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

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

The Marriage of Figaro in San Francisco

San Francisco Opera rolled out the first installment of its new Mozart/DaPonte trilogy, a handsome Nozze, by Canadian director Michael Cavanagh to lively if mixed result.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Aida</em>: English National Opera
30 Sep 2017

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.

Aida: English National Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: ENO Cast and Chorus

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

 

Of McDermott’s Satyagraha in 2010, one of my colleagues wrote, ‘There are so many amazing images in this production that it’s hard to take them all in at once’. Here, it’s more a case of there are so many diverse visual images that it’s hard to make them come together in any coherent way.

The sets do establish an ‘epic’ mood: coarse-grained rock textures suggest monumental edifices and set off Pollard’s striking fabrics, face-paint and fabulous headdresses (topped with antlers in Act 2!). Bruno Poet’s lighting design is one of the best things about the production. On the poster advertising this opening production of ENO’s 2017/18 season, a blade of light slices through darkness, bouncing off granite to bathe a standing woman, who gazes aloft as if in supplication, in a cone of light. A similar triangle of red dissects the black drop which confronts us at the start, gradually widening and opening up a small geometric space on the wide Coliseum stage. Throughout, Poet sculpts his light like sliding walls, to create mystery. Sometimes diagonal rays sear across the stage; at other times subtle mists shimmer.

Latonia Moore 2 (c) Tristram Kenton.jpg Latonia Moore (Aida). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

A prevailing hieroglyph - the ‘breadcone’, designating a ‘gift’ or ‘offering’ - evokes a pyramid. But, that’s just about the only hint of Egypt we get. For, while the visuals are spectacular, they don’t help to ‘tell the story’, and there is no coherent sense of context. A programme article explains McDermott’s thoughts about the period setting, which he describes as ‘a slight mash up’: ‘It’s not ancient and it’s not modern. I’m not dissing the past, but we’ve got modern battle gear and yet priests and temple dancers too. It’s its own world, like a dream which is not real but has its own logic and you can do anything with that as long as you stay within the logic.’

The allusions are indeed eclectic, but I’m not sure I could recognise their ‘logic’. Radamès first appears wearing a gilt braided blue tunic, topped with fur pelisse, worthy of a Napoleonic Hussar, but in the fateful tomb he has ditched his uniform for a grubby grey shirt. The participants in the sacred ritual which prepares the Egyptian general for battle against the Ethiopians seem to have been modelled on the semi-clad women who sit behind the windows of Amsterdam’s red-light district, while the celebrants at the victory procession sport an array of outlandish 30s-style outfits. The priestesses of Isis who await the wedding of Amneris and Radamès look like they have borrowed their red robes from Margaret Atwood’s Handmaids. Amneris herself seems to have got trapped in an outsize origami confection.

Eleanor Dennis, Robert Winslade Anderson and members of Mimbre (c) Tristram Kenton.jpgEleanor Dennis (High Priestess), Robert Winslade Anderson (Ramfis) and members of Mimbre. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

Within this smorgasbord of references there is little sense of who the protagonists are, of the love triangle between them, or of the context which pits their love against their loyalty. Static visual images have taken priority over the development of character and relationship. There is scarcely any convincing interaction. The programme offers an account of McDermott’s rehearsal methods: he has encouraged his cast to ‘explore three options: stand still, move forward, or move backwards’.

Most seem to have plumped for the first option. Singers barely look at each other or engage physically; instead, on the whole they stand stock still, facing the audience. Basil Twist’s beautiful silks flutter and billow but the only other movement on stage comes from the dancers and acrobats of Mimbre, who entertain Amneris when she prepares to welcome home Radamès by tumbling light-footedly or forming geometric human sculptures. In the triumphal scene, some of the latter look so complex and potentially precarious that perhaps they should come with a warning, ‘don’t try this at home’.

Gwyn Hughes Jones, members of Mimbre and ENO Chorus (c) Tristram Kenton.jpg Gwyn Hughes Jones (Radamès), members of Mimbre and ENO Chorus. Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

We have no elephants, but there is some flag-waving and coffin-carrying - and, some terrific trumpet playing from the six onstage players whose gorgeously warm tone glows with an energy that is missing among the artfully positioned but static throng. Indeed, the ENO orchestra play consistently well for Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson who balances vigour and refinement, injects tension effectively and conjures exoticism and magic at the start of Act 3. The enlarged ENO Chorus produced some beautiful hushed, reverential singing in Act 1.

Aida Latonia Moore 4.jpg Latonia Moore (Aida). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

ENO is fortunate in that they have an eponymous Ethiopian princess whose glorious soprano gleams with an intensity to match Poet’s beams of light. American Latonia Moore is simply fabulous: she soars above the rest of the cast - literally and figuratively. When she commenced ‘Ritorna vincitor’, she made one immediately sit up and listen: for the first time we had persuasive, genuine human emotion, and as the performance developed she showed that from the gentlest pianissimo to the plushest fortissimo she could make us believe unwaveringly in Aida’s devotion, defiance, despair and dignity. ‘O patria mia’ was infused with strength and sincerity, and if she seemed a little nervous about the top C that could be forgiven. In Aida’s duet with Amneris, Moore’s soprano blazed radiantly and effortlessly.

Gwyn Hughes Jones’s tenor has plenty of ringing vibrancy. His Radamès is a plausible soldier and makes a confident entrance, sustaining the final Bb well in ‘Celeste Aida’. Even more shine at the top might help to convince us of his passion for Aida and give fervour to his confrontation with Amneris, but Jones has the stamina for the role and the Tomb Scene intimacy is moving, the poignancy of the lovers’ short-lived reunion deepened by the presence of Amneris, watching from above.

Mimbre and MDY.jpg Mimbre and Michelle DeYoung (Amneris). Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

As Amneris, mezzo Michelle DeYoung seemed to be struggling. Certainly, her Act 1 costume was ‘larger-than-life’ but vocally DeYoung was too ragged and unfocused to convey the tragic princess’s conflicted emotions. It didn’t help that some distorted vowels made the clunky English translation even more cumbersome. De Young’s characterisation was unmodulated and somewhat superficial, though her voice did relax and begin to bloom in the Judgement Scene.

Eleanor Dennis was poised and imperious as the High Priestess, and Robert Winslade Anderson (deputising for the indisposed Brindley Sherratt) and Matthew Best were more than competent as Ramfis and the (white-suited?) Egyptian King respectively. Musa Ngqungwana’s Amonasro wasn’t quite imposing enough; a bit more patriarchal authority was needed.

Whatever misgivings there may be about McDermott’s ‘logic’, if there’s one reason to see this show, it’s the opportunity to hear Moore in a role she has sung to great acclaim many times, including at the Met and the ROH, for her performance confirms her as a lirico spinto of great distinction.

Claire Seymour

Verdi: Aida

Aida - Latonia Moore, Amneris - Michelle DeYoung, Radamès - Gwyn Hughes Jones, Ramfis - Robert Winslade Anderson, Amonasro - Musa Ngqungwana, King - Matthew Best, High Priestess - Eleanor Dennis, Messenger - David Webb; Director - Phelim McDermott, Conductor - Keri-Lynn Wilson, Designer - Tom Pye, Lighting designer - Bruno Poet, Costume designer - Kevin Pollard, Silk effects choreographer - Basil Twist, Movement director - Lina Johansson, Chorus movement - Elaine Tyler-Hall, ENO Orchestra and Chorus, Mimbre Skills Ensemble.

English National Opera, Coliseum, London; Thursday 28th September 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):