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

Prom 1: Karina Canellakis makes history on the opening night of the Proms 2019

The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martiník (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass.

Barbe & Doucet's new production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne

No one would pretend that Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte would go down well with the #MeToo generation. Or with first, second or third wave feminists for that matter.

Pavarotti: A Film by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s latest music documentary after The Beatles: Eight Days a Week and Made in America is a poignant tribute that allows viewers into key moments of Pavarotti’s career – but lacks a deeper, more well-rounded view of the artist.

Three Chamber Operas at the Aix Festival

Along with the celestial Mozart Requiem, a doomed Tosca and a gloriously witty Mahagonny the Aix Festival’s new artistic director Pierre Audi regaled us with three chamber operas — the premiere of a brilliant Les Mille Endormis, the technically playful Blank Out (on a turgid subject), and a heavy-duty Jakob Lenz.

Herbert Howells: Choir of King’s College, Cambridge

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge has played a role in the evolution of British music. This recording honours this heritage and Stephen Cleobury’s contribution in particular by focusing on Herbert Howells, who transformed the British liturgical repertoire in the 20th century.

Laurent Pelly's production of La Fille du régiment returns to Covent Garden

French soprano Sabine Devieilhe seems to find feisty adolescence a neat fit. I first encountered her when she assumed the role of a pill-popping nightclubbing ‘Beauty’ - raced from ecstasy-induced wonder to emergency ward - when I reviewed the DVD of Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Handel’s Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno at Aix-en-Provence in 2016.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny in Aix

Make no mistake, this is about you! Jim laid-out dead on the stage floor, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen brought his very loud orchestra (London’s Philharmonia) to an abrupt halt. Black out. The maestro then turned his spotlighted face to confront us and he held his stare. There was no mistake, the music was about us.

Mozart's Travels: Classical Opera and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall

There was a full house at Wigmore Hall for Classical Opera’s/The Mozartists’ final concert of the 2018-19 season: a musical paysage which chartered, largely chronologically, Mozart’s youthful travels from London to The Hague, on to Paris, then Rome, concluding - following stop-overs in European cultural cities such as Munich and Vienna - with an arrival at his final destination, Prague.

Tosca in Aix

From the sublime — the Mozart Requiem — to the ridiculous, namely stage director Christophe Honoré's Tosca. A ridiculous waste of operatic resources.

A terrific, and terrifying, The Turn of the Screw at Garsington

One might describe Christopher Oram’s set for Louisa Muller’s new production of The Turn of the Screw at Garsington as ‘shabby chic’ … if it wasn’t so sinister.

Mozart Requiem in Aix

Pierre Audi, now the directeur général of the Festival d’Aix as well as the artistic director of New York City’s Park Avenue Armory opens a new era for this distinguished opera festival in the south of France with a new work by the Festival’s signature composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Rachmaninov Drama at Middle Temple Hall

It is Rachmaninov’s major works for orchestra - the Second and Third Piano Concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Symphonic Dances - alongside the All-Night Vespers and the music for solo piano, which have earned the composer a permanent place in the concert repertoire today.

Fun, Frothy, and Frivolous: L’elisir d’amore at Las Vegas

There are a dizzying array of choices for music entertainment in Las Vegas ranging from Celine Dion and Cher to Paul McCartney and Aerosmith. Admittedly, these performers are a far cry from opera, but the point is that Las Vegas residents have many options when it comes to live music.

McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro returns to the Royal Opera House

David McVicar's production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has been a remarkable success since it debuted in 2006. Set with the Count of Almaviva's fearfully grand household in 1830, McVicar's trick is to surround the principals by servants in a supra-naturalistic production which emphasises how privacy is at a premium.

The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall

The presence of a large cast of ‘animals’ in Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen can encourage directors and designers to create costume-confections ranging from Disney-esque schmaltz to grim naturalism.

Barbe-Bleue in Lyon

Stage director Laurent Pelly is famed for his Offenbach stagings, above all others his masterful rendering of Les Contes d’Hoffmann as a nightmare. Mr. Pelly has staged eleven of Offenbach’s ninety-nine operettas over the years (coincidently this production of Barbe-Bleue is Mr. Pelly’s ninety-eighth opera staging).

Mieczysław Weinberg: Symphony no. 21 (“Kaddish”)

Mieczysław Weinberg witnessed the Holocaust firsthand. He survived, though millions didn’t, including his family. His Symphony no. 21 “Kaddish” (Op. 152) is a deeply personal statement. Yet its musical qualities are such that they make it a milestone in modern repertoire.

The Princeton Festival Presents Nixon in China

The Princeton Festival has adopted a successful and sophisticated operatic programming strategy, whereby the annual opera alternates between a standard warhorse and a less known, more challenging work. Last year Princeton presented Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This year the choice is Nixon in China by modern American composer John Adams, which opened before a nearly full house of appreciative listeners.

Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel at Grange Park Opera

When Engelbert Humperdinck's sister, Adelheid Wette, wrote the libretto to Hansel and Gretel the idea of a poor family living in a hut near the woods, on the bread-line, would have had an element of realism to it despite the sentimental layers which Wette adds to the tale.

Handel’s Belshazzar at The Grange Festival

What a treat to see members of The Sixteen letting their hair down. This was no strait-laced post-concert knees-up, but a full on, drunken orgy at the court of the most hedonistic ruler in the Old Testament.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Richard Jones’ <em>La bohème</em> at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
13 Sep 2017

Richard Jones' new La bohème opens ROH season

There was a decided nip in the air as I made my way to the opening night of the Royal Opera House’s 2017/18 season, eagerly anticipating the House’s first new production of La bohème for over forty years. But, inside the theatre in took just a few moments of magic for director Richard Jones and his designer, Stewart Laing, to convince me that I had left autumnal London far behind.

Richard Jones’ La bohème at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Simona Mihai (Musetta)

Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore

 

Even before curtain-up, the gently falling snow was sparkling against the black night sky of late-nineteenth century Paris. This is a production which strives to balance ‘realism’ with romance: exquisite design details create verisimilitude, while the visible mechanisms of theatre serve to remind us that we are voyeurs. Occasionally, there are ‘slippages’, as when the candles ‘go out’ in Act 1 but the interior set remains flooded in light as Mimì and Rodolpho scrabble around ‘in the dark’ looking for her keys. But, when the tables of the plush Café Momus push the front-facing diners to the front of the stage, or the duets of Act 3 are repeatedly directed ‘at us’ - through the fourth wall - a distance is established which creates tenderness and poignancy.

Rodolfo and Mimi Act 1.jpg Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo), Nicole Car (Mimì). Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

Jones tells the story straight. Act 1 takes us into the eaves of the bohemians’ garret - brutally cross-sectioned in its barren bleakness: a paint-splattered chair and tiny three-legged stool, a cheap violin case, some paint pots and brushes, a brazier which will be fuelled by Rodolfo’s pulped play-script. A ladder protrudes through the skylight which admits the fairy-tale conical moon-beam conjured by lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin.

The attic atelier swivels and recedes but remains a shadowy presence in Acts 2 and 3, as Laing whisks us - and the vibrantly attired Christmas Eve revellers - through the glittering arcades of the Quartier Latin to the up-market Café Momus, and finally to the unwelcoming toll gate at the Barrière d’Enfer, through which pedlars enter the city and beside which we witness the contrasting couples’ squabbles and sweet-talk, as winter presages spring.

Act 2 Arcades Catherine Ashmore.jpg Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

Some of Jones’ and Laing’s scene shifts have the beguiling enchantment of a Christmas ballet. Money has obviously been lavished on Act 2, and the dazzling lights of the triplet of arcades lure the merrymakers into the parfumerie, cave de vin and Salon de société, before swivelling to make way for the stuccoed-ceiling Café - down-at-heel would-be artists certainly couldn’t afford the cover charge let alone the champagne, so it’s no surprise Alcindoro has to pick up the tab. Later, the Café itself divides and diverges, casting its diners into the night street, where lamplight sentinels illuminate the scarlet splendour of a passing military band.

Act 3’s bare street and isolated tatty tavern emphasises the gaping expanse between love and fulfilment, hope and reality. This is confirmed at the close of the act, when the tavern slides almost imperceptibly across the stage into the blackness, and reinforced by the stab of green light which accompanies the brutal closing chords of Act 3. Act 4 takes us back to the austere attic, where the horse-play has a desperate air as the boys graffiti the beams and bare walls à la Picasso. The light now seems, painfully and ironically, to shine even brighter. But, the shadows cast by the attic beams darken, creating a criss-crossing chiaroscuro which hides the mourners lined against the rear wall, while the dying Mimì is thrust to the fore, into the light.

MICHAEL FABIANO, LUCA TITTOTO, MARIUSZ KWIECIEŃ, FLORIAN SEMPEY © ROH. PHOTO CATHERINE ASHMORE.jpg Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo), Luca Tittoto (Colline), Mariusz Kwiecień (Marcello), Florian Sempey (Schaunard). Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

Though she was dressed like Jane Eyre in an ugly grey frock, and later given a hideous pink bonnet by Rodolfo, Australian soprano Nicole Car was an impetuous Mimì - her bounds of energy matched by bursts of lyricism and vocal bloom. She phrased sensitively and displayed a pure, even tone across the registers. Perhaps a little more variety of vocal colour might have helped to fill out the character, and the same was true for Michael Fabiano’s Rodolfo, who seemed oddly self-absorbed at times - the prone Mimì got a kick rather than a glass of water in Act 1, and this Rodolfo was keener to be consoled by Marcello than to cradle the dying girl in his arms. Fabiano’s tenor was strong and true - ‘Che gelida manina’ won cheers and applause - but needed a little more softness and flexibility to convince that Rodolfo’s heart ruled his head. The ‘supporting’ pair were superb. Mariusz Kwiecień was spared the straggly wigs inflicted on the other men and his characterisation of Marcello also seemed to have more freedom and complexity; his Act 3 duet with Mimì was wonderfully moving. Simona Mihai will take over as Mimì later in the run but here she was a show-stealing Musetta, climbing sassily onto the tables to deliver her risqué waltz - during which she removed her silk knickers to taunt the sulking Marcello - but showing genuine care and compassion in the final act.

MARIUSZ KWIECIEŃ AND NICOLE CAR.jpgMariusz Kwiecień (Marcello) and Nicole Car (Mimì). Photo credit: Catherine Ashmore.

The rest of the cast sang well but needed more direction from Jones to really make their mark. Florian Sempey’s Schaunard and Luca Tittoto’s Colline sometimes seemed a bit ‘lost’, disappearing into the recesses of the garret, and the boisterous larking about with herring and crayons in Act 4 felt somewhat forced. Wyn Pencarreg’s Alcindoro was a sober figure and Act 2 was thus shorn of some of its fun. And, I must have blinked as I missed the toy-seller Parpignol, though the children of Tiffin School chanted and clamoured brightly.

Antonio Pappano swept things along with characteristic vigour and vitesse but while the bursts of orchestral colour were certainly impassioned and thrilling, after a while it felt a bit too ‘full-on’ and it would have been nice to have time to take in some of the details and subtleties.

However, despite a few small quibbles I enjoyed this performance immensely. John Copley’s La bohème, which has finally been retired, had an astonishingly long life and I wouldn’t be surprised if Jones’ production isn’t similarly enduring.

Claire Seymour

Puccini: La bohème

Mimì - Nicole Car, Rodolfo - Michael Fabiano, Marcello - Mariusz Kwiecień, Musetta - Simona Mihai, Schaunard - Florian Sempey, Colline - Luca Tittoto, Benoît - Jeremy White, Alcindoro - Wyn Pencarreg; Parpignol (A toyseller) - Andrew Macnair, Customs Officer - John Morrissey, Sergeant - Thomas Barnard; Director - Richard Jones, Conductor - Antonio Pappano, Associate director - Elaine Kidd, Designer - Stewart Laing, Lighting designer - Mimi Jordan Sherin, Movement director - Sarah Fahie, Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House (Chorus director, William Spaulding).

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Monday 11th 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):