Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

Bernstein Bemuses in New Mexico

Santa Fe Opera’s Candide is a nearly indefatigable romp that is currently parading on the Crosby Theatre stage, chockfull of inventive ideas.

Santa Fe Floats a Beauteous Butterfly

Two new stars moved triumphantly into the ongoing run of Santa Fe Opera’s mesmerizing rendition of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Götterdämmerung in Munich

What I am about to write must be taken with the proviso that I have not seen, this year or any other, the rest of Andreas Kriegenburg’s Munich Ring. Friends tell me that would have made little difference, yet I cannot know for certain.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Bampton Classical Opera at St John’s Smith Square
13 Sep 2017

The School of Jealousy: Bampton Classical Opera bring Salieri to London

In addition to fond memories of previous beguiling productions, I had two specific reasons for eagerly anticipating this annual visit by Bampton Classical Opera to St John’s Smith Square. First, it offered the chance to enjoy again the tunefulness and wit of Salieri’s dramma giocoso, La scuola de’ gelosi (The School of Jealousy), which I’d seen the company perform so stylishly at Bampton in July.

Bampton Classical Opera at St John’s Smith Square

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Matthew Sprange (Blasio) and Thomas Hereford (The Lieutenant)

Photo credit: Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera

 

Second, summer downpours having necessitated removal into the Church of St Mary’s, the nave of which was too small to accommodate BCO’s set, this performance at SJSS provided an opportunity to see the opera as envisaged by director/designer Jeremy Gray, in a simple staging the design of which evoked the requisite air of intrigue and affectation. Certainly, the performance which unfolded fulfilled both my cravings; and Gray’s set - exterior stone becoming luxurious damask wallpaper at the twist of a hinge or two - was beautifully composed and stylishly complemented Vikki Medhurst’s Regency-style costumes. Yet, I came away contemplating the difficulties of giving performances of a work over a time-span of a couple of months in several venues (the opera was performed at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire in late August) that are so different in dimension, acoustic and practicability.

That’s not to suggest that Bampton’s performance offered anything less than their customary integrity, charm and slickness; just that, I was surprised just how hard it was for the company to reproduce the intimacy and immediacy that was generated inside the beautiful but fairly cramped church at Bampton - through whose roof the deluge dripped courtesy of some lead pilfering shortly before - on a wet July evening when compromise and contingency seemed to inspire a spontaneity and piquancy which was sometimes missing at SJSS.

Bampton Classical Opera have found Salieri’s operatic legacy to be a fruitful source during their forays through the lesser-known repertory of the eighteenth century. The company gave the UK premières of Falstaff in 2003 and two years ago their production of La grotta di Trofonio was richly praised. This year they’ve resurrected an opera, written in 1778, which must have been on Lorenzo da Ponte’s radar when he penned Così fan tutte (or, La scola degli amanti, the librettist’s preferred title), with its jealous rants and rages, amorous criss-crossing, and awkward reconciliations. La scuola de’ gelosi, with several new arias, was the work which inaugurated Emperor Joseph’s new Viennese buffo troupe in 1783. And, the casts of La scuola and Così overlapped: Francesco Benucci was Blasio in Salieri’s opera, and sang Guglielmo inCosì; Francesco Bussani followed his turn as the Count in La Scuola with Don Alfonso in Così. Nancy Storace, a Mozart favourite who created Susanna in Figaro was Salieri’s Countess. [1]

Caterino Mazzolà’s libretto tells of marital discord and dissatisfaction, supplemented with a heavy dose of class snobbery. The grain-dealer Blasio, prone to prowling about in the dark intent on catching his wife Ernestina with a lover, is overcome with paranoid jealousy and purchases a padlock to lock her indoors. Meanwhile, Countess Bandiera pines, jilted by her philandering husband whose chief amusement is wooing the wives of jealous husbands - her indignation deepened by the fact that her husband is wooing a pleb! She disguises herself as a gypsy fortune-teller, reads her husband’s palm and, her identity disclosed, delights in his discomfort. Bourgeoisie and aristocrats mingle and madness ensues - quite literally when Blasio finds in an asylum, witnessing the fate of those whose marriages have been poisoned by mistrust. The Lieutenant advises Blasio and the Countess to get revenge by inciting their spouses’ jealousy. Accusations rile, appearances prove deceptive, apologies follow; eventually, an uneasy social and marital equilibrium is restored.

Chalkley and Fisher.jpgNathalie Chalkley (Ernestina) and Alessandro Fisher (Count). Photo credit: Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera.

The splendid young cast revelled in the opera’s wiliness and wisdom, although the SJSS acoustic diminished the clarity of the diction, meaning that the wry rhymes of Jeremy Gray’s and Gilly French’s dry, crisp translation raised fewer laughs than they had done at Bampton. But, the obligatory topical references hit the target, as this opera about false affairs inserted some ‘fake news’. When Blasio snatched what he thought was a letter from an admirer from Ernestina’s hands, he found himself reading a newspaper report: ‘Mexico may be blockaded with a wall to stop migration … This may cause some agitation’, and he pondered ‘Is it open to discussion, Mister Trump is surely Russian?’

Bampton Blasio.jpgMatthew Sprange (Blasio). Photo credit: Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera.

At Bampton, Alessandro Fisher’s ‘Casanova’ Count, had made a flamboyant entrance, festooning the ladies of the audience with silver roses as he extolled the gallery of girls whom he likes to goggle: ‘Here you see sophistication; over there is calm and haughty. In another situation, there is one who’s rude and naughty. One is serious, one mysterious; one is slim, another grimmer.’ One cannot but admire Gray and French’s adeptness with telling internal rhyme! SJSS thwarted attempts to make a similarly ingratiating impact here, but Fisher’s performance was confident and consummate: he deserved the applause which his arias kindled.

Matthew Sprange, as Blasio, had the measure of the role’s conversational style and his baritone was focused, the phrases having excellent musical and dramatic direction. Nathalie Chalkley was recovering from flu but this only marginally impinged on her vivacious portrayal of Ernestina’s sassy self-confidence and self-determination. At Bampton, I had found Rhiannon Llewellyn’s intonation occasionally less than centred and I detected a slight breathiness in the ascents; but, here she certainly assailed the top Cs in both her arias with insouciance, though again I felt that she didn’t always nail the true heart of a pitch.

Count and Countess BCO.jpgAlessandro Fisher (Count) and Rhiannon Llewellyn (Countess). Photo credit: Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera.

I enjoyed the self-assured eye-brow raising and elegant phrasing of Samuel Pantcheff’s Lumaca (Blasio’s servant) at Bampton and have recently praised Pantcheff’s performances with The Opera Box : here, again, he stood out as a singer-actor who is never switched off, who is constantly seeking to interact with his fellow cast. The intimacy of St Mary’s heightened such interactions with Kate Howden’s Carlotta, the Countess’s maid, yet here the subtleties sometimes didn’t make the same impact; but Howden’s lovely mezzo - full of character, feeling and insight - suggests she is a singer to watch. Thomas Herford pronounced the Lieutenant’s motto of feminine fidelity (anticipating Così’s Don Alfonso?) - ‘Chi vuol nella femmina/ Trovar fedelta,/ La lasci padrona/ Di sua liberta. (He who wishes to find fidelity in a woman should allow her to remain mistress of her liberty) - with elegance, as the libretto’s sole words of dispassionate common sense were contradicted by cynical counter-voice of the ‘cuckolding’ horns.

At Bampton in July, the Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera were placed in the South Transept and we were able to enjoy the players’ bright sound and Salieri’s noteworthy musical detail. Although in some of the busier ensembles there were a few anxious glances from the cast, seeking confirmation, conductor Anthony Kraus ran a tight ship and the proximity of the orchestral sound added to the zippiness of the performance. At SJSS, with the players of CHROMA seated behind the set and the cast relying on two monitors, the ‘pit’/stage coordination was no less consistent, but there was an understandable sense of ‘playing it safe’: there was less risk-taking in the vibrant act finales, and generally the tempos felt less urgent, the dramatic propulsion less urgent.

The School of Jealousy was the composer’s most oft-performed opera, winning international popularity; when it reached London in 1786, the Musical Post and Daily Advertiser declared it ‘a masterly composition, which does great honour to Salieri’. Thanks are due to Bampton Classical Opera for allowing us to enjoy its charm.

Claire Seymour

Salieri: The School of Jealousy
Bampton Classical Opera

Blasio - Matthew Sprange, Ernestina - Nathalie Chalkley, Count Bandiera - Alessandro Fisher, Countess Bandiera - Rhiannon Llewellyn, Lumaca - Samuel Pantcheff, Carlotta - Kate Howden, The Lieutenant - Thomas Hereford; director/designer - Jeremy Gray, conductor - Anthony Kraus, costume designer - Vikki Medhurst, CHROMA.

St John’s Smith Square, London; Tuesday 12th September 2017



[1] Bruce Alan Brown and John A. Rice present an informative account of Salieri’s attempts to set da Ponte’s Così libretto, and of the links between theLa scuola de’ gelosi and Mozart’s opera, in ‘Salieri’s Così fan tutte’ in Cambridge Opera Journal Vol.8/1 (March 1996): 17-43.

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):