Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

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.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

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.

Songs for Nancy: Bampton Classical Opera celebrate legendary soprano, Nancy Storace

Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert on 7th March at St John’s Smith Square to celebrate the legendary soprano Nancy Storace.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.



26 Aug 2017

Ariodante at the Salzburg Festival

From time to time felicitous circumstances create impromptu masterpieces, like the Salzburg 2017 Whitsun Festival production of Handel's Ariodante that has continued just now into the 2017 summer festival.

Ariodante at the Salzburg Festival

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Cecilia Bartoli as Ariodante [All photos copyright by the Salzburger Festspiele / Marco Borrelli]


Handel opera productions are famously fraught with troubling decisions — which voices to use, which gender to use for which voices, which dances to use from which opera. Sometimes decisions are made for you. Like, for example, Handel had no choice but to use the Covent Garden theater back in 1735 for his Ariodante, and to use an imposed roster of singers, and to use French choreographer Marie Sallé’s troupe of dancers.

The abstract story telling of the Handel operas indeed offer stage directors rich possibility for imagining context. For example the metteur en scène, Richard Jones, of the 2014 Aix Festival production of Ariodante illuminated its dramaturgical depths by placing the action within the fundamental Christian values (and confines) of the American Midwest.

But in Salzburg German stage director, Christof Loy, took everything at absolute face value -- it was Handel's opera as it was, through post-modern lens. As givens he had a producer (general director) of impeccable taste (Cecilia Bartoli) for the casting, one of the world’s foremost artists as his Ariodante (Cecilia Bartoli), and an unlimited budget for Salzburg’s splendidly equipped Haus für Mozart theater.

Ariodante_Salzburg3.pngNathan Berg (The King of Scotland), Kristofer Lundin (Odoardo), Christophe Dumaux (Polinesso), Sandrine Piau (Dalinda)

Like the 1735 production at Covent Garden, Mr. Loy’s production was not modest. It had multiple scene changes. A basic neoclassical room opened up from time to time to reveal elaborately painted Rococo scenes, and once it opened to reveal a shockingly huge room (it was elaborately forced-perspective architecture). As well there was an elaborately blank wall that descended mid-stage from time to time to obliterate all sense of physical location.

Though back in Aix Handel’s interpolated dance music became the erotic pole dancing of the U.S. prohibition era, the dances just now in Salzburg were simply highly stylized movements in mimic of the interlude ballets of French Baroque theater, the dancers dressed in French court dress of the time (including elaborate wigs).

Handel’s Ariodante was a castrato, Instead Mr. Loy’s Ariodante in Salzburg was a mezzo-soprano. He was Mme. Bartoli, and that provoked more than the usual play of gender confusion given this diva’s fame and repertory. It was a confusion easily solved by Christof Loy and Cecilia Bartoli as Ariodante reappeared after his failed suicide as partly female (see photo above), a transition that continued into the final scene where la Bartoli lost her beard as well (but she did, amusingly, maintain her exquisite trouser role imitation-male movement).

In turn, of course, Ariodante’s damsel Ginevra had donned boots and a jacket for the final scene with Ariodante to assume some genial male characteristics. The conceit quite evidently was that there was finally a union of male and female, at once completing human complexities of the two individual human psyches, and dramatically wrapping up the story in marital union. [In Aix Ginevra was last seen hitching a ride, alone, to Toronto.]

Ariodante_Salzburg2.pngCecilia Bartoli (Ariodante), Christophe Dumaux (Polinesso), dancers

But finally it remained certain that the magnificent Bartoli had always been la Bartoli and never Ariodante.

Lost in the marvels of the Baroque’s psychological affects, elaborate Baroque vocal ornamentation, and the glories of the Baroque orchestral palate it did not matter where we were. And certainly it could not matter to the seven singers of the opera where they might find themselves either. Thus sometimes the actors were in simple contemporary dress, sometimes in current formal attire, sometimes in Baroque period costumes. What’s more, the Polinesso Lurcanio duel was fought in head-to-foot knightly armor. This play of costumes obliterated all sense of story and took us directly into the singers’ psyches.

Most of all stage director Loy indulged the famed indulgent smile of the Renaissance poet Lodovico Ariosto, the author of the stanzas of his epic Orlando Furioso from which the tale is taken. Like Ariosto we too, together with the evening's singers indulged these chivalric characters in their wishes and disappointments, their plotting and undoing, their anger and joy, their deceits and generosity, their weaknesses and strengths. Etcetera.

There was no place, and time stood still. This was our shared joy with the artists in this remarkable production.

Early music conductor Gianluca Capuano wrenched every possible nuance of tone from the truly splendid voices of Les Musicians du Prince, a new orchestra in the service of Albert II of Monaco founded by Cecilia Bartoli.

La Bartoli amazed us with magnificent ornamentation in Ariodante’s drunkenness and then spellbound us in his extended lament, only to amaze us even more more in her final aria of joy. American soprano Kathryn Lewec met her halfway, enthralling us in her extended laments and thrilling us in her joy. The villains of this operatic extravaganza were both French [!], Sandrine Piau made Dalinda vividly if blindly in love with Polinesso, charmingly and wittily sung — breathtaking coloratura — by countertenor Christophe Dumaux. Rolando Villazón brought huge presence to Ariodante’s brother Lurcanio, nailing his second act aria “Il tuo sangue, ed it tuo zelo” but later fought vocal distress. Canadian bass Nathan Berg suffered mightily and exulted greatly as the King of Scotland. His able leutenant was sung by Swedish tenor Kristofer Lundin.

Norwegian National Ballet choreographer Andreas Heise threw some very witty twenty-first century steps and poses into his sort of convincing facsimile of French Baroque dance. Set design by Johannes Leiacker, costume design by Ursula Renzenbring, and lighting by Roland Edrich provided the utmost in measured teutonic theatrical chic to this magnificent production.

Michael Milenski

August 22, 2017. Cast and production information above

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):