emotion and expansive lyricism present in much of this repertoire was clearly in evidence at the Holywell Music Room for the penultimate day of the celebrated Oxford Lieder Festival.

Stockhausen’s STIMMUNG and COSMIC PULSES at the Barbican.

This concert was an event on several levels - marking a decade since the death of Stockhausen, the fortieth anniversary (almost to the day) since Singcircle first performed STIMMUNG (at the Round House), and their final public performance of the piece. It was also a rare opportunity to hear (and see) Stockhausen’s last completed purely electronic work, COSMIC PULSES - an overwhelming visual and aural experience that anyone who was at this concert will long remember.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017 - Winner Announced

Bampton Classical Opera is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Young Singers’ Competition is mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and the runner-up is tenor Wagner Moreira. The winner of the accompanists’ prize, a new category this year, is Keval Shah.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Turandot </em>, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
07 Jul 2017

Fairytale Spectacle: Turandot at the ROH

Andrei Serban’s 1984 production of Turandot has returned to the Royal Opera House, for its sixteenth revival, and it remains a visual feast. The principals’ raw silk costumes, intricately embroidered and patterned, splash vibrant primary hues against the shadowy tiers which house the red-masked Chorus to the rear.

Turandot, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Turandot

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

 

Sally Jacobs’ drum-shaped balconies create a frame for Puccini’s enigmatic, imperfect masterpiece, the onlookers forming a sort of Greek Chorus, watching the horrors unfold. Baying for blood like sadistic spectators at a gladiatorial arena, they roar with relish in the opening scene as the Mandarin reads his proclamation of the impending execution of the Prince of Persia.

Despite the passing years, the oriental stylisation - visual and kinetic - remains striking. Giant, grimacing severed heads top towering poles, their blood-red streamers testifying to the agonies suffered by Turandot’s decapitated suitors. The Mandarin mounts a rolling tower to thunder his edicts and incite the crowd’s bloodlust. Emperor Altoum floats down from the fly-loft on a cloud-cushioned golden throne. There is a mammoth gong, a scything executioner’s sword, a giant whetstone transported on an elaborate dragon-cart. When the sky grows dark, in anticipation of Turandot’s delivery of her tyrannous decree, the Chorus’s invocation to the moon initiates the descent of an immense canvas moon which eclipses much of the stage.

Production image Turandot 2.jpg Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

Revival director Andrew Sinclair has done a good job, working with original choreographer Kate Flatt, to ensure that the t’ai chi-based movements of the white-masked dancers are slick and fresh. Those ‘grotesque imperial ministers’, Ping, Pang and Pong, cavort with commedia -like outlandishness - perhaps a reminder that the inspiration for Puccini’s opera came from a commedia dell’arte play written in 1762 by Carlo Gozzi, which itself drew upon ‘The Story of Prince Calaf and the Princess of China’ from a collection of Persian fairy tales, The Thousand and One Days.

Indeed, this dialogue of cultures is relevant, for while the production resonates with myth and ritual, it’s a bit of a hotchpotch, with ‘oriental’ interpreted rather loosely (there’s a nod, surely, to Japanese Kabuki and Noh theatre), as well as a few touches of Brechtian alienation. But, this doesn’t really matter; after all, Puccini’s score is itself eclectic and episodic, juxtaposing a plurality of styles and allusions. If Serban and Jacobs have assembled a cultural smorgasbord, then it’s a beautiful and enchanting one; and the visual beauty is often powerfully and disturbingly at odds with the barbarity of the drama.

It also makes a loud impact. In Turandot, Puccini calls for huge orchestral resources, both in the pit and on stage, and conductor Dan Ettinger lets his instrumentalists off the leash. Seated in the Stalls Circle, I’m sure I felt the auditorium tremble when the death-knell drumming pounded during Turandot’s pronouncement of the riddles, and in Act 2 the brass blazed with imperial majesty. Ettinger might have reined things in a bit at times - the ‘power’ of the score was generated by turning the volume up as far as it would go, rather than through surging, well-crafted fullness of sound - as the singers were required to project over unalleviated orchestral swells.

Fortunately, the principals had the necessary vocal strength and stamina. Christine Goerke used her huge voice to capture the heartlessness of the unsympathetic ‘heroine’, who in Serban’s vision is an icy she-devil who delights in sending her hapless suitors to their grisly deaths. Goerke began ‘In questa reggia’ a little cautiously but as she proclaimed the three enigmas there was no doubting Turandot’s venom. Goerke’s soprano gained in focus as the performance proceeded and she was at her best in the final act, her voice sonorous and gleaming. There was little sense, though, of the princess’s ‘inner life’; perhaps, this inevitably remains an enigma - the opera’s unanswered riddle -but if we are to believe in Turandot’s redemption then surely we need to be permitted a little intimacy with the workings of her soul?

Turandot-ROH-2813 CHRISTINE GOERKE AS PRINCESS TURANDOT, ALEKSANDRS ANTONENKO AS CALAF (C) ROH. PHOTO BY TRISTRAM KENTON.jpgChristine Goerke (Turandot), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

Aleksandrs Antonenko was a heroic rather than chivalrous Calaf - no-one would have any chance of forty winks during this ‘Nessun dorma’ - but he placed the notes with control and pushed through the soaring lines with warm amplification. Antonenko’s didn’t really bother to act, though the large props and choreographed acrobatics didn’t leave much room for subtle engagement between the characters. In any case, it’s hard to make Calaf’s sudden enthrallment to Turandot’s ‘charms’ credible, and Antonenko was a fittingly gallant hero who brought daylight back to Turandot’s night-dominated realm and restored the patriarchal gender hierarchy.

Turandot-ROH-162 ALEKSANDRS ANTONENKO AS CALAF, IN SUNG SIM AS TIMUR, HIBLA GERZMAVA AS LIÙ (C) ROH. PHOTO BY TRISTRAM KENTON.jpg Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf), In Sung Sim (Timur), Hibla Gerzmava (Liù). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

As Liù - Puccini’s archetypal suffering heroine, subservient, innocent, self-sacrificing - Hibla Gerzmava sang with a winningly sweet tone balanced by innate strength. During her fifteen-minutes of emotional torment in the final act, Gerzmava movingly conveyed the unconditional love which underpins Liù’s purity.

Yury Yurchuk was an authoritative Mandarin, though I thought that In Sung Sim’s Timur needed a bit more nobility and stature. Robin Leggate brought out the Emperor’s gentility and regretfulness, in contrast to the vicious cruelty of Ping (Michel de Souza), Pang (Aled Hall) and Pong (Pavel Petrov), who formed a well-integrated trio but had little to distinguish them as individuals.

Turandot-ROH-701 MICHEL DE SOUZA AS PING, PAVEL PETROV AS PONG, ALED HALL AS PANG, ALEKSANDRS ANTONENKO AS CALAF (C) ROH. PHOTO BY TRISTRAM KENTON.jpgMichel de Souza (Ping), Pavel Petrov (Pong), Aled Hall (Pang), Aleksandrs Antonenko (Calaf). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

The main weakness of Serban’s production is that it denies us understanding of the causes of Turandot’s apparent inhumanity, and thus makes her atonement less convincing. The narration in which she explains the reasons for her misogyny, should make us understand that she speaks as an avenger, as one whose ancestress who was raped and murdered thousands of years ago. As one whose violence is retribution for the violence done by men to all women; as one determined to the be agent of her own destiny. Serban creates little sense of the emotional energies which drive the drama and shape the dynamic between Turandot and Calaf. And, the sense of emotional stasis is exacerbated by the literal stasis of the chorus - a result of lack of time to stage the Chorus in the hasty run-up to the production’s premiere as part of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles - though the ROH Chorus were, as ever, in tremendous voice as they expressed their perverted pleasure at the executioner’s bloody deeds.

Despite this misgiving, this production just about avoids the composer’s own tendency to indulge in kitsch and offers fairy-tale spectacle with some spectacular singing. A real summer treat.

Claire Seymour

Giacomo Puccini: Turandot

Princess Turandot - Christine Goerke, Calaf - Aleksandrs Antonenko, Liù - Hibla Gerzmava, Timur - In Sung Sim, Ping - Michel de Souza, Pang - Aled Hall, Pong - Pavel Petrov, Emperor Altoum - Robin Leggate, Mandarin - Yuriy Yurchuk; Director - Andrei Serban, Conductor - Dan Ettinger Designer - Sally Jacobs, Lighting designer - F. Mitchell Dana, Choreographer - Kate Flatt, Choreologist - Tatiana Novaes Coelho, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director, William Spaulding).

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Wednesday 5th 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):