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

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

O18: Unsettling, Riveting Sky on Swings

Opera Philadelphia’s annual festival set the bar very high even by its own gold standard, with a troubling but mesmerizing world premiere, Sky on Wings.

Vaughan Williams: A Sea Symphony — Martyn Brabbins BBCSO

From Hyperion, an excellent new Ralph Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus, Elizabeth Llewellyn and Marcus Farnsworth soloists. This follows on from Brabbins’s highly acclaimed Vaughan Williams Symphony no 2 "London" in the rarely heard 1920 version.

Simon Rattle — Birtwistle, Holst, Turnage, and Britten

Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra marked the opening of the 2018-2019 season with a blast. Literally, for Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new piece Donum Simoni MMXVIII was an explosion of brass — four trumpets, trombones, horns and tuba, bursting into the Barbican Hall. When Sir Harry makes a statement, he makes it big and bold !

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

20 Sep 2017

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

The Magic Flute at Opera Philadelphia

A review by James Sohre

Above: Jarrett Ott as Papageno [All photos courtesy of Opera Philadelphia]

 

The O17 festival has appropriated Barry Koskie’s acclaimed eye-popping production and cast it from strength with some of the finest young singers to be found on today’s opera stages. Mr. Koskie has co-directed with Suzanne Andrade and the pair has collaborated closely with the prodigiously gifted animator Paul Barritt to create a non-stop display of morphing projections that are both the production’s unique achievement and ultimately, its weakness.

Ben Bliss was a sweet-voiced Tamino, his pliant lyric tenor a perfect match for the Prince’s vocal demands. Mr. Bliss soared above the staff with an ingratiating ease of expression. Rachel Sterrenberg had a slower start as Pamina, her substantial soprano feeling its way through Bei Männern. As the show went on, Ms. Sterrenberg warmed to her task and settled in to provide a limpid, affecting Ach, ich fühl’s. In the final quartet Ben and Rachel’s intertwined lofty phrases fell quite wondrously on the ear.

Flute_OT2.pngQueen of the Night and Tamino

Jarrett Ott had all the wit and presence one could want in a Papageno, and you won’t often hear the role this well sung. Mr. Ott’s shining baritone has real star power and beauty. Olga Pudova was an audience favorite as a highly musical and secure Queen of the Night. Her pleasing tone and technical accomplishment made for two memorably accurate arias. Bass Peixin Chen did double duty as the Speaker (sung offstage) and Sarastro (sung mostly onstage). His weighty, orotund bass was darkly imposing, although it had a tendency to lumber a bit from note to note. Brenton Ryan’s well-projected, sizable tenor served Monostatos well, and his insinuating coloration of key phrases made for some inspired villainy.

The Three Ladies were a pleasantly compatible trio, with soprano Ashley Milanese a sprightly First Lady, mezzo Siena Miller holding her own in a solid turn as Second Lady, and mezzo Anastasiia Sidorova grounding the group with a firmly intoned Third Lady. The Three Spirits were a delight in their every appearance: AJ Owens, Damian Ferraro, and Patrick Corcoran were well schooled, pure-toned and cherubic. Ashley Robillard was such an appealingly pert soprano that she managed to score big as Papagena even though her role in this cutting was nearly non-existent.

The Armored Men are often cast with more mature singers so it was a pleasure to hear two fresh young vocalists bring brightness and poise to their ‘choral prelude’ and, especially, the quartet. Roy Hage (First Armored Man) sports an engaging, ringing tenor, and Marcus Deloach (Second Armored Man), serves up a vibrant baritone. Elizabeth Braden’s chorus was stirring in their brief, but important appearances.

In the pit, conductor David Charles Abell led an assured overture, in what would be the only visually unanimated music of the performance. Once the “fun” began, Maestro Abell did his considerable best to keep reminding us that the opera is really about sublime music and immortal characters, not just shock and awe video effects. He was sometimes stymied by the distraction. Perhaps owing to placement of singers, the ensembles (only) occasionally got ahead of the beat, with the Three Ladies being the most challenged in their tricky banter.

Flute_OT3.pngJarrett Ott as Papageno

This animated, manic concept seems to have given a good deal of pleasure to the vast number of audience members. It is certainly unlike any other. There is no doubt that the non-stop coordination of effects was a challenge, one that was always meticulously achieved. Papageno must siphon a pink lady out of a cocktail glass by “sucking on a straw” as it empties. Pamina must act threatened by a pack of snarling dogs that Monostatos has tethered, straining on a leash. Tamino must “pop” heart balloons floating above his head with his pointed index finger just at the right time. All tricky stuff, admirable to behold. But here’s the thing:

The characters were never allowed to interact with each other or, more critically, with the audience. They were mostly required to stand stock still in a prescribed spot, and everything happened to them or around them, but not with them. Do we really want the Queen of the Night vocalist to be reduced to a disembodied head while the animation attached to that head bombards us with an overused image of an attacking spider? There was so much cute commotion of appearing children during Papageno and Papagena’s duet that Mr. Ott and Ms. Robillard could have had a sparkler in their teeth and we would have been hard pressed to notice them.

Consequently, these appealing characters were never allowed to bond with each other or the audience. This was not like the integrated animation of say, Mary Poppins, where the imagery was a clever party trick that enhanced the live characters. In this Flute (which, by the way had no flute at all!), I had the feeling the whole shebang could have been animated with these wonderful singers in the pit without much change in the experience. For the record, Esther Bialas’ stage and costume design were manic and colorful; Christopher J. Hetherington’s lighting design complemented (read: stayed out of the way of) the projections; and David Zimmerman’s wig and make-up design provided fanciful whimsy.

With the dialogue completely eliminated and the plot advanced by projected blunt silent movie exclamations, the humanity of Mozart’s masterpiece seemed limited to the level of a complicated video game, albeit with superlative background music. Remember the music? Remember when The Magic Flute had, well, a magic flute? Me, too. . .

James Sohre


Cast and production information:

The Magic Flute
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Emanuel Shikaneder

Tamino: Ben Bliss; Pamina: Rachel Sterrenberg; Queen of the Night: Olga Pudova; Sarastro/Speaker: Peixin Chen; Papageno: Jarrett Ott; Papagena: Ashley Robillard; Monostatos: Brenton Ryan; First Lady: Ashley Milanese; Second Lady: Siena Miller; Third Lady: Anastasiia Sidorova; First Armored Man: Roy Hage; Second Armored Man: Marcus Deloach; First Spirit: AJ Owens; Second Spirit: Damian Ferraro; Third Spirit: Patrick Corcoran; Conductor: David Charles Abell; Co-Directors: Suzanne Andrade and Barrie Kosky; Production: Suzanne Andrade and Barry Kosky; Animation: Paul Barritt; Stage and Costume Design: Esther Bialas; Lighting Design: Christopher J. Hetherington; Wig and Make-up Design: David Zimmerman; Stage Director: Tobias Ribitzki

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):