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

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Der Rosenkavalier</em>, Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome
02 Jul 2017

The sands of time: WNO's Rosenkavalier in Birmingham

Time, sands, mists: all slip through one’s fingers - intangible and irretrievable. Olivia Fuchs’ production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier for WNO communicates the opera’s message in a clear visual narrative of subtlety and dramatic eloquence.

Der Rosenkavalier, Welsh National Opera at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Marschallin (Rebecca Evans), Old Marschallin (Margaret Baiton)

Photo credit: Bill Cooper

 

The production has made its way from Cardiff to Birmingham. During the orchestral prelude, designer Niki Turner and lighting designer Ian Jones dot the dark stage with a haze of swirling green which embraces a lone figure, a dignified, elderly lady in a beige dress, seated at a small round table, elegantly sipping tea from a china cup. Through a gauze, as Strauss’s instrumental narrative declares its sensuality with cocksure confidence, the erotic playfulness it depicts fades in and out of view: an arching back, a flash of black stockings amid the white bedding.

The words ‘Wien 1941’ come into focus on the back-drop, like the flickering subtitles of an old movie. With gradual illumination, the set comes into focus and time recedes - ‘Wien 1911’. We are in the Marschallin’s plain white bedroom, but the low light hints at the shabbiness that the passing of thirty years will bring. The drooping chandelier evokes the glistening grey of a spider’s web.

The old duchess remains: a Dickensian ghost of time yet to come’, haunting the present with presentiments of the future. And, during the lively teasing of the first scene as Octavian exults in his secret tryst with his ‘Bichette’, it is the Marschallin’s sudden, fleeting encounter with this disturbing alter ego who paces the rim of the room, that brings the first note of sadness to the lovers’ indulgence of their desire.

Later, during the Marschallin’s morning levée, the lingering presence of the gracious old dame amid the helter-skelter raucousness of the milliner, bird-catcher, lawyer, pleading orphans and hair-dressers adds pathos to the riotousness which intrudes into the boudoir. When Rebecca Evans’ Marschallin inspects her coiffeuses’ efforts in a gold-rimmed hand mirror, her alarm - ‘Why, today you’ve made me look like an old lady!’ - inspires tenderness and pity.

The orphans’ hasty elocution lesson, and Baron Ochs’ haughty pique when the lawyer disillusions him about the potential profitability of his marriage contract, sugar the scene with a patina of humour. But, it is the stillness of the Italian singer’s serenade - as elegantly shaped by Paul Charles Clarke as the singer’s red velvet tail-coat - which confirms the underlying sadness. When a waiter pulls out a chair for the Marschallin, for a moment it seems that it is the old countess who will seat herself, usurping her younger self.

wno_der_rosenkavalier_-_lucia_cervoni_octavian_photo_credit_bill_cooper_0669.jpg Octavian (Lucia Cervoni). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

Sorrow pervades the final scene of the Act, almost painfully entwining with the beauty of Strauss’s score. When Octavian laments that his beloved is changed from the one he knew, the Marschallin is distracted by the ghost that only she can see. We thus feel compassion for the petulant Quin-Quin who kicks the bed in frustration and bewails, ‘Can I no longer kiss you until you gasp for air?’, as the sands of time trickle from the ceiling in two fragile golden streams. The Marschallin’s sudden realisation that she has brusquely sent away her young lover without even giving him a kiss is heart-breaking, but when the footmen are too late to call the young count back and perpetuate the enchantment of present desire, she allows the spell to break. The filter of sand has ceased. The illumination falls upon the seated elderly figure: this is the reality that in the closing moments the Marschallin tenderly accepts and embraces.

Fuchs’ sensitive crafting of the sentiment of this opening Act is utterly convincing, and it is aided by the characterisation of the central lovers. Lucia Cervoni’s Octavian is naïve and impetuous but genuinely devoted; her mezzo is wonderfully firm and clean, full of youthful freshness. Handsome in a red-trimmed grey frock, Octavian bursts with an adolescent swagger - collar turned up, sword stabbing the floor between his legs - which is softened by Cervoni’s warm lyricism.

Evans is initially a more playful Marschallin than is sometimes the case, and as they frisk spiritedly, and Octavian adopts his Mariandel disguise, the scene seemed imbued with the light-hearted impishness of Cherubino and the Countess in Act 2 of Figaro. But the fullness and rich layers of Evans’ soprano hint at a burgeoning maturity, one which overtakes her Marschallin when she least expects it. When she gives her Quin-Quin the silver rose, Evans’ soprano is a gleaming, soft thread, as beautifully scented as the rose itself. Telling of her night-time wandering around the Feldmarschal’s chateau, to turn off the clocks, Evans soprano lowers, and slows, with quiet melancholy and resignation.

wno_der_rosenkavalier_-_brindley_sherratt_baron_ochs_photo_credit_bill_cooper_0928.jpg Baron Ochs (Brindley Sherratt. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

The arrival of Brindley Sherratt’s tartan-trousered Baron Ochs prevents sentiment turning to sentimentality in this opening act. Heralded by hints of pink and green light which fleck the bedroom walls - indicative of his crudely rouged cheeks and lime-green coat - this Ochs is a bore, a boor and a bear, lurching lecherously with a dirty grin, but Sherratt never turns him into a clown. Ochs is full of beans, but though Sherratt’s bass does not offer soft warmth to alleviate the overconfidence and brashness, the voice is immensely strong, his lines are finely crafted, the diction superb, and that this Ochs will so obviously endure disappointments and humiliations ensures our indulgence of his faults.

A row of gilded chairs guarded by mustard-liveried retainers transforms the private bedroom to Faninel’s public reception room at the start of Act 2. The grand entrance doors are replaced by fireplace from whose grate tumble the unstoppable sands of time, piling ever higher. Louise Alder’s Sophie can barely contain her excitement, almost hyperventilating with glee as she prances and preens in anticipation of the pomp and honour to come.

Bespectacled and clutching a book to her breast, Alder’s Sophie put me in mind of Cecily from Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest - another impassioned ingénue, eager to cast aside her ‘horrid German lessons’ for dalliance with the dashing ‘Ernest’. And her companion Marianne Leitmetzerin, sung with vigour and colour by Angharad Morgan, was a veritable Miss Prism, reprimanding her over-zealous charge but gushing animatedly as she espied the rose-bearer’s arrival - dressed in silver from top to toe - as if she were gleaning racy material for a three-volume novel.

The presentation of the rose was exquisite: I don’t think I’ve ever heard it better sung. Conductor Tomáš Hanus seemed to set off a little fast at first, leaving Cervoni behind, but in fact the flowing pace perfectly suited the escalating emotional pitch. I struggle to find a word to describe Alder’s glorious vocal ascents: they did not soar, float or climb, rather her soprano seemed suddenly to inhabit a sublime peak as if it had been there for eternity and we, in our mundanity, had simply not heard its transcendent song. Alder can swell or retreat from the fullest glow to the most delicate thread with stunning ease, and as so often in this production it was the juxtaposition of dramatic exuberance with musical serenity that spoke so powerfully. The conversation between the would-be bride and the Rosenkavalier which follows was funny and earth-bound: these were real people, stumbling for the ‘right’ words, bearing their hearts on their sleeves.

Act 2 company WNO.jpg Act 2: Company. Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

The scene was a perfect foil for Ochs’ ill-mannered arrival. The loutishness of Lerchenau and his coarse retinue was perfectly judged, the waltzes tinged with just the right touch of loucheness, Ochs’ puffed-up pomposity balanced with pouting injured pride. Even Madeleine Shaw’s lascivious Annina squirmed in his embrace, as she and Peter Van Hulle’s vicious Valzacchi stirred up trouble.

But, at the close, believing that Mariandel was eagerly awaiting his answer about a nocturnal assignation, the reinvigorated Ochs’ final reprise - with him, no night can be too long - was superbly judged. The final phrase lingered just long enough for us to feel pity for his delusion, so soon to be deflated but, Sherratt suggested, never to be fully expunged. Sleazy lecher he may be, but Sherratt made this Ochs utterly compelling. Adrian Clarke’s Herr von Faninal was equally convincing, as lyrical in affection for his daughter as he was in, first, bewilderment, then anger.

Fuchs and Turner swept us through the drama of the final act with an equally sure hand. The damage wrought by the inexorable accumulation of sand is used to convey the transfer from civilised chateau to unsavoury tavern: the ceiling sags, all that remains of the walls are the towering door frames - relics of former glory like Ozymandias’ ‘vast and trunkless legs of stone’ and crumbling pedestal. The scenes of Ochs’ humiliation are crowded but well-choreographed, with Valzacchi and Annina cavorting about with commedia-like charm.

wno_der_rosenkavalier_lucia_cervoni_octavian_margaret_baiton_the_old_marschallin_louise_alder_sophie_von_faninal_photo_credit_bi.jpg Octavian (Lucia Cervoni), The Old Marschallin (Margaret Baiton), Sophie (Louise Alder). Photo credit: Bill Cooper.

The final trio did not disappoint as Alder, Cervoni and Evans surged through the phrases with strength and sublimity, accompanied - as throughout - by the sensuous, sympathetic playing of the WNO Orchestra. The Marschallin’s dignified retreat was balanced by the courtly return of her future self; unseen by the young lovers, she watched their embraces and listened to their exquisite pianissimo interweavings with genteel acquiescence.

Fuchs’ final coup is masterly. It’s becoming common for directors to seek an alternative to the convention that the opera’s capricious coda should depict the mischievous re-appearance of the Marschallin’s page Mahomed, in search of Sophie’s lost handkerchief. At the ROH last December , for example, Robert Carsen slid back the walls and revealed a haunting vision of the bloody fields of WW1, a row of ghostly soldiers, headed by the Feldmarschall, shrouded in ashen mist.

Fuchs offers us a more comforting acceptance. Mohammed, himself exhibiting the grey progress of age, shuffled with the aid of a walking stick, but with slow grace, towards the seated Marschallin, bearing a silver salver. Her regality undimmed by time, she accepted the china tea cup with a forgiving smile. A small gesture, but one which drew us all - poignantly, consolingly - into the Marschallin’s recognition and reconciliation.

Claire Seymour

Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier

The Marschallin - Rebecca Evans, Octavian - Lucia Cervoni, Sophie - Louise Alder, Baron Ochs - Brindley Sherratt, Herr Faninal - Adrian Clarke, Valzacchi - Peter Van Hulle, Annina - Madeleine Shaw, Marianne Leitmetzerin - Angharad Morgan, Mohammed - Kayed Mohamed-Mason, Major-Domo to the Marschallin - Adam Music, Major-Domo to Faninal - Gareth Dafydd Morris, Milliner - Emma Mary Llewellyn, Animal Seller - Michael Clifton-Thompson, Lawyer - Alastair Moore, Italian Singer - Paul Charles Clarke, Landlord - Michael Clifton-Thompson, Commissar of Police - Matthew Hargreaves, Boots - Laurence Cole, Leopold (Ochs’ illegitimate son) - George Newton-Fitzgerald, Old Marschallin - Margaret Baiton, Footmen - Simon Crosby Buttle/Stephen Wells/Joe Roche/Laurence Cole), Waiters - Simon Crosby Buttle/Howard Kirk/Philip Lloyd-Evans/Alastair Moore, Noble Orphans - Anitra Blaxhall/Louise Ratcliffe/Helene Jarmany, Maids/Footmen - WNO Chorus.

Director - Olivia Fuchs, Conductor - Tomáš Hanus, Designer - Niki Turner, Lighting designer - Ian Jones, Orchestra of WNO.

Birmingham Hippodrome; Saturday 1st 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):