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

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

Bampton Classical Opera to perform Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors

Gian Carlo Menotti’s much-loved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors was commissioned in America by the National Broadcasting Company and was broadcast in 1951 - the first-ever opera composed specifically for television. Menotti said that it “is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood”.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Die Zauberflöte</em> at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
24 Sep 2017

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The closing scene.

Photo credit: ROH/Tristram Kenton

 

As we journey from the dungeon-esque darkness of the Queen’s nocturnal demesne towards the gleaming sun-disc which bathes the final chorus in the luminosity of enlightenment, a Dantesque night is truly turned into day.

However, in 2013 , I found the performance, while elegant and slickly choreographed, ‘disappointingly lacklustre’ and missing the sparkle of ‘simple youthful vitality and dreamy enchantment’. Reflecting again, perhaps some of my disenchantment derived from a perceived imbalance, on that occasion, between allegory and artifice.

For, while some lines of the opera’s libretto are based on sources used by the Freemasons, whose symbolism scholars have sometimes purloined in order to argue that a hidden masonic allegory underpins the opera’s quests and initiation rituals, in fact many of the magical and ‘marvellous’ episodes derive from earlier operas, pantomimes and comic plays that would have been well known to the audiences at Schikaneder’s the Theater auf der Wieden, and I am of the view that any elements of ‘freemasonry’ that are present are far less important than those of fairy-tale.

Tamino and serpent.jpg Mauro Peter (Tamino). Photo credit: ROH/Tristram Kenton.

During this performance, however, as the giant segments of the serpent wiggled and waggled, expertly manipulated by the puppeteers, and the marble columns of hallowed halls slid imperiously into dignified place as the orrery spun in heliocentric harmony, it was the opera’s human concerns that seemed more compelling than any abstruse philosophising.

And, for this more harmonious union of folky comedy and high seriousness, we have Roderick Williams’ effortlessly warm-voiced Papageno to thank. Williams is a seasoned bird-catcher having taken the role in several productions, including Nicholas Hytner’s ENO long-lived production and Tim Supple’s ‘grungy’ Flute at Opera North. But, even so, this Papageno has some way to go before his earns his stripes as master of the aviary. Outwitted by a puppet goose - I remember, too, an ‘incident’ with some recalcitrant real-life doves at ENO! - he eventually learns his own tricks, making the Priest’s feet (Harry Nicolls) dance to Papageno’s tune in ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’. Williams evinces an easy physicality which never drifts into farce and heaps of appealing guilelessness: who would not be touched by fellow-feeling when this Papageno humbly voices his simple desire for love and happiness? His cheek and charm certainly earn the bird-catcher his perky Papagena-in-pink, though one suspects that he will have trouble preventing Christina Gansch’s sassy slapper from fluttering her feathers from time to time.

Papageno and Tamino.jpg Roderick Williams (Papageno) and Mauro Peter (Tamino). Photo credit: ROH/Tristram Kenton.

Williams’ expert comic timing was matched by that of Peter Bronder’s Monostatos. There was a ‘nasty’ edgy to this villain’s lasciviousness which, together with the masked beasts and vultures, suggested a darker vein in the pantomime.

Several of the cast are making their Covent Garden debuts and this was a significant incentive to see this revival. In particular, I was very keen to hear French soprano Sabine Devieilhe scale the Queen of the Night’s stratospheric peaks, having greatly admired her performance as Bellezza in Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016. And, she didn’t disappoint: ‘O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn’ was absolutely secure and clean-toned, but ‘Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen’ simply took my breath away. I’m not sure how such a glacial tone can intimate ‘warmth’ or fullness, but somehow Devieilhe managed not just to hit the top Fs but to shape and soften them.

Sabine Deviele QofN.jpg Sabine Devieilhe (Queen of the Night). Photo credit: ROH/Tristram Kenton.

I’d previously been impressed too when I heard Australian soprano Siobhan Stagg sing in Keith Warner’s ROH production of Luigi Rossi's Orpheus at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2015, noting that she combined ‘a ravishing tone with pinpoint accuracy.’ The purity and richness of Stagg’s tone were put to good effect in her interpretation of Pamina’s gentle innocence, for she infused the lovely sound with a firm glint which suggested that beneath Pamina’s naivety lie integrity and resilience. ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ was unsentimental but deeply communicative, though I wondered whether Stagg would have liked conductor Julia Jones to have taken her foot of the pedal slightly - the aria followed rather precipitously from the preceding aria although Stagg’s poise steadied the ship.

Williams and Stagg.jpg Roderick Williams (Papageno) with Siobhan Stagg (Pamina). Photo credit: ROH/Tristram Kenton.

Mauro Peter’s Tamino might have had a little more ruggedness, but the Swiss singer has a lyric tenor of great beauty and the polished artistry of his phrasing and his careful diction certainly made his ‘princely’ mien convincing: ‘Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön’ was tenderly love-struck. I found that Finnish bass Mika Kares lacked the sonorous weight needed to convey Sarastro’s authoritative sobriety - though I note that those who saw earlier performances in the run disagreed.

The three boys - James Fernandes, Oliver Simpson and Jayden Tejuoso - struck just the right balance between real boyish charm and pure otherworldliness. Their three voices blended beautifully to form a single gleaming thread of innocence and light; if one shut one’s eyes, one really could believe that they had descended from celestial realms. But, their interventions, preventing tragedy, were genuinely human. The three Ladies were less consistent, Rebecca Evans, Angela Simkin (a Jette Parker Young Artist) and Susan Platts coming adrift at times in terms of timbre and temperament, and, occasionally, tuning.

Jones’ tempos were swift. As in 2013, I wished for a more spacious composure at times for the opera presents both fury and sobriety, but I enjoyed the ROH Orchestra’s sure sense of period style.

Revival directors Thomas Guthrie and Angelo Smimmo (movement) have made a good job of polishing the ROH’s silverware and McVicar’s production continues to shine. At the closing curtain, Macpherson’s sun-disc seemed a perfect metaphor for Mozart’s opera: radiant and eternal.

The Magic Flute runs in repertory at the Royal Opera House until 14 October.

Claire Seymour

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte

Tamino - Mauro Peter; First Lady - Rebecca Evans; Second Lady - Angela Simkin; Third Lady - Susan Platts; Papageno - Roderick Williams; Queen of the Night - Sabine Devieilhe; Pamina - Siobhan Stagg; Monostatos - Peter Bronder; First Boy - James Fernandes; Second Boy - Oliver Simpson; Third Boy - Jayden Tejuoso; Speaker of the Temple - Darren Jeffery; Sarastro - Mika Kares; First Priest - Harry Nicoll; Second Priest - Donald Maxwell; Pagagena - Christina Gansch; First Man in Armour - Thomas Atkins; Second Man in Armour - Sion Shibambu; Director - David McVicar, Conductor - Julia Jones; Revival Director - Thomas Guthrie, Designer - John Macfarlane; Lighting Designer - Paule Constable, Movement Director - Leah Hausman, Revival Movement Director - Angelo Smimmo, Royal Opera Chorus (Chorus Director, William Spaulding), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Wednesday 20th 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):