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

Bampton Classical Opera: Bride & Gloom at St John's Smith Square

Last week the Office of National Statistics published figures showing that in the UK the number of women getting married has fallen below 50%.

A new recording of Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa

Henze’s Das Floß der Medusa is in some ways a work with a troubled and turbulent history. It is defined by the time in which it was written – 1968 – a period of student protest throughout central Europe. Its first performance was abandoned because the Hamburg chorus refused to perform under the Red Flag which had been placed on stage; and Henze himself decided he wouldn’t conduct it at all after police stormed the concert hall to remove protesters, among them the librettist Ernst Schnabel.

La traviata at the Palais Garnier

The clatter of information was overwhelmed by soaring bel canto, Verdi’s domestic tragedy destroyed by director Simon Stone, resurrected by conductor Michele Mariotti, a tour de force for South African soprano Pretty Yende.

San Jose Pops the Cork With Fledermaus

Opera San Jose vivaciously kicked off its 2019–2020 season with a heady version of Strauss’ immortal Die Fledermaus that had all the effervescence of vintage champagne.

Tempestuous Francesca da Rimini opens Concertgebouw Saturday matinee series

Two Russian love letters to the tragic thirteenth century noblewoman Francesca da Rimini inaugurated the Saturday matinee series at the Concertgebouw.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven Festival at Wigmore Hall

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park 2019

Lyric Opera of Chicago presented this year’s annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park. The evening’s program featured a range of selections from works to be presented in the 2019–2020 season along with arias and scenes from other notable and representative operas.

Prom 74: Uplifting Beethoven from Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover

Ceremony, drama and passion: this Beethoven Night by the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover under their Chief Conductor Andrew Manze had all three and served them up with vigour and a compelling freshness, giving Prommers at this eve-of-Last-Night concert an exciting and uplifting evening.

Prom 69: Elena Stikhina’s auspicious UK debut in a dazzling Czech Philharmonic concert

Rarely can any singer have made such an unforgettable UK debut in just twelve minutes of music. That was unquestionably the case with the Russian soprano, Elena Stikhina, who in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin, sang with such compelling stage magnetism and with a voice that has everything you could possibly want.

Prom 68: Wagner Abend - Christine Goerke overwhelms as Brünnhilde

Wagner Nights at the Proms were once enormously popular, especially on the programmes of Sir Henry Wood. They have become less so, perhaps because they are simply unfashionable today, but this one given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Marc Albrecht steered clear of the ‘bleeding chunk’ format which was usually the norm. It was still chunky, but in an almost linear, logical way and benefited hugely from being operatic (when we got to the Wagner) rather than predominantly orchestral.

Prom 65: Danae Kontora excels in Mozart and Strauss

On the page this looked rather a ‘pick-and-mix’ sort of Prom from the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen under Greek conductor Constantinos Carydis, who was making his Proms debut. In the event, it was not so much a Chinese take-away as a Michelin-starred feast for musical gourmands.

British Youth Opera: Rossini's La Cenerentola

Stendhal (as recorded in his Life of Rossini) was not a fan of Rossini’s La Cenerentola, complaining that after the first few bars of the Introduzione he was already suffering from a ‘faint feeling of nausea’, a condition which ‘never entirely dissipated, [recurring] periodically throughout the opera, and with increasing violence’.

La traviata at the Arena di Verona

There is esoteric opera — 16,500 spectators at this year’s Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, and there is pop opera — upwards of 500,000 spectators for the opera festival at the Arena di Verona, one quarter of them for an over-the-top new production of La traviata, designed and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings Benvenuto Cellini to the Proms

Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini is quite rarity on UK stages. Covent Garden last performed it in 1976 and English National Opera performed it for the first time in 2014 (in Terry Gilliam's riotous production), and yet the opera never quite goes away either.

Prom 58: varied narratives from the BBCSSO and Ilan Volkov

There are many ways and means to tell a story: through prose, poetry, sounds, pictures, colours, movement.

Prom 53: Elgar’s emotionally charged Music Makers

British music with an English and strong European accent marked this Prom featuring three well-wrought works, stylistically worlds apart but each characterised by a highly individual musical personality.

Scoring a Century: British Youth Opera at the Peacock Theatre

‘It is well known that Eisler was a master of the art of self-contradiction, using non-sequitur, change of tack and playing devil’s advocate in a brilliantly ironic way in an attempt to look at a problem from every angle, to expose it fully to the gaze of his interlocutor. For an ordinary person to take part in this, let alone keep up with the pace and fully appreciate the wide range of references, which his enormous reading threw out, was wonderfully stimulating, and exhausting.’

Prom 55: Handel's Jephtha

‘For many it is the masterpiece among his oratorios.’

Opera della Luna's HMS Pinafore sails the seas at Wilton's Music Hall

The original production of HMS Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25th May 1878 and ran for an astonishing 571 performances. Opera della Luna’s HMS Pinafore, which has been cresting the operatic oceans for over twenty years now, has notched up almost as many performances.

Spectra Ensemble present Treemonisha at Grimeborn

‘We see him now as one of the most important creators of his generation, certainly comparable to Schoenberg.’ T.J. Anderson, who reconstructed the score of Scott Joplin’s only surviving opera, Treemonisha, for its first staged production in 1972, was probably rather over-enthusiastic in his assessment.

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):